Welcome to news stories that are too boring to mention – no matter how profound they may be. Just look at the BBC News web site on a day when the International Energy Agency announced that CO2 emissions are now so high that we will never keep global warming below 2 degrees. This news came on the same day that Oxfam warned that millions will starve due to rising world food prices (30th May). Then check out the top ten trending news stories of the day. The most read stories were those connected with the selection of the X Factor Panel.
In comparison we are pleased to say that our local newspaper did Tweet the major news story of the day for the 20th May: “The economics of happiness under discussion tonight”. We were right up there with “Wycombe’s history to be revealed tomorrow”. (My favourites were actually “Planning applications for May 20th” & “Pupil reaches Top Trumps final” but I digress.) However it was REALLY newsworthy for several reasons. Firstly our MP Steve Baker not only attended the film show but he also gave his own short talk on “the economics of happiness”. Secondly it could have been a humdinger of an evening with the stop-HS2 and anti-Stadium crowds threatening to bring the house down. In the end the latter didn’t happen. Even the lead-Councillor who told us he had “very strong opinions” on the matter didn’t get a question in as we ran out of time. But the discussion that arose (subsequent to the showing of the movie “The Economics of Happiness”) proved to be far more profound than anyone could have expected.
Firstly our MP is from the right of the Conservative party. Indeed he is considered to be a bit of a radical. Therefore it is worth pointing out that, by his own reckoning, he agreed with 80% of what the movie said. By Steve’s own words “I bet you didn’t expect a Conservative MP to say that did you?” He went on to say that “Democracy cannot solve these problems.” This is dynamite stuff. You could spin this into a great story.
Nobody bothered. Some make the papers – we make history.
So what is exactly going on here? “The Economics of Happiness” was a new documentary film that describes the damage that Globalisation can do to local communities. It was NOT a left-wing anti-corporate rant but it did layout what it considered to be the eight myths of Globalisation. It made a case for questioning the damage the economic-liberalisation can reap upon our wellbeing and our natural resources. The film asked the pertinent question: is it worth it? Is it doing us any good? Are there better alternatives? These questions are a modern heresy.
This film came to High Wycombe as a joint venture between the Wycombe Environment Centre, Wycombe Friends of the Earth and Transition Town High Wycombe. The three groups are strongly pro-localisation but not anti-globalisation. This isn’t modern isolationism. “Localism” is now quite the flavour of the day in Government too as is “Big Society”. What made the evening so astonishing was how it showed how much we all had in common – not what divided us. We are all heretics now. The message was loud and clear. As Steve Baker MP told us: big government can’t make us happy, only big society can do that. Spiraling Government debt means that the days when the public sector could just keep borrowing money will soon be over. We will have to learn to live within our means.
On behalf of the three sponsoring organisations we can add that “living within our means” includes living within natural limits. Steve has always said he doesn’t fully agree with everything the Transition Town movement says but he has not elaborated on what this means. He, like us, has preferred to focus on what unites us, not what divides us. We can guess that Steve is not too concerned about Climate Change nor is he a believer in Peak Oil. His school of political thought dismisses such concerns as the unnecessary post-cold-war concerns of Guardian readers. But he would be too polite to elaborate in such terms. (You only needs to glance over the blogs on his Cobden Centre web site to see where he is coming from.) …But everything has limits. Indeed, Steve may well have things upside down. Money is a figment of our imagination. It is conjured out of thin air as easily as it can be uninvented. Natural resources are far less benign and are not subject to the whims of economists & philosophers. But for one evening we reached violent agreement. This is the dawning of a new age, a new cultural renaissance and a new local economy built, not upon the dictate of central government, but by the will of the community. Whatever outcome you can wish for – real or imagined – it is the pathway to which we turn. There is no alternative anymore.
Steve Baker was right about one thing: it is no panacea. There are no panaceas. Transition is the world’s largest social experiment. Nothing more. It may well be that humans can never be happy. All the evidence suggest that it is the striving for happiness that brings about the flourishing that we all need. And for just one evening in High Wycombe we committed the heresy of asking about which economy would deliver the most amount of wellbeing… And we were no longer alone in uttering this….
Some eighty people joined us for the film show and panel discussion afterwards at the Bucks New Uni Gateway building. Many local Councilors were there too. One collared the Transition Town Chairman after the show and talked excitedly about how they could bring Transition to Princes Risborough. It was a great evening and the discussion over-flowed out into the street afterwards as the BNU reclaimed their lecture theatre. Promises were made to keep the dialogue going. There is a desire to see this through….. It is THE debate and its time has come. Like a minor earthquake through our town the first tremors have been felt. Time to rock the boat.
So… how much longer can we go on ignoring it? What has to happen for it to be front page material? When will it be accurately portrayed by people who care about, & understand, the issues? And who decides? Our problem is that this social experiment is not to be played out among the usual power-cliques. It cannot be thrashed out over a round of golf. THIS comes via Twitter like the Arab spring. It will be detailed on numerous blogs and the Google-sphere of internet chatter. The people running this revolution are having a cup of tea right now in somebody’s lounge. It is civilised, orderly….. But it is the News – real community News – we are making it and it is louder than war.