A guest blog from Martin Kirk on what’s up with the current poverty discourse.
We know that many people in the UK misunderstand poverty and development: there’s reams of evidence on that. But there are interesting lessons to be had when we look at what it is that they actually think. For example: the idea that Oxfam run orphanages, something that surfaced when Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring recently appeared on an episode of Undercover Boss. While this sort of misplaced belief might seem trivial, it exposes a far bigger problem than a simple case of misinformation.
First, let’s think about why it is that people might hold this belief. I worked for Oxfam for many years, and I never saw anything about orphanages in public communications, so it seems a strange belief to be common. Of all the possible things people could envision, not to mention all the many things Oxfam actually does and talks quite loudly about, why orphanages? The reason it appears in people’s heads is that it follows logically from their understanding of poverty and of Oxfam.
This is a guest blog from Jane Powell, originally posted here.
What does food mean to us? Is it fuel for the engine, a fashion item, an export commodity, a sensual temptation, a vehicle for culture and celebration, a badge of religious and political identity, or a vital connection with the natural world? It can be all of these things and more, and the stories we tell about food will have consequences for what we choose to eat, and ultimately the food systems that we end up with.
“Human beings show a broad spectrum of qualities, but it is the worst of these that are usually emphasised, and the result, too often, is to dishearten us, diminish our spirit.” – Howard Zinni
In a recent OpenDemocracy piece, I argued that the way we’re living now – over-worked, over-consuming, environmentally-destructive, indebted, isolated and unhappy – has a strong relationship with the models of ownership and decision-making in our institutions.
Why, and what can we do?
We’ve recently been working with Genis Carreras – the talented graphic designer behind Philographics - to visualise the Schwartz values inventory and we need your help!
But first, here are some example values…
Common Cause draws on research by an academic called Shalom Schwartz, who divides values into four overarching groups: openness-to-change, self-transcendence, self-enhancement, and conservation. Yeah, right, they’re a bit of a mouthful.
It also draws on work from researchers such as Grouzet and Kasser who use a similar model but that relates to goals.
When we’re talking about Common Cause, we often just talk about two values groups that combine the two: ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’. This terminology is pretty familiar to many people now, and it’s particularly useful for telling a simple story of how our society has become more materialistic, more unequal and more selfish – shifting from intrinsic to extrinsic – like George Monbiot recently did in the Guardian.
But as with any simple story, it’s incomplete. Read more
Common Cause ruined my career, it removed a lot of my assumptions, and took me to a more radical perspective. It was like taking the red pill, once you’ve taken it you can’t go back. You see how misdirected much progressive work is.
Martin Kirk, /The Rules, ex Head of Campaigns at Oxfam-GB
Common Cause applies what we know about motivation from social psychology to the big problems facing the world. We’ve had a go at whittling it down to 10 principles…
What do you value in life?
If you ask anybody this question, there’s surprising similarity in what people say. You can generally put people’s values into four broad groups:
- Change & autonomy values, such as creativity and freedom,are linked to tolerance and comfort with difference. (Openness-to-change values)
- Care & empathy values are all about concern for others and the environment, equality and tolerance. (Self-transcendence, or intrinsic values)
- Stability & security values, such as social order and respect for tradition, are associated with maintenance of the status quo and discomfort with other groups. (Conservation values)
- Power & competition values are linked to prejudice, discrimination, materialism and concern about status, self and money. (Self-enhancement, or extrinsic values)
We all hold all of these values, but to different degrees. These four groups work in opposition to each other as in the diagram below. Care/empathy values are opposite power/competition, and change/autonomy values oppose stability/security values. This means we’re unlikely to value one set highly if we value the other set highly. (Read more about how this works here!)
The initiative was launched by Scottish Environment LINK’s Wildlife Forum in January 2013 – the Year of Natural Scotland – and continues to invite all MSPs to choose from our list of species that are currently facing significant threats to their future – and then champion their survival. MSPs were encouraged to find out about the species they champion and make a video about why they feel this species is important.
The Common Cause report shows us that intrinsic values, such as equality and connection with nature, are associated with actions and attitudes towards a fair and sustainable society. Our ability to act for a greater good – as individuals, as a society – in other words depends on how altruistic or unselfish we are, how important it is for us to act in the interest of others than ourselves. In Schwartz´s model, those that he calls ‘self-transcendent’ values are in tension with the ‘self-enhancement’ values on the other side of the circumplex.
The self seems fundamental here. How do we perceive the self? Here is one perspective.
The story of the Separate Self
At the roots of our society is the story of the Separate Self: ‘You are not necessarily a part of anything; you are alone in a world of other separate selves.’ This is an old story, but it has become more obvious in the light of today’s globalization and erosion of community. If you don´t get what you need, you can buy it. If the person who grows your food, builds your house, or takes care of your kids, moves or dies, you can just get it from someone else. If all the fish in the seas get eaten, you can just buy fish from another sea. We don´t belong anymore (and for want of belonging, we instead focus on belongings…).
The notion of ‘self-transcending’ values can be said to be part of this story of separation. Because we are separate from others, we must transcend self-interest in order to care for them.
This logic is often reflected in the way NGOs present issues such as climate change or world poverty. We should do something about it because it is the right thing to do. We should care about other people, even if they are far away and we have never met them. Sustainability becomes a moral issue, and this can feel pretty overwhelming.
How powerful are morality and altruism as motivations for social change?
Picture taken from http://ecowe.org/2013/01/29/the-ecological-self/
“Let’s make it a movement! For the first time in many years, I feel we can actually change things if enough people want to.”
Camilla Sjöström, Uppsala
In our whistle-stop tour of the Nordic Countries we’ve sea-kayaked through the Stockholm Archipelago, watched the aurora light up Icelandic skies and walked barefoot through Norwegian forests. Along the way, we met up with the wonderful people who already work on Common Cause, and made contact with others who might. We’ve also spent a surprisingly long time in foreign bookshops looking for large dot stickers to stick on values maps…
Now we’re back, footsore and fancy-free! We’re ever so slightly disappointed by the endless rain in Wales, and the non-double-decker trains (why can’t we just rebuild all our train bridges?) but rather inspired by what is happening in Iceland, Sweden and Norway.
So what’s going on, and how can you be involved? Read more