While votes are being tallied let’s look at why we need a new normal, what it could look like, and how to get involved with a new Retake initiative to explore what might be possible.
Our systems have clearly failed us. The neoliberal, profit-driven model for organizing our resources have brought us gross wealth inequality, widespread health insecurity, unsustainable growth and a devastated environment. While many have long pointed to the need for a wholesale transformation of our political and economic systems, COVID and the recent murder of George Floyd have exposed the failings of our systems to many more Americans. Plus with COVID putting our lives on pause, we have had time to reflect on our national and human condition.
Today’s post comes in two parts. The first is an examination of the normal we must reject. We review excerpts from “Normal Is the Problem: So is normal’s idiot child, ‘the new normal.’ What we’ve made normal never was natural” by Andrew Nikiforuk, a powerful piece that dissects the many ways our systems have failed us and what we’ve grown to accept as “normal.”
We then turn to what could be. It is not enough to say “no” to the normal we have endured, we must invent a new path to a transformed future. Retake is launching a Transformation Study Group that will examine research from across the globe to identify initiatives and policies that could be adapted to NM. At the end of this post you will find a list of curated resources assembled over many weeks and organized loosely into categories. It is not complete by any means, but represents a healthy starting point to our exploration. Also, at the end of the post is information about how you can become involved in the Transformation Study Group. But first, a brief exploration of the normal we reject.
The Normal We Must Reject
Let’s face facts: our hi-tech, globalized-trade-anything-for-peanuts world run mostly by tyrants isn’t natural.
Since 1970, an outpouring of normality has just about destroyed the Earth: It has created an abnormal economic machine, blind to energy spending, that doubled the global population and boosted per capita consumption by 45 per cent.
At the same time the so-called value of global economic activity grew by 300 per cent. Meanwhile global trade has exploded like a coronavirus by 900 per cent. To support all this consumption and trade, the extraction of “living materials” from nature has jumped by 200 per cent.
The list goes on. Humans, for example, have destroyed 85 per cent of the wetlands. That’s like eating your kidneys for dinner, and I can’t think of anybody who would consider that normal except Hannibal Lecter.”The Tyee: “Normal Is the Problem: So is normal’s idiot child, ‘the new normal.’ What we’ve made normal never was natural. by Andrew Nikiforuk
The last line about eating your kidney made Roxanne and I laugh, until we realized how apt a metaphor it is, how in order to sustain a neoliberal global order we are eating our futures and ourselves.
Nikiforuk then goes on to make an interesting observation about the word “normal,” pointing out that the word comes from the Latin word normalis, which refers to the right angles made by a carpenter’s square. He describes that only once we reached the industrial age did the term come to convey anything other than carpentry. Just as craftsmanship in the middle ages and Renaissance relied on precision of angles, in the industrial age normal conveyed the precise use not of wood, but of every resource imaginable, including people. We became expendable cogs to be organized and managed for maximized profit.
Nikiforuk extends the analogy:
“The standardized machine system demands normalcy because everything must conform to the right angles of progress, which means endless growth and consumption — all fueled by the fiction of cheap energy.
Normal really means big-box living and being a slave to machines. It means you’re so distracted by screens, speed and mobility, you can’t pay attention to what matters. Normal means you don’t have any respect for limits or sacred places. Normal means you think you can simply swap fossil fuels with so-called “clean energy” and protect the norm. But it mostly means you have surrendered your capacity to be human and to love this place.”The Tyee: “Normal Is the Problem: So is normal’s idiot child, ‘the new normal.’ What we’ve made normal never was natural. by Andrew Nikiforuk
Nikiforuk then creates a kind of chorus of qualities of normal to which he refuses to return. Among my favorites:
- “I don’t want to go back to an economy where corporations socialize all costs and privatize all gains. That’s robbery and theft. And it must end.”
- “I don’t want to go back to a world where it’s okay to industrialize and then globalize the care of old people as though they are just another resource to be mined before they die.”
- “I don’t want to go back to a world where lawyers and judges don’t understand the difference between a legal system and a justice system.”
- “I don’t want to go back to a world where economists from the evangelical church of exponential growth preach infinite consumption on a finite planet.”
- “I don’t want to go back to a world where political leaders don’t have the courage to talk about cheap energy, reckless consumption, over-population and climate change in the same sentence.”
Nikiforuk ticks off one thing after another that is simply not normal about our normal, and by the time you are done you realize the number of ways we have been duped into giving up on being human in exchange for being cogs in a corporate wheel. Normal.
I highly recommend reviewing the full article, as it points out how we need to invent a new form of normal, one where “normal” is not about the earth, land, water and people serving as so many cogs in the corporate machine, but rather the people being of service to the earth and our future. Click here to get to the full article.
To move forward, we need a target. We need to understand and define what is next. And so, we launch an investigation into what comes next.
Transformation Study Group:
An Examination of Systems Transformation & a New Normal
The excerpts above point to the critical need for America to re-evaluate what it has assumed to be “normal” life. Our systems have failed us for years, creating gross wealth inequality, unsustainable levels of growth, widespread health inequality, and desecration of the earth. COVID has caused many to question how we organize and exploit our resources and our people. But we must go beyond opposing injustice, we must advocate for justice, and to do so we must fully understand our options and consider what is possible.
Retake is launching a study group to review research on a number of far-reaching policy initiatives that collectively could define a “new normal” and a radical departure from our current economic and political systems. Many, but not all, of these new system transformations involve “municipalizing” public services and key industries to bring them under democratic public control. We will investigate how we can bring public ownership to key industries such as utilities, energy, finance, water, transportation, and others currently owned and operated by the private sector.
Our premise is that we don’t want the old normal. Instead, we must invent a new one that serves the needs of the community and planet rather than shareholders and wealthy execs.
We envision the Transformation Study Group meeting initially to review expectations and interests. Out of those conversations, members will pick an area of research. Below is an initial list of possible resources that span many issues. Certainly there are more transformative initiatives to be considered.
Some general principles to guide our Study Group are public control of major services and resources; local energy, food production & decision-making; more cooperative models of organizing labor; and the end of privatization.
If you would like to be part of this Transformation Study Group, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about yourself and your interests.
General Resources on Transformation
From The Correspondent.com: “The neoliberal era is ending: What Comes Next?”
From The New York Times: “Bernie Sanders: The Foundations of American Society Are Failing Us: The unequal impact of the pandemic and economic collapse are forcing us to rethink the assumptions of our system”
From The New York Times: “The America We Need”
From Resilience: “Could Covid be a portal to a viable society and economy”
Local Control, Local Food, & Strengthened Local Communities
Decisions about the things that define a quality of life––our water, our land, our food, our air––must incorporate strong elements of local control, local sustainability, and a stronger sense of shared commitment to community.
From Resilience: “A Search for a New Community”
From Community-Wealth.org: “Overview: Community Land Trusts”
An Economy Organized Around Nature & People
We are not cogs in a wheel to be organized by corporations driven by profit, we are humans with aspirations that are worthy of respect, dignity, and quality of life, as we define it.
From The Next Systems Project: “After the pandemic, a ten-point plan for the collective provision of basic needs”
How We Work: Cooperation Replaces Competition
Related to the category immediately above, the way we work should be organized around the needs of the workers and those who consume the products of their work, not around the profit of absent corporate CEOs.
From Democracy Collaborative: “Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale”
From Next City: “Formerly Incarcerated Women Form Worker Owned Cooperative”
The Birth of a Vibrant, Democratic Public Sector & The End of Privatization, Neoliberalism, and Capitalization
The overarching premise is that as long as our most important services and resources are “owned” by the private sector, their values and priorities will define and constrict our options and our lives. There are myriad industries, products, and services where exploring public ownership can be considered. The list that follows is a starting point. Bottom line, neoliberalism has failed to serve the needs of the many and we need to develop a robust public sector organized around our needs and the needs of a sustainable earth.
Transportation, infrastructure, financing, communications––all could come under the control of local communities. The three articles below describe the rationale for public ownership, after which we provide resources for municipalizing specific industries and services.
From Transnational Institute: “The Future is Public”
From Next System Project: “The Future is Public: Towards Democratic Ownership of Public Services”
From Next System Project: “Reclaiming Public Services: How Cities and Citizens are Turning Back Privatisation”
Public Telecommunications & Internet
From Next System Project: “Democratic Digital Infrastructure”
From In These Times: “We Should Own the Internet”
Public Ownership of Transportation
From Open Democracy: “When We Own It: A model for public ownership of transit in the 21st century”
From Jacobin: ”Nationalize the Airlines”
Public Ownership of Natural Resources, Including Fossil Fuels and New Green Energy Systems
In NM, we have experienced what happens when the private sector mines our minerals and drills our fossil fuels. As we transition to a sustainable, renewable energy system, we need public ownership to ensure our priorities govern those systems.
From: The Price of Oil: “The Case for Public Ownership of the Fossil Fuel Industry”
From The Next Systems Project: “Don’t bail out Big Oil; buy it up and shut it down”
From Food & Water Watch: “The State of Public Water in America”
Public Financing and Banking
From BankingOnColorado.org: “What are public banks and how do they benefit us.”
From Northeast-Midwest Institute: “White Paper: Public Banking in the Northeast and Midwest States”
From Fast Company: “Public Banking Can Finance the Green New Deal”
Public Pharmaceutical Production
From Jacobin: “Socialize Big Pharma”
A Greener, More Sustainable Life
From Resilience: “Soaring Beyond the Green New Deal”
From Truthout: “This Appalachian Community Launched Its Own Green Stimulus”
From Yes!: “From Emergency to Emergence”
Sustainable Food Production
From Resilience: “A Food Revolution Begins with a Seed”
From Resilience: “Building resilience into our food system”
Paul and Roxanne