STWR interview: Awakening the heart for a great transition

Vincent Lassalle is a political researcher who is currently undertaking a 9 month long study focused on the question of post-industrial transition. During his recent time in London, UK, he visited STWR to learn more about our work and perspectives on international economic sharing as central to the process of global transformation.

Below is an abridged and edited version of his interview with STWR's editor, Adam Parsons, as orginally published on Vincent's website What.happens.now?


Vincent Lassalle: Could you please describe your organisation and its mission? How did you come to work for Share The World’s Resources?

Adam Parsons: We are looking at the question of global social transformation, the great transition that lies ahead. I believe Share The World’s Resources offers something which is not part of the conventional dialogue around this critical question, even in academia and global justice circles.

Ten years ago, I was a press journalist in Britain and I became quite disillusioned with the mainstream media. I decided to travel and learned more about the state of the world, the sustainability and inequality crises. At the time, these issues weren’t part of the general consciousness. Still today, I don’t think most people - especially in affluent countries - have a proper understanding of the extent of the civilisational emergency we are in, to the point of a certain need for sacrifice in the developed world, which most people shy away from. I actually wrote a book about the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, which was an attempt to illustrate the severity of poverty that exists in the world and isn’t reflected in global statistics.

I heard about Mohammed[1] and his work while I was travelling in India, and I later met him in London and was offered the opportunity to join the organisation he founded in 2003. I shared his belief that the divide in global living standards is at the centre of world problems today. To deal with all our other issues, including the environmental crisis, we need first and foremost to address the issue of life-threatening poverty and hunger.

Ideally, STWR would have two arms: one to work on global policy issues, and we have worked on these issues in the past at the United Nation’s level, in debates such as the Commission on Sustainable Development, which has now been superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process. And a second arm, focusing on and driving the global citizen’s movement we need to tackle these intertwined issues of inequality and sustainability.

At the moment, we are mainly focusing on writing a comprehensive book called ‘Studies on the Principle of Sharing’, while also informing people about Mohammed’s work and in particular the book he has just written, Heralding Article 25: A People's Strategy for World Transformation. This book covers in particular the spiritual dimension required for global transformation to take place, and the massive mobilisation of civil society necessary to pressure governments to share the world’s resources.

Not much has been written on the question of how to transform the inner attitudes of mankind, except in a very preliminary fashion from civil society campaigners like Tom Crompton of the Common Cause Foundation, which explores the need to engage with people’s values in order to create social transformation and to have the right type of messages in the way you communicate.

The change we need is so huge and the current governments are so locked into the old paradigm, that nobody knows how this transition is going to happen. This is where Mohammed’s work is so important in exploring the psychological and spiritual, as well as the social, economic and political dimensions of how to bring about a fairer sharing of the world's resources.

So, it isn’t only about the policy changes but also the individual changes, the shift in values and the spiritual awakening that needs to take place for the societal transition to occur.

Could you briefly describe in your words what this transition is about?

For STWR, we see it as an epochal, civilizational transition to a more equal and sustainable world. The final destination is unknown and what the global economic system will look like in 20 or 30 years, nobody really knows. But what is most important is to catalyse a tremendous consensus among the global public around the need for a more balanced distribution of resources among all nations. What we can define is the values that need to change, and the principles of sharing and cooperation are fundamental to the coming great transition, individually, nationally and globally.

That transition is under way and we are seeing it in all kinds of areas, from the peer-to-peer and commons movements, the social and solidarity economy, the many new economy and democracy initiatives. However, the scale of change we need is global and needs to be implemented at the intergovernmental level, which is the only solution to the civilizational challenges we are facing. Not just creating sustainable communities but a global change led by the community of nations, which, we would argue for many reasons, must be organised through the United Nations system.

If cooperation and sharing are the values we need to embrace, what practices should we leave behind?

In very simple terms, the first thing that needs to disappear is the existence of hunger. There is no need for anyone on the planet to go hungry. We produce 1.5 times the world’s need in food. Another issue that needs to be prioritised is the extreme discrepancy in living standards worldwide, in which wealth is being concentrated in ever fewer hands. That trend needs to be reversed. Arguably, if that process begins through an emergency redistribution programme organised through the United Nations, all the other issues we are facing could be dealt with.

The problem of global inequality is solved by first addressing global hunger and to do so, we need a massive awakening of compassion from ordinary people to pressure governments to redistribute food and other essential resources, which could be accomplished in very few years.

We need a sustained and massive engagement of civil society around this issue. We need to see civil society reclaiming the UN as a people’s organisation.

Many people criticise change strategies that go through existing power structures or “Occupy” movements like you describe. You still believe that is the way to go forward, why?

Yes, I imagine you are referring to people like Paul Mason or Nick Srnicek. But if we achieve some kind of global spiritual unity in the manner we've suggested, we do not see why we could not use existing power structures. The Occupy movement only comprised about 0.01% of America’s population. It needs to be a much, much larger movement than that. If 10% of the population mobilized, nobody can gainsay the potential for political transformation, as Mohammed has written about extensively in such articles as Rise Up America!.

Furthermore, the issue with Occupy was that it didn’t have specific demands and it was focused on the national picture. We would like to see a people’s movement in the US not focused on Wall Street but focused a few blocks from there, surrounding the UN headquarters. The scope of our demands must be international.

We don’t need to talk about complex issues like quantitative easing, but about simple, far-reaching demands such as guaranteeing Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people through a fairer sharing of the world’s resources. This is what can mobilize the majority population with a unified cause, including the 800 million people or more who live on less than $1 a day.

If there is enough people on the streets in continual, peaceful mobilisations worldwide – like we saw on a comparatively smaller scale during the Arab Spring and Occupy uprisings – then governments are compelled to do what the people’s voice demands, and we can envisage a wholesale change in global priorities.

We need a new kind of global activism, one that engages the heart and looks beyond national borders. There is no reason why we cannot create a “heart awakening” among millions of people through their compassion for those who go hungry in the world.

Do you have a clear policy agenda for what needs to change, if you were to achieve this massive global movement?

We describe the need for an emergency redistribution program to be created under the United Nations, which was first detailed in a report from the Brandt Commission in 1980. We need to modernize it for our era, but that is the basic outline we would put forward.

To oversimplify what we have been discussing up to this point, you wish to appeal to people’s hearts to create a massive civil society movement which would put pressure on nations and the UN to create an emergency redistribution program. How do you respond to the classical criticism facing international aid, since the last part of this scheme definitely resembles aid?

Sure. What you need to understand, when we talk about the awakening of the heart, is that people are currently unaware of the true extent of global hunger and poverty. In the present context, the aid we redistribute is nowhere near enough, and is often given with conditionalities that favour strategic or corporate interests in the donor countries. The poor countries are also financing the richer countries through illicit financial flows, profit repatriation, unfair trade deals, etc.

The whole debate you mention fits within a specific context; we need to see a change in that context itself. That can happen if there is immense engagement from ordinary people around the issue of ending hunger, which would lead to an outpouring of food and other essential resources to the poorest parts of the world. If sustained over a period of months and even years, that ceaseless outcry from the global public would also impel governments to bring about major structural changes in the world economy, leading to a rebalancing in the distribution of world resources. In the end, ‘aid’ as we understand it today would be a thing of the past.

Maybe this is a ‘First World’ perspective, but sharing is definitely a rising trend. Do you see this as positive?

We’ve written about the sharing economy quite extensively, and our basic critique is that these peer-to-peer and local initiatives are often being co-opted by commercial interests and stripped of their transformative potential. The true sharing economy is something far different and begins with a political conception of justice for the world’s poor. Mohammed has expanded on this subject at some length in a recent study, and argues that a transformative vision of sharing will only be found when millions of people rise up for an end to poverty-induced hunger across the world, as we have briefly discussed in this interview.

You discuss the concept of degrowth often on your site. What is your perspective on this issue?

Well, we are not necessarily in support of the whole degrowth rationale, but we certainly believe in the need for a post-growth economy and entering a steady-state era. There is a strong scientific case for this, especially in relation to the climate emergency, as propounded by Kevin Anderson at the Tyndall Centre, for example.

How do you concretely develop the movement of heart awakening that you wish to see?

We have our website and our publications, we take part in conferences but we are a small organisation. It is a philosophical and inner change in human consciousness that is needed. We try to educate people to tell them that there is another way of looking at political issues, at what is happening in the world, requiring a change of perspective on the refugee crisis for example. What we focus on at the moment is education.


[1] Mohammed Mesbahi is the founder and chair of Share the World’s Resources

Original source: What.happens.now?