The SIMPOL Solution.


 Blog No. 132.

The literature on humanity’s current political and economic direction is almost universally dystopian. No one seems able to write a Utopia that can factor in the all too obvious direction in which latter-day capitalism is dragging human civilisation. Salient characteristics of the current age include undiminished expenditure on increasingly lethal weaponry; increasing economic inequalities within and between nations: increasing nationalism; increasing anti-scientific fanaticism; decreasing democratic rights and sense of community; social fragmentation, willingness to resort to violence in despite of international law etc. All this is being played out in the face of a rapidly approaching climate catastrophe, which is itself brought about by the divisive, anti-communal selfishness that lies at the centre of neo-liberal capitalist ideology.

In my most recent blog, I explored one of the possible favourable solutions. Naomi Klein’s proposed solution is the ‘Leap Manifesto,’ which she is actively engaged in promoting. In this ambition, all those multifarious NGOs and individuals, sufficiently alert to be actively striving to better the lot of humanity and the planet it inhabits, come together to share and care for the others’ goals. In so doing, they form a community strong enough to persuade politicians that they have to move in the direction advocated. The essence of Naomi Klein’s argument is that the prerequisite for humanity’s survival is a massive change of communal consciousness among a significant proportion of the planet’s population. But have we time enough? John Feffer’s ‘Splinterlands’ is a recent (another) dystopia which would argue that we haven’t.

Naomi is not alone in this advocacy for an attitudinal sea-change. Two decades or so ago, John Bunzl, a UK businessman-cum-political philosopher, formed a political movement called SIMPOL (short for ‘Simultaneous Policy.’). His fundamental argument is that the modern globalised world is mal-functioning due to destructive economic competition between countries. This has resulted in a race to the bottom. National governments look to gain competitive advantage over their neighbours by pillaging and vandalising the oceans and atmosphere held in common by humanity, but not subject to regulation by any single governmental body with executive authority (the ‘tragedy of the commons.’)

Far worse, national governments find themselves impelled to legislate to attract overseas investment by offering trading conditions ever more favourable to international corporates and ever less favourable to the mass of a nation’s citizens. Were nations to agree to introduce remedial legislation simultaneously, they could do so free of the fear that a competing nation might steal an unfair competitive advantage.

Based on the argument that the globe is in desperate need of some form of over-arching, democratic governance system, Bunzl has developed a two-pronged strategy designed to bring about this favourable situation. It is indeed an elegant solution in that it retains democratic control throughout, while not requiring the intellectual understanding and commitment of the majority of the electorate.

In essence, SIMPOL is a proposal for a system to be established whereby globally desirable, rather than purely nationally advantageous, policies could be formulated and put to the vote. If a critical mass of national parliamentarians could be induced to vote to put such policies into effect simultaneously and in multiple jurisdictions, the problem would be solved. Here are some SIMPOL relevant policy ideas.

The first step is to persuade electoral candidates and ultimately, a critical majority of elected parliamentarians to sign a pledge to their electorates that they would vote for any SIMPOL proposed or approved policy. This is with one crucial proviso: that there was sufficient support for the measure to be simultaneously adopted in sufficient other national parliaments.

Bunzl argues that modern democracies often result in constituencies that are marginal. As rival candidates compete, they do so in the knowledge that a swing of just a few hundred or so votes, in one direction or the other, can often decide which candidate will represent the constituency in the coming parliament.

The second prong of SIMPOL’s approach is to recruit a sufficient number of articulate members of the electorate, who in turn take their own pledge to give their vote to whichever is their most favoured candidate, irrespective of party affiliation, provided that the candidate has taken the pledge to implement simultaneous policies once elected. As the candidates have no idea how many SIMPOL ‘sleepers’ they have in their constituency, their inclination is to be safe rather than sorry and to take the SIMPOL pledge. Given the SIMPOL movement’s current limited penetration of national electorates, candidates can take the pledge with confidence that they will be most unlikely to be called to act on it within the next parliamentary term.

It is envisaged, that once a critical mass of national parliamentarians has taken the pledge sufficient for there to be a real possibility of simultaneous policies being implemented, those policies will be formulated with the full participation of all pledge-takers, be they sitting parliamentarians or members of the public.

At first sight, the SIMPOL proposal looks like an extremely far-fetched example of wishful thinking, which would face multiple obstacles in its implementation. Despite this justifiable reason for scepticism, there are increasing numbers of UK parliamentarians, (approx. 10% of all MPs) who have taken the pledge. and the movement is also recruiting in at least twenty other countries.

Clearly, in a first-past-the-post electoral system, the direct leverage exerted by a relatively small group of SIMPOL members within the electorate is greater than that they can exert in countries, such as New Zealand, where a high proportion of Members of Parliament do not represent constituencies, but are appointed from party lists. However, what is significant is that increasing numbers of MPs and candidates are not taking the SIMPOL pledge because they anticipate some form of electoral advantage, but because they genuinely see the need for the implementation of the system on an international scale.

While the current global demagogic fashion is to emphasise nationalism and factionalism (as per Trump, Le Pen and Farage) among those segments of the population, who are more open to appeals to the head rather than the gut, there are signs of a growing acceptance of the urgency of a global, planet-friendly and community-friendly change of direction. To quote from the Wikipedia entry: “Think Globally, Act Locally” originally began at the grassroots level, however, it is now a global concept with high importance. It is not just volunteers who take the environment into consideration. It is corporations, government officials, education system, and local communities…”

Trump’s ‘making America great again’ is countered by Naomi Klein’s’ Leap Manifesto. Grass-root movements such as the UK’s ‘Transition Towns’ splutter into life and will gather increasing strength as the crises of latter-day capitalism and its climatic accompaniments multiply.

Internationally, parliamentarians are seeing the need to surmount party political divisions and form cross-party alliances of MPs, who place their societies’ long-term future welfare above that of their party’s, or nation’s short-term interests. The GLOBE movement is one of the highest significance and is achieving impressive goals in relation to keeping the factor of climate change in the foreground of political debate.

In John Bunzl’s most recent book, “The SIMPOL Solution,” he argues convincingly that our present age is seeing a significant advance in global awareness and thought. Basing his arguments on Dr Clare Graves’ original theory of ‘spiral dynamics,’ Bunzl cites an “ascending spiral of worldviews” as societies’ cultures and consciousness evolve from the basic urge for primitive clan/family survival, through tribalism and warrior dominance, through the hierarchical, traditional authoritarian society to ‘modern’ individualistic thought (such as epitomised in the European Enlightenment and the emergence of the modern nation state.) The final stage in this ‘first tier’ level of social thinking is ‘postmodernism.’ This is the stage with which most of those reading this blog will be familiar. The thinking is anti-hierarchical, environmentally aware, multi-cultural and given to acceptance of other view-points, while the economy is post-industrial and informational.

Though the world consists of multiple societies, all at different stages of evolution along the spiral, in the postmodern, informational age the thinking of individuals within those societies has access to and can break-through to higher levels of social thinking. It is here that we come to what Bunzl calls his ‘second-tier thinking.’ There is a quantum leap from first- into second-tier thinking. In the second-tier, consciousness is categorised as ‘Early worldcentric’ and ‘Late worldcentric.’ Thinking moves from individualism to awareness of integration in the living whole of the planetary system. This is not the place to go into such detail (Chapter 6 of The SIMPOL Solution ‘A new thinking platform’ is where more detail can be found.) Bunzl believes that as human consciousness evolves along the spiral of worldviews, the arguments behind adaptation of the SIMPOL concept will become increasingly apparent and ultimately, irresistible.

Noam Chomsky’s comment, when the SIMPOL system was explained to him, was “It’s ambitious and provocative. Can it work? Certainly worth a serious try.” That was some years ago. The problem is that though SIMPOL appears to be accelerating (having just about doubled its representation in the UK House of Commons in the last election) we are now getting rather pushed for time! The environmental damage being inflicted by neo-liberalism and late-phase capitalist greed is also accelerating apace and fast closing SIMPOL’s window of opportunity. Can anyone hear other cavalry bugles on the other side of the hill?

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