Let’s dance Jenka!

I was just carrying three bags of potatoes on my wheelbarrow, when I met Terje, walking his dog. We got into conversation about redesigning the way people think, bringing old ideas to the new context and generally about improving this world. Then he coined the metaphor of Jenka (traditional Scandinavian folk dance) – kick to the left, kick to the right, one step ahead, look around, then one step back and three steps ahead.

It’s not just for Norway, but – as I am travelling here at the moment – I tend to see especially how appropriate for the Nordic society it can be. We can dance it, can’t we?

Kick to the left, kick to the right.

The almost archetypical division between the right(eous) ones and those to the left, which permeated the whole realm of political thinking in the “western civilisation”, is long dead and stinking. As my favourite Political Compass shows, two-axis system is hardly sufficient to present variety of social and political aspects, defining ones political position.

Talking the left/right wind talk is so simplistic, that one simply cannot grasp issues of the commons, self-governance, community values, solidarity, subsidiarity of state institutions and more – all of that is just a blurred peripheral vision for those focused on the fight for central power, between the state and capital.  This struggle, historically, did a lot of good (and bad) and fuelled many social and political innovation. But, as a mental framework, it is relevant no more. Let’s shake off the dust, so to speak, from our feet and look for different perspective.

Step ahead, look around.

Within of the lifespan of the generation, so many changes will occur. I do not really mean the famous “singularity”, when the Artificial Intelligence is supposed to emerge. Not even the current tendencies of transhumanism. It’s all about changes in the wake of global crisis of global capitalism (and its political environment). The bottom line of the “neolib” ideology was that BOTH capital AND societies believe that “greed is good” and that the “invisible hand” of the market will take care of all good that a society may need. It proved to be a false promise, as the real market is never free and always tends to become more and more biased towards oligopolies and monopolies of various kinds. Besides, the accounting system – nerves and brain of capitalist economy – is totally unable to grasp majority of values and processes that are critical for the happy, fulfilled and healthy life. Meagre attempts to include immaterial needs into the GDP-oriented framework only showed how limited is the view from this angle. The global crisis, which started officially in 2008 and is still “in progress” if we can say so, marks the end of the suspension of disbelief. Global capitalism always run on promises. And now it run out of them. Period.

This is the time to diversify our options. Many concepts of social and economical governance, once neglected in favour of vigorous and supposedly efficient “glo-cap”, now get their second chance. With our improved knowledge, changed context and networked world, we can bring them back, redesign and give them a run. We can also develop new, still unheard-of, ways and measures to run civilisation.

One lesson is learned for sure. There is no uniform way for the world. We are all interdependent, but our roots, ways and abilities are various. No more “think global, act local”. Think local, act local, with global awareness.

One step back, think a bit.

So, if we want to develop the strategy rooted in the local context and tradition, we need to learn about it and to make “educated guess” what to choose as a backbone for our future. For the Norwegian society it is quite simple, I believe. In previous articles I tried – and hopefully succeeded – to point out the importance of the local community, networked with its peers, as the major entity of the society. Every person, except strict loners, also needed for the health of the society, was defined by communities (s)he took part in. And also served as the link between them. So, opposite to the claims of individualism, the reference level was at the local community level, but there was no radical sacrifice of individual values. And today there is even less need for such sacrifice, as one can participate in a number of intentional communities online and offline, exercising various aspects of one’s personality.

So, for the sake of these musings, let’s follow the community path.

And now forward.

Step one: focus on communities.

Communities in Norway stand fast. Even if they suffer from globalisation, individualism and privatisation, they still hold well through the institutions of confirmation, dugnad and many daily rituals, woven into the social fabric. They are well rooted in local context, living conditions and personal relationships. For the good and the bad – they are the strength of the society.  And it is not just about the “commune”, the parish, or traditional Bedehus community. It is about the community of fishermen, forest workers, coal miners or farmers. And many others.

Especially in the diversified environment, typical for Norway, it is impractical to run the centralised state, except for few aspects (education, money, external affairs) needed to keep it together. As for local needs – and resources – local communities, sometimes networked for the economy of scale , are as good now as the Skipreide used to be in 13th century.

All we need is to keep in mind that the power and authority goes from the bottom to the top of the state structure and the subsidiarity rule should be applied. With enough vigilance and participation from the community members

Step two: promote the commons.

When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
~ Cree Prophecy ~

The commons – or, as Elinor Ostrom defined it, the “Common Pool Resources Institution” – is a specific system of governance, focused on sustainable management of the shared resource, performed by the community of the most interested users of it, according to certain, communally accepted, rules. Overall concept of the commons paradigm is laid out by David Bollier in his speech in Berlin (Dec. 2012) and later in his book.

In brief, the commons means collective ownership and management of any shared resource – be it natural (forest, arable land, fishery), artificial (irrigation system, park, kindergarten) or virtual (Wikipedia, local traditional knowledge, Linux). The primary goal of this system is to keep the resource sustainable, for the long-term usability. It also serves to distribute both benefits and duties justly (however this term is defined in the community). Also, the commons preserves the resource from being enclosed: privatised, nationalised or otherwise taken away from the community, with the option to be sold on the market.

Norway has certain traditions of the commons, which I hope to investigate in future articles. For now it is enough to say that in many vital areas (food, water, mineral resources, education and healthcare) the commons can be considered the governance system of choice.

Step three: stay networked with the world.

Probably the greatest “deliverable” of the Cold War era is the internet. The dualism that laid under its concept made the network for the survivors of thermonuclear apocalypse the greatest tool for the freedom fighters. Among other features it made information and knowledge sharing easy and practically (in terms of marginal cost) free. The inter-networked community has immense access to the whole commons of knowledge, not to speak about quick and efficient communication channel. And there is also another meaning of “being networked” as I try to promote in my article from 2012. It is much easier to keep the community integral if you network with others, via a safe and unobtrusive protocol, than to be forced (or force others) into some kind of uneasy unification.

And next…

In my future articles I plan to investigate places and communities in Norway that has already made at least some of Jenka steps, described ago. I will also bring you some other stories and musings along the line of thinking drawn here. I hope we shall enjoy it – all together.

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