Mr Trump, the Brexiteers and their mainstream opposition have a lot in common with the elite older generation responsible for 18 million deaths in World War I. All of them are part of an Old Order mired in subsiding ideas.
Back then, the older generation refused to acknowledge how the world had changed since the Crimean and Boer wars of their youth. Generals lied about the nature and the length of the war, politicians lied about its causes, and the press muffled the realities of war, not even publishing a photo of a corpse in France, Germany or Britain.
Never had there been a wider gap between official language and perceived reality. The young knew they’d been lied to, and the crimes of the elders seemed boundless. I read this last week in a book called ‘The Shock of the New‘ by Robert Hughes, and was forcibly struck by the parallels I see around us today.
With Armistice Day just gone the idea was reinforced, reminding me that HG Wells, writing in the hope that WWI would be ‘a war to exorcise a world madness’ observed:
“All the realities of this war are things of the mind. This is a conflict of cultures, and nothing else in the world. All the world-wide pain and weariness, fear and anxieties, the bloodshed and destruction, the innumerable torn bodies of men and horses, the stench of putrefaction, the misery of hundreds of millions of human beings, the waste of mankind, are but the material consequences of a false philosophy and foolish thinking”
The official line today, shored up from all sides by an elite older generation, is that ‘the economy’ is sacrosanct. Political opposition always talks up other priorities, but never challenges the ‘truth’ of the economic story. Our attention is incessantly tuned to financial markets and the ‘truth’ that we are defined by competitive consumption. We are entreated, cajoled, bullied and instructed to believe this story, whilst all around us the promised benefits turn to ash.
The problem for those who would be leaders, is that with instant connection and social media exchange at our disposal, the dissonance between the story we are sold and the lives we experience can’t be easily muted. As inequality soars, conflicts are stoked, mental health declines and industry abuses the environment – people make their displeasure known at the polls and beyond.
It is easy to be cowed by fear in today’s high pressure atmosphere of antagonism, but there are three sound reasons for holding onto hope.
The first is that no matter which side of the polls people sit, they all share a desire for a secure, healthy and happy future. What currently feels like an unbridgable gap between camps becomes a place where people can safely meet when they focus their minds on that shared ambition, and the shelling stops.
The second cause for hope is the strength of will to collaborate coming to life spontaneously all over the world in response to increasingly dystopian conditions. Since Paul Hawken showed how people were taking matters into their own hands in Blessed Unrest (2007) the challenge to ‘false philosophy and foolish thinking’ has been consistently growing. This is what has been rattling away at the Old Order, chipping away at the certainties of a bygone age.
What has always been missing though, is a coherent thread which would make the story whole. This brings me to the third and most compelling reason for standing tall.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy voiced the need for a credible alternative to the ‘world madness’ of an economy that ‘measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile‘. In 2007 the European Commission began the Beyond GDP initiative, and today ideas the Old Order would consider ‘dissident’ are being seriously entertained all over the world. New ideas of economy have taken root, and will not be going away.
Happy City typifies the powerful potential of these new ideas with the launch of a wellbeing measurement and policy toolkit designed to break the mould of the old obscure, remote, impersonal and impractical story of economics. The new tools are interactive, practical and engaging – transforming ‘the economy’ into a personal experience which makes sense to everyone no matter where they sit in society.
Here then is a major advance for those exploring a new economic ‘truth’ – a story we can trace with much better data than we’ve ever had access to before. It’s unlikely to end our our eternal ‘conflict of cultures’ because life demands both darkness and light, but it does have great potential for reconciliation.
Happy City and many like-minded organisations are attracting legions of support because the story of our wellbeing unites humanity. It looks to me like there’s an overwhelming majority lying in wait for those who champion this new story of shared commitment to flourishing lives on a flourishing planet.