"Radical Animal": the general proposal (for funders and stakeholders)


I've been putting in for various funds over the last few months to try to establish the future of Radical Animal - not just the writing/publication of the "book-net", but perhaps some institution/network/constitution that can turn ideas into practical projects, events, etc. Here's the generic text for these submissions - I hope it further clarifies what we're trying to do here, and sparks ideas on how you might get involved. Please contact me directly here, and if you'd like to buy/support book, please click here. 



Project title: Radical Animal: innovation, sustainability and human nature


Executive Summary:

There is a growing realisation that we cannot adequately respond to the challenges of climate change without a new and better understanding of human nature.

Governments might be trying to use the insights of behavioural economics to "nudge" and "steer" citizens towards sustainable living. But their campaigns meet with a general scepticism about politics and policy - easily resulting in popular and irrational resistance to any kind of change (see the Tea Party movement).

Radical Animal: Innovation, Sustainability and Human Nature, will take a different approach to the question of how we can be motivated towards a low-carbon, planet-friendly lifestyle. Play is the key - both our natural way of adapting to change, and the source of our ability to bring new ideas into the world.

I will show how a deep, multidisciplinary understanding of play can help redirect our passions from consumption to craft, from lifestyle narcissism to joyful participation, and thus live lighter (though just as richly) on the planet.

Radical Animal will be a "book-net" - a piece of well-researched public writing deploying social media to trigger and sustain a network of citizen-researchers, who will practise and report on persuasive examples of playful and creative acts of sustainability.

Project Description:

Radical Animal: Innovation, Sustainability and Human Nature is an attempt to analyze, and then reform, one of the toughest challenges that developed societies face. How do we shift and change our psychic investment in lifestyle consumerism, in order that we can reduce the material throughputs that exacerbate global warming?

From the bottom up, there are of course many millions who have consciously opted for an "alternative lifestyle", secularly or spiritually defined. And top down, there are governments (and some corporations) who are equally aware of their role in regulating conditions and signalling cues for low-carbon living. But the broad middle of developed economies are locked into a high-consumption, trend-driven capitalism.

The consensus on how destructive this system is to our planet's carrying-capacity is now clear. Yet the fact that consumerism answers our deep human needs for novelty and status - however inadequately - is rarely acknowledged. Can any appeal to transform our lifestyle priorities in a sustainable direction really ignore how radical we are as animals? How does it properly reckon with the irrepressible faculties of cognition and imagination that humans deploy to make our world anew?

Radical Animal attempts to answer these issues by building on my ten-year commitment to researching and exploring the power and potential of play for organisations, communities and educators (see www.theplayethic.com). Whether it's educators making the neuro-developmental argument for more playtime for children, or the games industry surpassing the film industry in terms of revenue and engagement, or successful organisations programming free creativity into their work cultures, play is increasingly regarded as a valuable resource for human motivation.

Play is both natural and radical for humans. It's both our connection to the wider world of complex mammals who also use play as "adaptive potentiation", experimentations to help them survive and thrive. But play is also that lifelong flexibility and transformativity (the "neoteny" of the human condition) which allows us to innovate - to "take reality lightly" and shape it according to our plans and dreams.

The question Radical Animal will explore is: can we disconnect our playful capacities - our natural imagination, experimentalism and lust for novelty - from the exploitations of hyper-consumerism? And then reconnect it to a whole range of engagements and activities that provide equal levels of psychic richness and satisfaction to that of status goods or fashionable consumption?

A key area to explore will be the importance of craft - the personal construction of objects and services, as a route to meaning, mastery and autonomy. Also, the power of festivity and carnival - forms of collective, organised behaviour whose end is experiential pleasure, and whose means is participatory involvement. Communication and game platforms can amplify and coordinate this new, joyful activism. But the aim is to rechannel our playful natures from serving an isolated, subjective escapism, to supporting a civic, intersubjective engagement.

The Radical Animal thesis will be the founding moment of a process I am calling a "book-net". A book-net is where a sustained piece of writing and thinking becomes a tool and resource for community action and collective understanding, using a combination of live meetings, social media and new content distribution channels. The book will be a continuous work-in-progress, with six-monthly updates (1.0, 2.0, 3.0), delivered digitally or as print-on-demand, that reflect the input of the book-net community.

I would also want Radical Animal to be a forum and archive for people to record and report examples of "playful sustainability", sharing practise and coordinating their own events and initiatives. I will commit to regular real-world visits with groups and communities putting the ideas of Radical Animal into everyday use.

Project Description Attachment: Strategic Promise:

Recently there has been a rise in the relevance of biology and the natural sciences to social science - manifested in the specialisms of evolutionary psychology and behavioural economics. In these fields, much of the recalcitrance and short-termism that subverts a commitment to sustainable lifestyles is seen to be rooted in what behavioural economists call the "inner Homer Simpson" of our evolved human cognitions. For me, this is too limited a conception of the potentiality of humans for self-transformation, particularly from the perspective of the centrality of play and neoteny to human development, and the more dynamic neuroscientific models of consciousness. Sustainability should speak much more to the inherent optimism and ambition of playful human nature - currently exploited by hyper-consumerism, which is arguably a more primary determinant of popular resistance to lifestyle change. Radical Animal will attempt to enrich this field in through consilient, multidisciplinary study.

Capacity for Success:

I am an award-winning journalist/ex-newspaper editor, published author and creative consultant to many large organisations and institutions throughout the world (see http://www.patkane.info/2007/12/and-you-are.html and http://www.theplayethic.com/what-is-the-play-ethic.html). The Play Ethic, published by Macmillan, received international praise from both press and scholarly journals in 2004 (see http://www.theplayethic.com/thebook.html): I can produce public writing and research of high quality. I am also an expert in social media, having run several blogs and commercial music sites (see http://www.patkane.info/2010/08/my-active-sites.html), so I can easily develop and manage my proposed "book-net". I also have an invitation to be the first ever artist-in-residence at the Centre for Theological Inquiry at Princeton University, at the request of its director William Storrar, from Feb-May 2012 (as yet unfunded). I intend to develop some of my core research on Radical Animal there.

Expected Outputs:

* A book text for "Radical Animal: Innovation, Sustainability and Human Nature", revised every six months and republished (see below)

* The construction of a "book-net" (under the general domain of www.radicalanimal.net) to turn the text into a usable tool for sustainability activists, researchers and the general public. Its elements will be: -- A social blog to accompany the writing of the book, offering elements of its research to interested communities (under the webdomain www.radicalanimal.net).

-- An e-book and print-on-demand publishing strategy, using platforms like Amazon Kindle, iBooks/iPad, Lulu and Blurb, promoted through social networks like Twitter and Facebook -- A customised "Radical Animal" social network to support research and practice

* An itinerary of visits (projected: 8 per year x 3 years) to communities using "Radical Animal" ideas, including academic symposia (see Princeton residency in previous field).


Expected Outcomes:

Firstly, what needs to shift are strategic discussions at government and business level about the best way to get people to engage with the challenges of low-carbon, sustainable living. Understanding people as potentially active players in the game of lifestyle innovation, rather than as poor Neolithics incapable of coping with modernity, will effect a change in both commercial offers and governmental policy. My concept of the "ground of play" - where the risks of social experiment occur within a context of sufficient security - justifies a new vision of public goods that are not only resource-efficient, but also provide opportunities for conviviality and product/service co-creation of all kinds, as compensation for the decline of hyper-consumerism. The second level is consumer and citizen pressure from below to press for the policy implications of Radical Animal: shorter working-weeks, new support for local enterprise, more imaginative and supportive public infrastructures.

Enduring Impact:

I firmly believe that properly situating the complex and sustaining role of play in human flourishing, right throughout the lifespan, will legitimate an overall shift in the systemic priorities of developed countries. We need a better, richer conception of human motivation that that afforded to us by two centuries of classical economics - which has brought us to the perilous paradoxes of globalisation: one world united by immaterial communication as never before, but also a world whose material engines of progress have brought it to the brink of biospheric disaster. Yet humans do not deliver their best response to crisis under conditions of fear and exhortation - as the many hyper-consumerist climate-change deniers prove. Accepting our wiring as play-driven "radical animals", and fashioning governmental and commercial strategies accordingly, will turn the paralyzing apocalypse of climate crisis into a grand and exciting challenge to our faculties, skills and imagination.




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