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    Collective psychology on the Government Versus the Robots podcast

    The new episode of the excellent Government Versus the Robots podcast is all about collective psychology and our report A Larger Us: you can listen to it here.

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    Political rage should be treated like PTSD

    What if we stopped thinking about polarisation as a political issue and thought about it as one of psychology and public health? I started wondering about this while working as a campaign director at Avaaz.org, the 47-million-member global citizens’ movement. Part of my job was to run Avaaz’s Brexit campaign, where my brief was simple: to fight for Britain to remain in the EU. As it turned out, though, a year working on Brexit convinced me that the biggest risk of Brexit wasn’t leaving the EU with no deal, catastrophic though that would be. Instead, I came to think that the real nightmare was the prospect that any outcome would leave Remainers and Leavers alike feeling betrayed and stabbed in the back. Brexit seemed less like a conventional political issue than a bleeding, septic wound in Britain’s body politic: one that would require a far deeper kind of resolution than a second referendum or any particular configuration of single market or customs union membership. (more…)

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    What kinds of personal transformation help to drive system transformation?

    What kinds of personal transformation help to drive whole system transformation? That was just one of the questions explored at a fascinating event hosted by Perspectiva earlier this week – if you don’t know them they’re really worth checking out, especially their great project on Beyond Activism. It’s a really good question, relevant not only to politics, but also to what we need our education systems to do at a point when we’re less clear than ever on what kind of skills our kids will need in a massively uncertain future. So here’s a first go at thinking through ten areas where progress in personal transformation would contribute directly to wider systemic transformation – and which (if we were smart) our societies would actively invest in training us on, throughout our lives: (more…)

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    We must learn to grieve our planet before we can save it

    It’s a week since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the world that we have just 12 years to avoid a catastrophic climate breakdown. You’d think we’d be discussing little else. But we’re not. On the morning of the IPCC report’s publication, only two British papers put the story on their front page – compared to seven that led with news of a kiss between two stars of Strictly Come Dancing. Remember the week after 9/11, when we talked of nothing else? Or the week after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, or the week after the Brexit result? How is it that the news we have 12 years to save the world – literally – doesn’t elicit the same reaction? (more…)

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    The Myth Gap: how to navigate a world of ‘post-truth’ politics

    Today’s ‘post-truth’ politics make for challenging times for those of us who think that public policy should be based on real data, science, and empirical evidence. Clearly, we shouldn’t abandon the facts, even if our opponents are doing so. Yet we do need to learn from our opponents – above all their adeptness at telling resonant stories. Take Donald Trump. The next President’s record of making misleading statements has become the stuff of legend – so much so that you can even download a Washington Post browser extension that automatically fact-checks his tweets as he posts them. But for all that Democrats howled at the election result, the hard reality is that Trump far outclassed Hillary Clinton in his ability to weave a compelling narrative about making America great again. Or take the Brexit campaign. Pro-EU campaigners were similarly outraged by the Vote Leave campaign’s claim that Britain sends £350 million a week to the EU – a number that they were quick to point out was more than double the true amount. Here again, though, it was stories, not data, that proved decisive, in this case about ‘taking back control’ from a remote, unaccountable bureaucracy. Or look at climate change. Over nearly two decades as a climate expert, working as a special adviser to two British cabinet ministers and as an adviser in the UN Secretary-General’s office, I used to be sure that with science on our side, policy change would naturally follow. If only. Instead, we haven’t even begun to reduce global emissions. Why? In a nutshell, because opponents of climate action have too often had the better stories, and stories always beat data. (more…)