**First published in The Ecologist, 13th June 2017**
The notion of a progressive alliance has gained momentum at a local level in the UK recently. Alliances are complex, but we do not need to ‘settle’ for traditional two-party politics because we can’t conceive of the unknown.
In Zambia last month, I saw two species of antelope (Impala and Puku) grazing together. One has strong vision and the other has strong hearing. They share their different strengths to more effectively look out for predators.
Alliance thinking does not mean acting like we’re the same species and agreeing on every issue. But it can be better than simply ‘tolerating’ each other. I don’t want to just ‘tolerate’ my neighbour – I want to know them, walk in their shoes, and hear their worldview.
Good alliances could be about creating common spaces in which understanding and trust is built, where communication is improved and where strengths are shared for the common good. One party and one leader cannot fix everything or please everyone.
Nature shows us that symbiosis works. I’d like to see us evolve alliance thinking towards symbiotic politics.
Natural ecosystems are kaleidoscopes of order and chaos. Research shows how underground fungus connects trees to each other. When we see that trees are not individual entities that work alone, forests take on a new shape – a communicative network of supportive living things, collaborating to find water and nutrients, and fend off infection. The trend of ‘self-actualisation’ – apps and products and retreats that promise to help you find and develop yourself – is important, but nature shows us that the concept of self can only be defined when connected with a wider ecosystem.
As individuals, how do we thrive whilst existing in a ‘forest’ of other selves? What is our role, what are our strengths? How do we share and protect?
Political leaders could focus on supporting community (and therefore national) ecosystems to root and thrive, enabling local networks to share resources and support individuals. When good solutions to challenging issues are found in one place, they could be shared via connected community networks so that far away communities thrive too.
Nature has gone through almost 4 billion years of research and development – the solutions it has found are well tested. When we look for solutions to our challenges, we might first look into nature. Where is this challenge mirrored in nature, be it housing shortage, or uncompassionate global corporations? What solutions can be found there? e.g. beehives that inspire supportive communal housing in return for work, or more effective organisational management inspired by self-organising natural systems.
More broadly, biomimicry in evolving politics must look beyond simply ‘taking’ the best ideas from nature and fitting them to our own human purposes. We must look beyond ‘sustainable’ solutions to purely human challenges. The world is more than just humans, and its story is ancient. We need to listen for that story, those songlines. We can hear them in nature.
Author, farmer and activist Wendell Berry seeks work compatible with nature, asking for patience and love, which lights everything (see his prayer below). Perhaps a call for ‘love-led’ political leadership, mentored by nature, is the bold new direction our politics could take.
Teach me work that honors Thy work, the true economies of goods and words, to make my arts compatible with the songs of the local birds.
Teach me the patience beyond work and, beyond patience, the blest Sabbath of Thy unresting love which lights all things and gives rest.