Alter Ego is a European network of change makers who are rethinking progressive politics by profiling the vital importance of spiritual, psychological and cultural transformation through gatherings and online media.
We got to meet the founder, Ronan Harrington (the one with the fab Siberian hat just right of the bonfire flame) and the rest of the Alter Ego crew during last year’s gathering when we subsidised several spots for activists who wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise. We were impressed with what we saw, part camping trip, part political hackathon, part Burning Man, part nondenominational ashram, Alter Ego had the makings of a prototype for what effective collective problem solving of systemic issues could really look like.
Alter Ego does not address one social issue, but rather the root cause of why we are failing to address social issues more broadly. Their take is that this failure is due to a lack of understanding of the spiritual, psychological and cultural aspects of societal development. To change society’s structures, we need to change its culture, and the mindsets these consist of.
As Margaret Tatcher famously said: “the method is economics, the objective is to change the soul” (the irony of quoting Margaret Thatcher here is not lost on us).
The idea is to deepen the social change community’s understanding of how change happens, based on a realisation that we can only expect people to wholeheartedly engage in a radical transition if they are emotionally balanced, have their essential material and psychological needs met to attend to societal matters beyond themselves. Simply asking people to change their behaviour without establishing these foundations does not work.
Ronan says that “at the root of our social and political crises lies the fact that people are hurt and afraid at a subtle psychological level. Many of us are stressed, anxious, and have lives characterised by social relations that are bad for us, constantly battling negative emotions of poor self-esteem, loneliness, and depression. This makes us self-absorbed, incapable of taking on larger perspectives, and less likely of acting upon the long-term risks that are threatening our global civilisation. The key to alleviate this is spiritual and psychological development.”
Higher levels of emotional well-being depend on the cognitive capacity to navigate our personal emotions and social relations. Our ability to overcome negative feelings and psychological issues, figuring out what is causing us pain, and reflecting on how we can improve our lives and relations to other people can be more or less developed. But personal development does not need to be a purely personal matter, something we figure out by ourselves. We can increase our development through outside assistance by various forms of behavioural and cognitive therapy, psychotherapy, meditation and mindfulness techniques, and well-informed methods of coaching and counseling.
These methods already exist and have proven efficient means to improve overall well-being, but they largely remain a privilege of the few. Therefor Alter Ego’s mission starts here, cultivating a new societal discourse that emphasises personal and cultural development over purely material gains; norms that challenge our current ideas of perfection and the good life and what we as a society consider good behaviour. Ronan adds “These can never be purely legal matters. Changing our laws and systems does not suffice to create a more socially and environmentally concerned society. We need cultural change as well, a more developed culture that puts greater emphasis on values beyond the material such as compassion, sensitivity, intercultural understanding, and tolerance of human differences and individual weaknesses. Our culture needs to be kinder, more acceptant of the individual. We need a more listening society.”
To summarise, Alter Ego has emerged from the realisation that we, as an emerging European and global society, are in direct need of:
– a deeper understanding of social change and its spiritual and psychological dimensions,
– a redefinition of the concept of progress, and what it means to be progressive
– a better understanding of how personal and societal change relate,
– and that psychological and cultural development must be given higher priority in politics.
The mantra that can restate all of the above in poetic brevity, can be taken from the think tank Metamoderna the work of which has inspired a lot of the thinking and feeling behind Alter Ego:
“To unite the many struggles
of the exploited bodies of the poor
with the struggles of the lost,
suffering souls of the rich world.
And to expand that struggle
to sustainability across time and space.
And to expand that solidarity
to fathom the vast suffering
and multiplicity of perspectives
of the animal realm in its entirety.
And to deepen the struggle
until it is reborn as play.”
The Guerrilla Grant
Realising the power of communication and the inevitability of using a diverse arsenal of media tools to mainstream your ideas, Alter Ego decided to launch an online media channel and produce a season of content (10 videos) that communicates the core perspectives of their network to the wider world. This will be a combination of short 3 min explainer videos on the the importance of spiritual, psychological and cultural development (e.g., why psychological development is the key to solving our political crises) and longer interviews with leaders in our network and public figures in the progressive space (e.g., interviewing Iranian Performance Artist Sara Zaltash on female rage and male shame in the wake of #metoo). Guerrilla funding will be used to continue developing the channel until it has established a core audience and is a viable position to demonstrate value to other funders who might be hesitant to offer early-stage support. You can get a first couple of intellectual amuse-bouches here: