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Crisis, What Crisis?

The term ‘crisis’ in Chinese is made up of two characters: one to signify ‘danger’, the other to signify ‘opportunity’. The Crisis Forum is founded on the premise that the danger - or, more accurately, the interlocking series of political, economic, environmental, social and epidemiological dangers we are facing - is unprecedented in human existence. Indeed, there is a high probability that unless we drastically change our global political and economic practice, the human species may not survive into the foreseeable future. The critical period is certainly imminent. Yet at the same time, and however paradoxical this may be, there is also opportunity in this situation. It may still not be too late to create an economically and environmentally sustainable, socially just, ethically and spiritually grounded, even resource-rich basis for our existence on this planet. The key, we propose, lies in rethinking our social and political relationships so that the ameliorative actions we do take enable us to live with the planet rather than against it.

But in order to act one has to have good information, sound reasoning, and clear foresight. The way that mainstream Western opinion formers and policy makers responded to the events of 11 September 2001 underlines the degree to which the nature of the problem continues to be interpreted in a very narrowly-focussed and tunnel-visioned manner. Put alongside global warming, third world starvation, resource wars, a spiralling decline in biodiversity, AIDS, the risk of global economic melt-down, the threat of terrorism, forms of religious fundamentalism, and so on – and we begin to see that any particular issue, far from being the nub of ‘the crisis’, simply becomes symptomatic of an all-encompassing systemic dysfunctionality.

How then does one go about seeing the wood for the trees? And are there ways in which the public at large can have access to a broader, clearer picture?

The Role of the Academy - the Alternative Role of the Forum

In modern times when political leaders encounter complex problems they often turn to ‘experts’ for assistance. Very often the assumption is that the boffins can find some technical or managerial fix enabling the ‘system’ to run a little more ‘efficiently’, ‘profitably’ or ‘cleanly’. Not only does the Forum argue that this can hold no longer as a sound basis for action given the multi-faceted nature of the problem of global crisis, but in a sense the experts - i.e. academic institutions - have themselves become part of that problem.

It is not that many academics are not doing extremely useful things. At the University of Southampton, for instance, there are people beavering away on all manner of issues: solar power, intermediate technologies, carbon emissions, ocean currents and climate change, the causes of asthma, the relationship between globalisation and AIDS, genocide, nuclear proliferation, civil engineering for flood prevention, and so on. However, the majority of this work is undertaken in an extraordinarily atomised and discipline-specific fashion. A simple riposte to this might be to say : ‘let’s find ways of undertaking genuinely inter-disciplinary projects’ and it is certainly true that universities increasingly do aspire to this mantra.

The problem is that as soon as one is committed to this approach one then has to find funding for it, which in turn ties one in to very onerous bids for research council grants where the agendas are already set by the funders, and usually with precise sets of technical fixes as to their end-goals. Not only epistemologically-speaking is this indicative of how academic good intentions become boxed into a ‘system’ - the problem is actually massively exacerbated by the way survival in the academic sector is now almost entirely dependent on bowing to the zeitgeist of the global market, i.e. undertaking research or teaching programmes not because it matters but because it pays. Thus, at the very time when the energy, commitment, intellect and resources of academic institutions are more urgently needed than ever to help find ways out of the current impasse, it is perhaps not inaccurate to say that these very same institutions have lost the bigger plot.

We propose that what is needed is some alternative method by which those academics in Britain and beyond, who are genuinely committed to analysing the bigger picture and with a view to changing it in favour of a sustainable future for all mankind, are themselves enabled and empowered.

The Forum as we envisage it could be one such enabler by:

  • acting as a magnet for academics or independent researchers from any discipline who want to analyse the nature of crisis (from whatever perspective) and seek lateral but holistic remedies for it;
  • breaking down the barriers between academic disciplines through the development of wide-ranging but nevertheless specific research projects which address the ‘big’ issues;
  • offering courses which promote and disseminate our analysis and vision to a wider student body, including potential decision makers, policy makers and campaigners;
  • providing in-depth analysis and/or a consultancy service through Forum publications and/or on behalf of other organisations, media etc., but always with a view to wide and inclusive dissemination.

» who we are - brief biographies of Crisis Forum members.

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