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Day to Day Politics: Transformational thinking is the new realism

Monday 11 July 2016

Author’s note:

What follows is a post on Facebook by a friend of mine. His name is Stuart Whitman and once or twice a year I catch the train to Melbourne for a cup of coffee with him. He now runs his own business but more recently he worked for Senator Mark Dreyfus.

It is not often that one comes across writing that encapsulates one’s own thinking on a particular subject. Like Stuart I would also describe myself as leftish on social policy and more to the right on matters of the economy. Anyway, without taking the wind from his sails what mostly took my attention from his fastidious and far reaching thinking was when he talks about change and the requirement that we get better at our democracy.

Those who follow me would know that I have written much on both change and the decline in our democracy. Although we now have a new government nothing has really changed and all the old problems still exist. Problems that will not be resolved until the resurrection of our democracy is attended to. As Stuart Whitman says. The need for transformational thinking is paramount.

Transformational thinking is the new realism

A good deal of my political life I have considered myself fairly centrist in my political worldview, oriented to the left on social and environmental policy, and to the right economically, and a liberal internationalist on foreign policy. I understood that these countervailing positions somehow pulled me towards the centre.

Early last year I posted on Facebook that elections are won or lost in the centre, especially in pragmatic Australia, and I believed that moderate and incrementalist programs of reform were the best way forward.

And under usual late 20th century post-Cold War conditions and early 21st century optimistic assumptions this would be a reasonable position to take. While I still identify as a social democrat I am not so certain anymore about the relevance or usefulness of binary thinking about social and economic policy.

We do not have time for any more of this timid politics.

The more I consider scientific evidence for the great environmental challenges and upheavals that are mounting in urgency and intensity, to the point we are warned that our global civilisation is under real threat, and the more I consider that our old economic paradigms are not delivering for the vast masses of people and a rapidly growing underclass of unemployed and under-employed people, the more I realise breakthrough transformational thinking and courage for a significant paradigm shift and ambitious program of systemic change are required.

But that change requires bringing the people with us, which in turn requires that we get better at democracy – policy makers and politicians becoming more skilled at involving the people at the front end of policy making, resourcing and building organisational structures that encourage INFORMED participation in governance and the economy, and building persuasive cases to win the people’s consent based in fact and through dialogue, not policies developed by a select elite and packaged in shallow marketing speak during campaigns.

Sadly, I see in so many places around the world we are turning our backs on democracy and scientific reasoning for tactics based on feel-good emotionalism or personality cults, or fear to speak the truth to power or fear based in scapegoating the vulnerable.

I am changing my views from a more incrementalist political mindset to a more transformationalist one because circumstances show me I need to adjust my view because the old economic and political assumptions are falling short and the old tools to solve problems aren’t working and that is an exercise in realism and pragmatism, not ideology.

My thought for the day.

“A commitment to love and social justice demands the transformation of social structures as well as our hearts and minds”.

Further reading by John Lord:

Do you feel good about our democracy?

The end of Australian Democracy.


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  1. stephentardrew

    How true John I have been thinking lately that we need and ethical currency which adds to national moral decency and humanity and rather than seeing pensioners, the disabled, unemployed, domestic violence victims, health care etc. as a burden we should see providing resources and a satisfactory lifestyle as a great source of ethical wealth that counteracts so called fallacious national debt. We could soon turn the debt table around by accepting an ethical moral surplus of justice, equity, security, love and goodness. In essence a moral currency.
    For millennia we have been conditioned to think that money is the only source of real profit when the security and happiness of our fellow citizens is our real wealth.

    Spending on renewable energy should be in ethical dollars not driven by pure profit motives. Saving the environment requires ethical dollars that with a fiat currency we can create and spend to build our moral and ethical wealth. They can both work hand in had the profit and ethical motives. Automation and technology are going to leave many without work so it is time to look at lateral and creative alternatives. In a world where we have enough resources to let so many suffer intolerably is unethical, cruel, brutal greedy and morally unjustifiable. That is what our societies have become.

    Either we change or live with the type of cultural insanity that willingly and volitionally destroys so many lives and the biosphere. The ignorant cannot see that it is coming to get us all if we destroy the biosphere. Eventually there will be no place to hide no matter how wealthy you are. The choice is clear either love and decency or greed, self-interest and self-destruction. We are on the cusp of endless suffering or we can radically change for the better. More of the same is a suicidal mission to hell.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Election count update…if there is anyone still interested.

    ABC predicting 76 to 69 (current count 74-66)

    5 seats are still in doubt

    Capricornia LNP’s Michelle Landry in front by 150 votes
    Cowan Labor’s Anne Aly is 500 votes in front
    Flynn LNP’s Ken O’Dowd in front by 411
    Herbert Labor’s Cathy O’Toole in front by 163
    Hindmarsh Labor’s Steve Georganas in front by 352

  3. stuffme

    Well put John and Stu, and stephentardrew.

  4. cornlegend

    Kaye Lee
    I am :-}
    I was hoping like hell they’d get stuck on 75
    And only 3 more sleeps till Senate preferences can be got stuck into

  5. wam

    love it lord. We have just elected our first transformational leader of a government who has the mandate for the plan for transformation.(wonder if he searched the term?)
    They have told us of their proven leadership since whitlam and Australia has chosen to follow and trust the coalition.
    little johnnie set the anaesthetic
    the lemon provided the scalpel
    gillard, oakeschott and windsor bared their breast
    the rabbott cut the heart out of democracy

  6. jim

    I think we need a good slogan like our AIMN is to MAKE DEMOCRACY WORK,

    From wiki;Re ABC, An early challenge to its independence came in June, 1940 when wartime censorship was imposed, meaning that the Department of Information (headed by Sir Keith Murdoch) took control of the ABC’s 7 p.m. nightly national news bulletin.[8] This lasted until September, when control of the news was returned to the ABC after listeners expressed a preference for independent news presented by the Commission.[8]

    For democracy to work we need to fix the Liberal party biased at “our” ABC for a start.

  7. Harquebus

    Transformational thinking has nothing to do with reality.
    Population reduction is the only viable solution and it is too late to do it voluntarily. Either we end up killing each other or mother nature will do it for us.

  8. Jaia

    Good on you John – transformational thinking IS dealing with reality……our ‘trusted’ leaders are in fantasy ego land….like Pine said “we are an election machine” says it all. No humanity in that!

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