First Draft for discussion in Vikalp Sangam process initiated by Kalpavriksh
THE SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVES: KEY ASPECTS AND PRINCIPLES
Notes for a dialogue
Can we collectively search for frameworks and visions that pose fundamental alternatives to today’s dominant economic and political system, as part of the Vikalp
Sangam process? How can such frameworks and visions build on an existing heritage of ideas and worldviews and cultures, and on past or new grassroots practice? This note attempts to lay out some thoughts towards such a process, and is offered as one means to stimulate dialogue and visioning.
The note does not contain a critique of the currently dominant system, but assumes that we have some common understanding of this. Most importantly, that there are structural roots to the crises of ecological unsustainability, inequity and injustice, and loss of life and livelihoods. Centralised and heirarchical state systems, capitalist corporate control, patriarchy and other forms of social and cultural inequality (including caste), alienation from the rest of nature and from our own spiritual selves, and undemocratic control of knowledge and technology, are part of this structure. Not everyone may agree with all of this, but it is proposed that we can discuss the specifics of the problem elsewhere, while here we move towards what we think the paths and visions forward could be based on broadly shared sense of the crises.
What is an ‘alternative’?
Alternatives can be practical activities, policies, processes, technologies, and concepts/frameworks. They can be practiced or proposed/propagated by communities, government, civil society organizations, individuals, social enterprises (qs for discussion here, will there be a legitimate place for private business?)
It is proposed that alternatives are built on the following pillars (or overlapping circles):
a. Ecological sustainability, which includes the conservation of the rest of nature (ecosystems, species, functions, cycles) and its resilience.
b. Social well-being and justice, including lives that are fulfilling and satisfactory physically, socially, culturally, and spiritually, and where there is equity between communities and individuals in socio-economic and political entitlements, benefits, rights and responsibilities.
c. Direct and delegated democracy, where decision-making starts at the smallest unit of human settlement, in which every human has the right, capacity and opportunity to take part, and builds up from this unit to larger levels of governance by delegates that are downwardly accountable to the units of direct democracy.
d. Economic democracy, in which local communities (including producers and consumers, often combined in one) have control over the means of production,
distribution, exchange, markets; where localization is a key principle, and larger trade and exchange is built on it.
e. Cultural diversity and knowledge democracy, in which pluralism of ways of living, ideas and ideologies is respected, and where the generation, transmission
and use of knowledge (traditional/modern, including science and technology) are accessible to all.
Many or most current initiatives may not fulfil all the above. Perhaps we can consider something an alternative if it addresses at least two of the above features (i.e. is
actually helping to achieve them, or is explicitly or implicitly oriented towards them), and is at least open to the other features. This means, for instance, that a producer
company that achieves economic democracy but is ecologically unsustainable (and does not care about this), and inequitable in governance and distribution of benefits
(and does not care about this), may not be considered an alternative. Similarly a brilliant technology that cuts down power consumption, but is affordable only by the
ultra-rich, would not qualify (though it may still be worth considering if it has potential to be transformed into a technology for the poor also).
The above is clearly very tentative, and needs further discussion; it is offered only as a thumbrule to the discussion on what could be considered fundamental alternatives to
the current system.
What are the alternatives in various sectors?
Society, culture and peace
Initiatives to enhance social and cultural aspects of human life, including: • the revival and progressive use of visual, performing, and other arts, of the myriad crafts of the country, of threatened or submerged languages, and other such traits and processes that are part of cultural diversity and pluralism;
• struggles and constructive movements to achieve social justice and peace, to reduce inequalities and inequities of various kinds including caste, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion, and to create dignity in living for those currently oppressed and exploited;
• movements to generate ethical living and thinking, and spread values such as simplicity, honesty, frugality, and tolerance.
Initiatives that have communal, sexist, or other motives and biases that are related to social injustice and inequity, or those appealing to a narrow nationalism intolerant of other cultures and peoples, would not be considered alternatives.
Alternative economies & technologies
Initiatives that help to create alternatives to the dominant neo-liberal or state dominated economy and the ‘logic’ of growth:
• localisation of economic activity with democratic control
• producer and consumer collectives
• local currencies and trade, non-monetised exchange and the gift economy
• ecologically sensitive products and processes
• sustainable production and consumption
• innovative technologies
• macro-economic concepts that respect ecological limits, and approaches to human well-being that go beyond growth, GDP and other narrow measures and indicators
What may not constitute alternatives are superficial and false solutions, such as predominantly market and technological fixes for problems that are deeply social and political, or more generally, ‘green growth’ kind of approaches that only tinker around with the existing system.
The search for dignified, ecologically sustainable and meaningful livelihoods and jobs, including:
• continuation and enhancement of fulfilling traditional occupations that communities choose to continue, including in agriculture, pastoralism,
forestry, fisheries, crafts, and others in the primary economy;• sustainable, dignified jobs in manufacturing and service sectors whereproducers and service-providers are in control of their destinies and revenues are equitably distributed.
Possibly outside the purview of alternatives are livelihoods, traditional or modern, where non-workers are in control and profiting (monetarily or politically) from the
exploitation of workers, even if the enterprise claims to be ecologically sustainable.
Settlements and Transportation
Featuring both rural and urban areas, and the search to make human settlements sustainable, equitable, and fulfilling places to live and work in:
• sustainable architecture and accessible housing
• localized generation of basic infrastructural, water and energy needs
• biodiversity conservation
• waste/garbage minimisation, and recycling, efficiency and frugality in the use of resources
• defense and revival of common and open spaces
• decentralised, participatory budgeting and planning of settlements
• sustainable, equitable means of transport that can be accessed by all, and reclamation of areas given over to private vehicles for common use
Expensive, elitist models that may be ecologically sustainable but are not relevant for most people, may not fit into alternatives.
Initiatives and approaches towards people-centred governance and decision-making, with direct participation, and based on principles of social and environmental justice:
• local non-hierarchical systems of decision-making (direct democracy) in urban and rural areas
• linkages of such direct democracy institutions to each other at bio-cultural or ecoregional levels
• re-imagining current political boundaries to make them more compatible with ecological and cultural contiguities and connections
• collectives or communities that raise non-party political concerns at the local level and beyond
• activities enhancing accountability and transparency of political bodies containing delegates or representatives of direct democracy institutions, including parties and the state, and movements towards a truly democratic state
• policy frameworks that are based on or promote the alternatives discussed in other sections here
Knowledge and media
Initiatives using knowledge as an empowering and enabling tool for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable world:
• encouraging cross-fertilisation between ideas, and promoting information exchange and transcending boundaries between modern and traditional, formal and informal, and urban and rural spheres of knowledge
• processes that make information access free, or easier in places usually neglected, considered ‘remote’ or disconnected
• making knowledge part of the ‘commons’ rather than a commodity privately owned or controlled
• alternative media initiatives that raise questions ignored or deliberately allowed to remain hidden in the mainstream media, and innovative use of media to communicate enabling information
Environment and ecology
Initiatives that promote the principles of ecological integrity and limits:
• decentralized conservation of land, water and biodiversity, based on a respect for both local and modern knowledge, and considering environment as an integral part of life and work linking livelihoods to ecological regeneration and restoration at local and landscape level
• tackling pollution and waste
• greater understanding of ‘nature’ which includes sociological, historical and geographical considerations, and aspects such as rights of other species and of nature
Superficial solutions to ecological problems, such as planting trees to offset pollution, may not be considered alternatives.
Initiatives that explore and encourage alternatives to the current centralized, environmentally damaging and unsustainable sources of energy:
• decentralized renewable sources
• equitable access to ecologically sustainable energy
• optimizing production and distribution, improving efficiency, making public institutions accountable, and regulating demand (e.g. for luxury consumption)
What may not count are expensive, elitist technologies and processes that have no relevance to the majority of people.
Learning and Education
Initiatives to create spaces and opportunities for learning and education that enable continued or renewed connection with the environment and nature, with one’s community, with one’s inner voice, and with humanity as a whole:
• nurturing a fuller range of collective and individual potentials and relationships
• unlearning the alienating, fragmenting, individualizing ‘education’ that mainstream institutions have been giving
• synergies between the formal and the informal, the traditional and modern, the local and global, and head-heart-hands
• ensuring accountability of public institutions including the state towards facilitating such learning and education
Health and Hygiene
Initiatives ensuring good health and healthcare for all:
• preventing ill-health in the first place, including the provision of nutritional food, enabling an environment that is healthy, and so on
• ensuring access to curative facilities to those who have conventionally not had such access, including through accountability of the state’s responsibility towards citizens
• synergizing various health systems, traditional and modern, bringing back into popular use the diverse systems from India and outside including indigenous/folk medicine, nature cure, Ayurvedic, Unani and other holistic or integrative approaches community-based management and control of healthcare and hygiene
Food and Water
Initiatives towards food and water security and sovereignty:
• producing and making accessible safe and nutritious food
• sustaining the diversity of Indian cuisine, and promoting slow food
• ensuring community control over processes of food production and distribution
• making water use and distribution ecologically sustainable and equitable
• decentralised conservation
• retaining water as part of the commons
• democratic governance of water and wetlands
Purely elitist food fads even if they pertain to healthy or organic food, and expensive technological water solutions that have no relevance for the majority of people, are
unlikely to be considered as alternatives.
What other sectors and aspects should be listed here?
What values and principles are expressed in alternatives?
Practical and conceptual alternatives vary widely, and none are replicable in precise form from one place to the other, given the diversity of local situations. However, it
may be possible to derive the crucial, commonly held values and principles nderlying these initiatives. Here is an initial list of such values and principles.
Ecological integrity and the rights of nature
The functional integrity of the ecological processes (especially the global freshwater cycle), ecosystems, and biological diversity that is the basis of all life on earth.
The right of nature and all species (wild and domesticated) to survive and thrive in the conditions in which they have evolved, and respect for the ‘community of life’ as a
Equity and justice
Equitable access of all human beings, in current and future generations, to the conditions needed for human well-being (socio-cultural, economic, political, ecological), without endangering any other person’s access; equity between humans and other elements of nature; and social, economic, and environmental justice for all.
Right to and responsibility of meaningful participation
The right of each citizen and community to meaningfully participate in crucial decisions affecting her/his/its life, and to the conditions that provide the ability for
such participation, as part of a radical, participatory democracy.
Corresoponding to such rights, the responsibility of each citizen and community to ensure meaningful decision-making that is based on the twin principles of ecological
sustainability and socio-economic equity.
Diversity and pluralism
The integrity of the diversity of environments and ecologies, species and genes (wild and domesticated), cultures, ways of living, knowledge systems, values, livelihoods,
and polities (including those of indigenous peoples and local communities), in so far as they are in consonance with the principles of sustainability and equity.
Collective commons and solidarity
Collective and co-operative thinking and working founded on the socio-cultural, economic, and ecological commons, respecting both common custodianship and individual freedoms and innovations within such collectivities, with inter-personal and inter-community solidarity as a fulcrum.
Resilience and adaptability
The ability of communities and humanity as a whole, to respond, adapt and sustain the resilience needed to maintain ecological sustainability and equity in the face of external and internal forces of change, including through respecting the conditions enabling the resilience of nature.
Subsidiarity and ecoregionalism
Local rural and urban communities (small enough for all members to take part in decision-making) as the fundamental unit of governance, linked with each other at bioregional and ecoregional levels into landscape, regional, national and international institutions that are answerable to these basic units.
Simplicity and sufficiency
The ethic of living on and being satisfied with what is adequate for life and livelihood, rather than hankering for more and more.
Dignity of labour and work
Respect for all kinds of labour, physical and intellectual, with no occupation or work being inherently superior to another; and the need for all work to be dignified, safe,
and free from exploitation.
Could all this converge into holistic alternative worldview(s)?
Can some holistic worldviews and frameworks emerge in the above exploration, which can be a strong challenge to the currently dominant systems? For this, we need to address the following (amongst many) questions:
How much are ancient or early practices and concepts, that have emerged over the last few thousand years in India, still relevant … and how much are they susceptible to being co-opted by communal or neoliberal forces?
What do major ideologies and teachings (Gandhi, Marx, Ambedkar, Aurobindo, Tagore … others) have that we can build on?
How do we learn from adivasi/indigenous/tribal/dalit worldviews and practices, usually submerged under the more dominant articulations?
The same, with other special perspectives, such as feminist?
What do we have to learn from other civilisations and peoples around the world?
How do we make all this relevant to today’s India, including its youth?
And last, but not the least, what processes can bring together the dispersed, fragmented, and diverse struggles working towards alternatives across India, on some common grounds and visions?