Indra Adnan

Where the Meta Hits the Ground

We live within structures that were imagined before they were built. No matter how grim things may look, humans are the animals that can refresh our experience, by redefining our take on reality.



How much difference a week makes. Only seven days ago we were talking about the gradual, post Covid shift to a different future. Then overnight, as President Vladimir Putin crossed the border with tanks into Ukraine, we were catapulted back into the 20th Century - the Century of War.

While some find it easy to flip back into old ways of behaving - the PM adopting Churchillian tones, news headlines snapping into jingoism - many of us find it impossible. For three decades now we have been living in a virtual world with faint borders. We play computer games without knowing our opponent’s country of origin. We share social media - albeit in discreet bubbles - and abide by common rules. We join international networks of action, expecting to engage people from each corner of the globe. What, exactly, is invasion?

Those of us old enough to have wrangled with wars in Kosovo, the Falklands and Iraq have long imagined that the behaviour that characterised World Wars I and II would not be repeated. Surely, we are all too interconnected now for any one national leader to assert his will over another, in such an uncompromising way. Surely no one head of state would risk his country's soft power - its ability to attract all kinds of capital and interest - in such a way that could damage those resources for ever, in the eyes of an increasingly inter-dependent globe.
Without doubt, this is a moment of regression: if there is such a thing as a global community, it is under threat. Our own leaders will be tempted to adopt Cold War language, where NATO is promoted as the champions of democracy and everyone else, the enemy. Hatred against other superpowers - China mostly - will be stoked as we return to old colonial world orders, with strong men at the helm.

Where can we hold not only the possibility of moving past world wars, but beyond that, into a world in which war itself is over? What would that take? Could it be achieved without the end of nation states - something not remotely on the horizon? Can the peoples' voice saying No to War - including many inside Russia today - ever prevail over leaders with a thirst for military triumph?

The answer is yes. Take the country of Costa Rica, which gave up its army entirely in 1948 and reinvested that budget in mass education. Or take conflict transformation practice that has led to creative, positive futures for embattled communities. Or concepts like Scilla Elworthy's Business Plan for Peace which is already causing huge divestment from the 'military industrial complex'. Peace pays.

Why does the wider population not have access to these forward, evolved ways of thinking? It's an inquiry we've made consistently for five years, since the birth of The Alternative UK, on March 1st, 2017. Born in the wake of Jo Cox's murder one week before the European referendum, we began with the question "If politics is broken, what's the alternative?" 

Knowing that only 2% of the registered electorate are members of political parties, and that the same percentage shapes the narratives of the mainstream media, we set out to report on the dissatisfactions - and desires - of the 98%.

What we’ve found over five years is abundant evidence that a genuinely alternative socio-economic-political system is not only possible, but has been taking shape below the radar of the public gaze for over three decades.

It firstly begins with a new idea of the human being: no longer singularly homo economicus, defined by our material production and consumption. The human appearing now, in all forms of media everywhere, is the full bio-psycho-social-spiritual entity, with complex needs and immense resources of their own. 
Within that vision, the idea is that humans can upgrade themselves - become more capacious, agentic, happier - in ways well beyond what is offered at the school or workplace. The political and administrative classes may believe that the general populace needs nudging, sometimes coercing, to do the right thing for their own - and society’s - good. 

But this does not fit well with the growing response-ability and self-reliance of the internet age. If you pay attention - which we have been - this growth, as a language and sensibility, can be seen in all corners of society, in every corner of the globe.

Secondly is the evidence that people - particularly with the use of technology - are increasingly able to come together and self-organise for new outcomes in the face of crisis. Again, the characterisation of people as powerless, unable to make a difference, is waning. Not only has this become the era of the non-state actor through protest and radical action, but it is also increasingly a time of novel mobilisation. 

Over the past five years we have reported on cosmolocal, citizen action/community networks (CANs) of all kinds. These act as incubators of individual and collective potential and now hold vital data about our social ecosystems. There are not only CANs that have assiduously developed over decades - Transition Towns, Ecovillages, municipalities - but more recent innovations too. Civic Square in Birmingham, the networks of Neighborocracies in India, Strong Towns in the US, CAN networks in Cape Town. And most excitingly, the current crop of prototypes in Knaersborough, Hackney, Tijuana (Mexico) and Wandsworth. See our category “CANs” in the search engine.

Again, this form of collective action is never described by mainstream media or politics, who prefer to describe 'people' broadly as selfish and disconnected, either busy or lazy. Their narrative would have us fitting into easy, conflicted categories - divided by class, colour and gender, politically leaning either Left or Right. As the Covid pandemic showed (again, all over the world) our instinct instead is to come together - to form mutual aid networks, to help each other in times of need. These regularly did as good a job of caring and attending than a resource-starved local council would.

Thirdly, can any of these evolving levels of action make a difference? Again, the mainstream narrative would suggest not: grassroots action, whether in the form of localism or innovations coming from outside of the dominant system is seen as nice but ineffective. However, from the bigger picture view, the lack of this kind of action is both the missing link and the Achilles heel of progress.

It's the former, because most of the big picture attempts to shift power and agency fail due to lack of organisation on the ground. Think of the inability of Occupy, the Arab Spring or even Live Aid to take root, lacking any structure or governance to deliver on the new systems they evoked.
As for the latter - if there aren’t CANs doing their particular work, offering a voice and a sense of belonging and agency to people in their communities, large numbers of people remain vulnerable to other forms of mobilisation, often online. That’s the tap on the heel. When that happens, all the good societal work done by those who easily share values and have settled agendas can easily be sabotaged, especially by a political system built on opposition.  

This has been demonstrated time and again. Even when committed and skilled politicians bring social justice and environmental agendas, they can be stopped by others who know how to trigger dissatisfaction and anger amongst those who feel left behind. 
But there is an extra aspect to the potential of people organising at the grassroots, which we like to explain by the term cosmolocalism. Since the development of the internet in the late 80s/early 90s, localism has taken on another dimension - the ability to act globally, upon the ground you stand on. Cosmolocalism is different to, and more potent than, glocalism. Glocalism connects global activity to local activity, but loaded on the former’s side. Cosmolocalism connects different communities all over the planet, lead by similar patterns of whole system relationships arising and emerging.

For cosmolocalists, a local pattern is no longer simply a flat map of houses connecting to each other. In each of those houses, people are connected to their own networks of interest and friendship - campaigns, ways of living, football! - that take them out of their neighbourhood, and often instantly into global networks of information and opinion. 

When these worlds of passionate engagement connect to each other, new tools and methods of organising and making economy can be shared. A creative commons can be consciously built and managed, which is ceaselessly enriched by the diversity of actors participating. Cosmolocal CANs - which share many forms of cultural and spiritual intelligence too - are the growing evidence that a practice of global community is indeed possible. 

But can all this good work emerge fast enough to help us in the ten-year climate window we have to save the human race from extinction? It’s not a small question. If we stick to the current dominant narrative - the story we are telling ourselves about each other - that is actively perpetuated by the media system of the growth economy? Then probably not. Too many of the people who participate in this emergent politics act on their own, unable to connect with others and struggling to thrive. 

Too few people, looking for coherent, systemic answers to the problems we are facing, can find them in the current media landscape. And even when they can, it's too hard for them to imagine a future coming out of the tangle of stories and initiatives before them. That’s because the mainstream media counter-narrative saps that imagination. At the best of times, there are many more stories revelling in our powerlessness before great forces, than otherwise. 
For that reason, on our 5th Birthday, we have decided to act radically. Rather than create a new initiative, or a new website, we have decided to create a new planet. 
For the time being at least, it will be named Planet A - starting anew, with all that we have woken up to over the 30-year revolution driven by Gen X, Y and Z. 

Our claim is this: as citizens of this planet, we live within structures that were imagined before they were built. No matter how grim things may look, humans are the animals that can refresh our experience, by redefining our take on reality. These reframes can help us see powerful potentials for new and better lives, where others would see fragments or margins - with both parties often looking at, and standing on, the same ground.

But these bold metaphors and concepts must match the total scale of our crises. They must bring into play the new practices, mechanisms and architecture becoming available to us (and which it’s been our commitment to map and chart, everyday since 1st March, 2017).

This new way of seeing, knowing and acting is what we’re calling Planet A.

We want this concept to both generate, and curate, much novelty and innovation. As co-creators of the structures of Planet A, we, all of us, should be able to upload information from our own sphere of action about what is creating value - and what is not - as we work with others in the eco-system. This might include food or energy practice, but also technology, music and art, sport - the whole gamut. 

Through the many forms of communication - meeting, sharing, performing - we will connect the health of individuals directly to the health of the planet via the health of our communities. We will be able to offer our tools and practices to each other to help everyone to advance. These do not require scaling in the old sense - organised centrally and top down. They grow through their fractal nature - their patterns matching across the globe, evidenced through copying and imitating rapidly.

Arising from all of this will be a new media system reflecting back to us regularly on the progress we are making - the exciting breakthroughs and insights, new orientations and language, new paradigms for flourishing. Through the system of community agency networks (CANs) we will ensure this is not simply a gathering of the usual suspects - those of us who share explicit values and goals - but to the most diverse forms of input possible. Creatives, imagineers, connectors of cultures and lifestyles. Most of all it will be telling a new story about what it means to be a “planetarian”, in a time of great possibility for change.

This is less a reactive space for calling for what needs to happen to fix the old system. And more one of revelation - what is present and initiating in real time, for a strong future. 
To be able to initiate (but not own) Planet A we have shifted from being The Alternative UK, to The Alternative Global, acknowledging the full spectrum of agency already present and developing, to bring it into being. Would-be citizens have a choice to simply sign up to the Daily Alternative (soon to be evolved) to observe what is emerging, or take a more active part in pioneering Planet A. This might take the form of contributing to any of the six micro-systems already forming on the front page of our new site.

From being a generator of a new economic system to initiating a CAN, you are already a citizen of the possible future. Planet A will help you occupy that future resolutely with others, in real time.

While we are already building Apps and communication technology to accelerate the relationships developing on Planet A, this is not a platform for direct democracy - the constant referendum on current problems, one person, one vote. What we are holding out for here is the vital importance of new spaces for people to come together and answer difficult and exciting questions through deliberation. 

Add to that the new governance practices and decision-making tools that make stuff happen. It's as much a space for unlearning the cultures and structures of the old ways of organising as one for developing original channels for our full selves and resources. 

At the same time, Planet A is what Vaclav Havel called the parallel polis. While it is in its very early stages, it will become a commonly owned, fluidly constituted, self-governing entity - or distributed autonomous organisation (DAO). This will, over time, have the capacity to generate agendas, deliver on shared goals and, through the CAN of CANs, become a vehicle for the peoples' voice - one that simply does not exist today. 

At the local level, Planet A appears as a CAN, each one driving a 4th sector, generative economy: creating multiple forms of value for the locality. CANs can also act as a vital partner to the council - especially if the council is led Flatpack Democracy style - advising on cosmolocal issues anticipated by the people. At the national level this kind of entity could play the role of a second chamber - all the more powerful because autonomous, commonly owned and self-governing.

Landing all of this on a day of extraordinary global regression, is difficult but timely. It's not enough to call for peace without having the structures, cultures and energy required to make war obsolete. These must be planetary in scale and ambition. If not us, who? If not now, when? 

Planetarians, join
our co-creators community, by signing up to the Alternative Weekly newsletter, and directly contacting us if you’d like to be a strategic partner. 
Words by Indra Adnan
Indra Adnan is a psychosocial therapist and Co-Inititator of The Alternative UK, a political platform which responds to the question: if politics is broken, what’s the alternative? She is also a lifelong Buddhist and the founder of the Soft Power Network, consulting to Finnish, Brazilian, Danish and British governments.