The Imaginal Economy – a revolution by stealth perhaps?

For ecosocialists in this country, election time is generally a time of despair by and large. There are no parties that really embrace what ecosocialism is truly about. They are players within the system that will always maintain the neoliberal hegemony, by hook or by crook. Every election simply serves to underline that transforming our world for the better (as defined by ecosocialist values) through engaging with the political process is the very essence of pissing in the wind.

What are the alternatives?

History suggest that taking to streets and bloody insurrection are probably the quickest way of bringing down the established order, but that what comes in its place is seldom the panacea we envision at the outset. It is, at best, a high risk strategy that reeks a lot of collateral damage along the way. It is not an option we should select, but may become the default option foisted upon us if nothing else changes the unsustainable course we are on.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 18.55.15Another alternative (one I dream about regularly) is opting out. Find a remote spot, build an off-grid dwelling and grow your own food. Fuck the rest of the world. It may be eco, but it is not a socialist response. It flounders as a way forward for humanity as a whole. It is backward looking too – it takes us back to pre-industrial lifestyles (and will bring pre-indutrial problems along with pre-industrial benefits).

What we need are innovative solutions and new ideas, not just the revitalisation of discarded ideas because they seem less bad than the current problems. My generation and those before me are the ones that have created this neoliberal, capitalist nightmare we find ourselves in. It has provided most with material wealth and comfort that we now see as everyday essentials. Asking people to give up those comforts is a hard sell, even amongst those that accept the truth that indefinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. But maybe this isn’t the core of the problem. At the end of the day it will be self-regulating.

In many ways, the more distressing impacts of capitalist culture is how it commodifies our labour as little more than production units. There is a growing epidemic of mental illness and dissatisfaction with our lives. This leads us to take solace in consumerism as a way of gauging our success and our value. It also creates the dog-eat-dog competition that destroys camaraderie and empathy between fellow human beings.

But maybe a different world is slowly emerging, without the direction or assistance of politicians, among the new and upcoming generation. Those born around the turn of the century/millenium are now beginning to join the economic world. This millennial generation are beginning to show signs of taking some old anarchist ideas and adapting them to the new technological age to develop new working relationships that, in one form of new business organisation, is known as an IMAGINAL ORGANISATION (explained in this video:

At the recent Reclaim the Power ‘End Coal’ event I have taken part in (report), i was greatly encouraged by witnessing a young generation organise so effectively and throughly, while embracing consensus decision-making and every decent value I would recognise as belonging to good ecosocialists. I left wondering whether they could transfer these qualities into other areas of life. It appears they can.

Anton Chernikov and Giles Hutchins have written extensively about this. Together, they wrote “Redefining The Nature of Business for the Millennial Age” and Chernikov wrote a great article entitled The Imaginal Economy in the STIR magazine issue 13. Hutchins runs an interesting blog here.

In essence, there is a movement beginning to gain traction among a new generation of creative, socially minded and information-enabled young professionals and entrepreneurs who are beginning to transform our economy from the inside out. They don’t play by the established rules. They utilise the new opportunities offered by technological innovation to secure economic freedom while living lives on their own terms. It is close to the world that Bertrand Russell envisioned in his great essay ‘In Praise of Idleness’. Not that these millennials are remotely idle. They are busying away endeavouring to replace the now broken economic models of the past with a new collaborative imaginal economy.

Watch the video link above, if you haven’t done so already. An Imaginal Organisations (IO) is effectively a non-organistion. It is held together with social capital and has no need for a legal entity or a bank account. It hold no assets and pays no salaries. It is formed when a group of like-minded founders come together to form a imaginal foundation of shared values and intentions. It is all about exploring potential synergy and partnerships. Networks, skills and expertise are pooled and shared to the benefit of all. As the IO grows, some degree of leadership and management will be required, but this focuses purely on maintaining the right culture. What management there is acts as the guardian of the IO, perhaps though regular communications, get-togethers and events. They will always be leaders by example first and foremost.

It is a form of organisation that built on a culture of shared purpose, friendship and trust. On this basis not only are people more effective, but they don’t even need contacts and salaries! The idea of ‘the commons’ is fundamental to many aspects of ecosocialism. Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 19.01.48For an IO to exist and to work, members have to embrace the concepts of creative commons and radical transparency. There also needs to be a high level of consciousness and self-awareness so that tensions can be addressed before they become toxic. This may be influence the varied success rates of IOs in different cultures.

It is essentially a simple enough idea. It takes organisational concepts back to fundamentals that have all-too-often been lost in the capitalist world. It is essentially about enabling people to work together to create value that sustains them all in a way that would not be possible individually. There is no place for the fear and ego that dominates most organisations that I have worked for. There are no limits to directions that can be followed and what can be accomplished.

It may all sound like a utopian vision. My fear, borne by what I have witnessed myself, is that such things succeed on the back of almost limitless commitment when people are in their mid to late twenties, but then life’s other responsibilities kick in, like having a family. The ideals also seem to eventually get corrupted by those ever present human traits of greed and jealousy. But this is what happened in the past, under the old models and paradigms. We are not talking about working for soulless corporations in glass boxes according to strict schedules. We are talking about being part of a community that comes together out of choice, surrounding ourselves with people we like and can learn from. It is an environment that enhances your creativity and humanity – rather than drains it away.

Chernikov sums where we are well:

“Our world is beginning to wake up to the fact that business, society and the environment are interconnected and that many of the systems and institutions that we have today have become too big and are no longer fit for purpose. To profit at the expense of nature or the poorest in society is not a victory, it is a failure of our humanity…… In a sentence, a new collaborative, pro-social economy is emerging, and if we are going to thrive in this new economy we all need to become better at practising collaboration, not just talking about it.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 19.06.36The march of new technologies knows no bounds. From 3D printing to nano tech and robotics, it is hard to imagine the world that may be just around the corner. The good news is that much of the technology erodes barriers to to entry. Tiny start-up companies an compete and outperform corporate giants in evermore fields. Instead of using armies of workers and costly infrastructure, new IO firms can leverage with technology and shared expertise, often de-materialising into the digital world. Economic and social theorist, Jeremy Rifkin, has described the ‘Zero Marginal Cost Society’. in which there is a shift in business goals from ownership and control towards access and value. This means less emphasis on selling stuff and more on providing value and enhancing the lives of a community of stakeholders. Marginal costs of production are reduced through the use of creative commons, open source and peer-to-peer networks. This can yield products and services of bespoke quality at unprecedented speed and cost.

As Bertand Russell once imagined (back in the 1930s), technology emancipates us and can free us up from drudgery. It can eliminate the hideous commute and the soulless workplace. It can free up more time for creativity, relaxation and leisure. Under current models, technology rarely achieves these things. It is more likely to imprison and overwhelm us. Social media are more likely to breed superficiality than empathy. We get sucked into the need to constantly have bigger, faster, cheaper, more efficient. None of this actually represents any sort of human progress.

Abraham Lincoln once said that the best way to predict the future is to create the future. Add this to Einstein’s quote about not being able to solve problems with the same thinking that created them. These thoughts inform the thinking of the millennials seeking to sort out the messes that we have ctreated for them to inherit. Chernikov’s essay ends with the following vision, that offers reason for us ecosocilaists to look forward to handing over the baton to the upcoming generation:

“What would happen if we rebuild society from the ground up with IO values? What would happen if we unleash a wave of exponential organisations that are driven by purpose and consciousness rather than profit and ego? What would happen if we stopped trying to squash everyone into increasingly congested cities in the name of progress and unleashed an wave of entrepreneurial migration into the countryside? What is we could make learning fun, relevant and social for students of all ages so that they can be better prepared for the imaginal economy?”


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