Down in a basement meeting room of the Holiday Inn Oxford Circus…that’s where the Centre for Human Emergence – UK (CHE-UK) was born on the afternoon of Friday 26 July 2009. Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck, Jon Freeman (author of ‘God’s Ecology and the Dawkins Challenge’), Rachel Castagne, Lynne Sedgemore CBE, Ian MacDonald of the Integral Centre, the veteran activist and author Rosemary Wilkie and myself harmonising an intent – creating a spirit, if you will. That intent is to build MeshWORK alliances to design natural solutions to local problems in the context of a globalised world.
The next 2 days, Saturday 27th – Sunday 28th, saw CHE-UK host its first event, ‘A Regent’s Summit on the Future of the UK’ at Regent’s College. Don, Rachel and Jon led the event and old HemsMESH colleague Christopher ‘Cookie’ Cooke flew in from Switzerland to lend his talents to a task-and-feedback session on the Sunday. About 50 people joined us to get a feel for what the real issues are confronting the UK and what we might do about them.
The general consensus was that in the UK a lot of the positive influence of the BLUE vMEME has been diminished by the emergence of GREEN (a not-uncommon pattern in much of North America and Western Europe). This weakening of BLUE has had a number of negative effects – ones especially noted were:-
- the lack of discipline in our culture, particularly amongst young people – resulting in RED excesses such as binge drinking and violent rowdiness on our city centre streets at weekends
- the collapse of effective regulation in our financial markets, resulting in toxic ORANGE taking the kind of foolish gambles on debt and investment which have brought the banking systems to their knees
- the RED, thoughtless greed of many politicians milking the expenses system to and beyond its limits – with some clearly having committed fraud
The ‘expenses scandal’, it was generally agreed, served as the tipping point for so much anger amongst the general population that has been building up, suppressed and simmering, for so long. The occupants of the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, the cradle of modern Democracy, are now perceived far and wide to be ‘on the take’ just like the officials of those corrupt regimes our government used to be so fond of criticising. That only about a third of MPs have been exposed in this way and the actual sums involved are piddling in the grand scheme of things – eg: National Debt estimated at £1.3 trillion!! – are beside the point. As a kingdom, we are humiliated and in one hell of a mess.
As Lynne commented, people are now genuinely outraged.
A deeper malaise?
There was a recognition that there was a lot of variation in just how far the recession was affecting people in different parts of the country. Ali Gibson made the point that in leafy Buckinghamshire £200-£300 on a new handbag was still a ‘normal’ purchase while in a neighbouring health authority hospital waiting times were way below national targets due in part at least to lack of funding.
As a northerner I was keen to stress the ‘disappearance’ of much the traditional male working classes in the north of England, South Wales and the Scottish Lowlands and the effect on the health of PURPLE and RED that was having in their communities. For many in those classes, the recession began in the 1980s and has continued more or less since. (See my previous Blog, ‘The Thatcherite Era is ended. Whither Britain?’, for more on that.)
But, interestingly, in our discussion groups the sense of an even deeper malaise began to emerge as we talked about what it mean to be British…the nature of the British identity. The source of that malaise, it was felt, was the loss of Empire. Britain through the16th-19th Centuries was an invader and a conqueror. With our Empire eventually stretching over a third of the habitable globe, much of the world’s story in that time was our story. There was belief in ourselves and the religions we espoused – all those Christian missionaries! – which fed a stream of great innovations, from the road building of Thomas Telford to George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ to the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin to the medical breakthroughs of Joseph Lister and Edward Jenner to the astounding engineering feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. A sense of: “We are British. We can do.”
As a trained historian very aware of the horrors of colonialism – knowing that many of the conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa are rooted in the European boundaries which cut right through tribal territories and made artificial nations of unwilling tribal slices mixed with unwilling tribal slices – I found the thought that there could be any good in ‘Empire’ initially quite a challenge to my GREEN.
However, as Don pointed out, the rights and wrongs of what the colonialists did, in the context of our current discussion, were only relevant in that GREEN was still castigating us for the evils done. The question, then, is: does this castigation actually obscure the damage to our RED pride and BLUE nationalism by the loss of Empire…?
Add to that the fact that the once-mighty conquerors are increasingly looked upon as a liability by our military allies. Our army, having relied on American air support in Helmund province and still being unable to suppress the Taliban, American troops are now flooding in to do the job we can’t.
Discussion then raised the issue that, as an island nation, not invaded since 1066, do the recent waves of immigration constitute an invasion of sorts? Thus, the mighty invaders and creators of ‘Empire’ are now themselves diminished and invaded. For me, this was all a series of challenges that became ‘ah-ha moments’. I had previously tended to see racism and ethnic hatred as simply PURPLE’s rejection of those ‘not our tribe’ – especially when security (jobs) are threatened. But, for the British at least, is there also an element of invasion and loss of national pride involved?
What made these discussions particularly astonishing were that there were people in the room from the former Empire – Asians, West Indians, etc – whose grandparents and great-grandparents would have been subjects of British rule and its many indignities. But nobody got upset. Nobody got overly-emotional. Nobody wanted to decry the Empire and rake over the ‘evil coals’. Everybody was completely focussed on the collective character of the British psyche, where it was now and why and what needed to be done to lead that British character to a new place.
These were truly 2nd Tier discussions that transcended personality and history. Truly, truly astonishing!
Of course, not everyone there was well-versed in Spiral Dynamics. But a couple of brief-but-potent presentations from Don gave everyone enough of a flavour to contribute to the discussions. Another pleasure of the weekend for me was seeing so many people get turned on to the power of the Spiral Dynamics model to explain human motivation.
Hope from the mess
In discussing the nature of the British character, we also identified many positives. We are and remain:-
- Leaders in many, many ways
- Great innovators
- Quirky and eccentric – often precursors to innovation
- Resilient and supportive of each other in face of external threat – eg: the ‘Blitz Spirit’ being rediscovered in the aftermath of the 2005 terrorist bombs in London. (See Dave Lowe’s comment on the Blog ‘Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber’) Under pressure, the identity of the tribe expands to include all on our side.
- Humour-full – we can usually see the humour and irony in most things and we don’t usually take ourselves too seriously
- At the centre of the world, a bridge between Europe, America and the Commonwealth
These exercises gave us the sense that there is still much Britain has to give the world; but, to do that, we have to sort out our current problems and believe in ourselves again. As Rosemary put it: “We have had a great story. Now we need a new great story.”
We need strong RED proud in the BLUE frame of responsibly ’doing your duty’ as just the start of creating that new story.
But our new story has no place for the prejudices, discriminations and abuses that have sometimes sullied our past. One of the most interesting tales of the weekend was one with which Rachel effectively closed the summit. She had been to a folk festival recently. One of the performers, the traditional singing legend June Tabor, had asked the audience what it meant to be English. After some repartee and banter, Tabor answered her own question: “If you love this land, then you’re English.”
Of course, there is no single homogenous English identity. And there certainly isn’t a British one – just ask the Scots, Welsh and Irish! But there is a sense of being English…and there is a sense of being British, whichever of our 4 constituent countries you come from. And, using Tabor’s definition, if you’ve just arrived in this kingdom for the first time but you love this land, then you’re one of us.
At the end of the 2 days, we hadn’t come up with magic solutions. We didn’t have an agenda to present to Government. Those things will come in time; but we had made a start on serious work.
And there were a lot more of us at 5 PM Sunday than there were at 5 PM Friday. Welcome. Juliana. Welcome, Denise. Welcome, James. Welcome, Jon (Twigge). Welcome, Willa. Welcome, Ali. Welcome, Faheed. Welcome, Richard. Welcome, Sherrif. Welcome, Carragh. Welcome, Dave. Welcome, Julian. Welcome, Laura. Welcome, Eileen. Welcome, Shaun. And so on…and so on…and so on…and so on…..
There will be 4 more summits to follow on from this weekend and then there is the EuroConfab at Gatwick 23-25 October – the first time the Confab has been held in the UK. If you’ve a mind to understand and a heart that loves this land, then please join us!
[For a more formal description of the founding of CHE-UK, see: ‘From Rule Britannia to Cool Britannia to Integral Britannia’.]