Cómo nos vemos a nosotros mismos, con Jon Alexander

4 de abril de 2023 - 43 min escuchar

En este episodio, la presentadora Hilary Sutcliffe explora . . la forma en que pensamos sobre nosotros mismos desde otro ángulo. Habla con Jon Alexander, fundador del Proyecto Nueva Ciudadanía y autor del inspirador libro Ciudadanos: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Usuno de los cinco libros más recomendados por McKinsey en 2022, junto a los de Bill Gates, Francis Fukuyama, Adam Grant y Henry Kissinger.

Alexander explora los cambios en la forma en que nos vemos a nosotros mismos, cómo nos vemos unos a otros, cómo nos ven las organizaciones e instituciones que estructuran nuestra sociedad y cómo nos comportamos en consecuencia. También muestra cómo el paso de las personas como sujetos a consumidores y ahora a ciudadanos cambia lo que creemos que es posible. ¿Cuáles son las implicaciones para los individuos y las sociedades cuando pasamos de ser vistos como consumidores pasivos de productos a ciudadanos con poder?

Cómo nos vemos a nosotros mismos Alexander desde otro ángulo La forma en que nos vemos a nosotros mismos Alexander desde otro ángulo Apple Podcast

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Hello and welcome to From Another Angle, a Carnegie Council podcast. I am Hilary Sutcliffe, and I am on the Board of Carnegie Council's Artificial Intelligence & Equality Initiative. In this series I get to talk to some of today's most innovative thinkers, who take familiar concepts like democracy, human nature, regulation, or even the way we think about ourselves, and show them to us from a quite different angle. What really excites me about these conversations is the way they challenge our fundamental assumptions. Their fresh thinking makes me—and I hope you too—see the world in a new way and opens up a whole raft of possibilities and ways of looking at the future.

Today, I'm delighted to welcome Jon Alexander, founder of the New Citizenship Project and author of Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us. Now, I think it might be fair to say, Jon, the reception this book has received has surprised even you by its incredible popularity and the way it's resonated with so many different people across the globe. Watching Jon's recent world tour of the book on LinkedIn has been tiring, nevermind experiencing it. You must be absolutely shuttered. Not only has this book received rave reviews, the Financial Times called it an underground hit.

It was one of McKinsey's top five recommended books of 2022 Summer Reading Guide. And, they put Jon and his collaborating author Ariane Conrad alongside Bill Gates, Francis Fukuyama, Adam Grant, and Henry Kissinger. That was cool company to be in, Jon. But, Jon's fascinating ideas give us a new angle on the way we see ourselves and how a shift in just that can be transformative for us as individuals, for our organizations and institutions, and it's not too ambitious to say the world.

Jon, hello and welcome. Thank you very much for joining us. Talk to us, could you? The starting point of your book and this concept of citizens, take us through what it means.

JON ALEXANDER: Thank you for having me, first of all. It's lovely to be here and lovely to reconnect. You and I haven't spoken for some time.

Look, as you say this, the book is really about how we see ourselves, how we see one another, how the organizations and institutions that structure our society see us, and how we behave as a result, and what we believe is possible, I think, perhaps most importantly. The starting construct really or where this begins is with an idea that we tend to think that the way our society works is that we play multiple different roles all the time, that we are parents and voters and employees and employers. I don't know. We're shareholders and citizens, and we tend to think that we go through all those different roles on an ongoing basis, that we shift between them. But, actually what I'm saying is at any given time in the history of humanity actually, there is always one idea of ourselves, one role that sits in a kind of meta role, that sits above all of the others that we play, and infuses them with its logic.

Now, for a very long time, going right back as I argue in the book to King Sargon of Akkad and around 2,500 BC, the dominant story, the story that played that role was the subject story, what I call the subject story. In the subject story, the right way to play all of those other roles was to keep our heads down, do as we're told, get what we're given, that the god-given few who run the world know best, and they'll tell the rest of us what to do. They offer us protection in return for obedience. That's the story. That's how it works. Up until the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, that was kind of holding. But, with the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the middle class, that story broke down. It just couldn't hold anymore. In its place off the back of the two World Wars, we more or less consciously, more or less deliberately constructed what I call the consumer story.

Once again, sitting at that level that's above all of these day-to-day roles we play, the consumer story says that the right way to play all of those roles is to pursue self-interest, whether as parents or as shareholders or whatever. The right thing to do is to pursue self-interest on the basis that if we all pursue our individual self-interest, that will add up to collective interest. That will add up to the best outcomes for society as a whole. The Milton Friedman saying: "The social responsibility of business is to maximize its profits"—that's an expression of consumer logic at the level of the business, right? And, what I'm arguing is happening right now, what I believe we're living in, the nature of this moment in time is just as the subject story collapsed and fell in on itself at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th—I think we're living in the collapse of the consumer story.

We're living in a time when the idea that we can pursue self-interest and that that will add up to the best outcomes just can't hold anymore. It's a story. It's an idea of ourselves that says that the right thing to do is to—the way to happiness is to accumulate material possessions, to pursue increasing material standards of living. Yet, we have an ecological crisis that you can't solve with that approach. We have a crisis of inequality. And yet we have a story in which the metaphor for our society is a ladder that you climb and that we compete to climb. Competition for status can't solve a crisis of inequality. We have a crisis of loneliness and mental health and we have a story in which the base construct is that we're atomized, independent, isolated individuals.

These problems, these macro-crises aren't independent of one another, and they aren't independent of the idea of ourselves from which we are working. I've come to express this by saying, "We're living in the age of consequences," and they are the consequences of the idea of ourselves as consumers. And, they cannot be solved from within the idea of ourselves as consumers. So, the nature of the challenge and the idea that I'm putting forth into the world is that the shift that we have to make in this time and that we can all make from within our organizations and in our own lives is from an understanding of ourselves and one another as consumers to an understanding of ourselves and one another as citizens.

In what I call the citizen story, the right thing to do isn't just to keep your head down or pursue yourself interest. The right thing to do is to get involved, because the central premise is that all of us are smarter than any of us and that it is precisely by tapping into the ideas and energy and resources of everyone that we will achieve the best outcomes of society as a whole. What I'm saying is that this is happening in every sector and across the world. All sorts of organizations and institutions and neighborhoods are stepping into this story and achieving incredible results. If we can see that and we can step into it en masse, then we are capable of facing the challenges of our time. If we don't, then frankly, we aren't.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Well, I think that's really a very powerful, powerful framing. I love the simplicity, but the power of the three concepts of subject, consumer, citizen, I can see them in my work. I can see the shift.

Tell us a little bit more about the transitions as well, because I quite like the way in the book you talk about how quite quickly the transitions happen and how in each time that they're grassroots sort of rising up against the old story. Talk to us, and we talk a lot about COVID-19. That showed itself really clearly in COVID-19. Tell us more about that.

JON ALEXANDER: Yeah, well, the story that really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end in the research for the book was actually when I started to dig into the Taiwanese COVID-19 response and the backstory of that moment. Because, what happened, and it still blows my mind that this story hasn't been more widely told, but what really happened in that moment is that the Taiwanese response was rooted in exactly the expression I've just given.

They said, "We don't know how to solve this. We don't. This is the biggest challenge we've ever faced, and we don't know how to do it, but we do know that we will face it best if we tap into the ideas and energy and resources of everyone." As a result of that, the approach they took, because it's Taiwan, it's a very high tech society, they had all sorts of high tech elements of this. They had challenge prizes for people to create apps that would track face mask availability and cases and all this sort of stuff.

Also, they actually had some low tech stuff as well. My favorite story within the story is they set up a phone line where any citizen could ring in with ideas for how the country's response could be better and a six-year-old boy rang up and said, "The kids in my class don't want to wear their face masks, because they're pink, and they think that they're girly. So you need to do something to make pink face masks cool. And I think you should work with the baseball team." Three days later—and this is always the point when I tell this story where I start to question whether it's true myself, but it is—they had half the Taiwanese baseball team, the little boy, and the president all on the national televised press conference resplendent in their pink face masks.


JON ALEXANDER: It is kind of astonishing. Then, you're like, "But actually it makes total sense." Who knows how little boys' brains work better than another little boy? What better way to figure out what you need to do to shift and make it feel like something? And what better way to communicate to a nation that this is a collective enterprise, that there's going to be hard times for all of us, but we will get through it together, than to open the call for input?

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Yeah, and to actually listen to it and do something about it. We get, certainly in the UK, lots of calls and lots of consultations. We are really listening to you. But actually they're not listening. They're just sort of paying lip service to it. Butto be able to have the system and the structure to be so responsive in that time is also quite surprising and interesting, I thought.

JON ALEXANDER: Yeah, and this is where the backstory of that moment comes in, because when you dig behind it, what you find is that, well, look, to go into this briefly a little way, because I think there's a lot we can draw from this. The story of the transformation really of the Taiwanese government goes back to 2012 when the government of the time tried to basically introduce what they called the Economic Power-up Plan, and they did it. There were advertisements when they launched this plan that were hilariously consumer in my language. They said things like, "Don't let's waste time talking about policies and complicated things like that. We'll get on with growing the economy, and you get on with your lives." I sometimes characterize these kinds of things as like, "Shush, little people. Just go shopping," which is what organizations say when they see people as consumers.

There's this assumption that that's all people want. Look, it seemed to go down okay on the surface, but what was fascinating back in 2012, a group of hackers started to organize, and they called themselves Gov-Zero, because what they were doing was basically creating websites that were parallel to government websites all with the URLs, G0Z.TW, hence Gov-Zero. On these websites, they were basically imagining participatory democracy. They were making available budget lines and data and for commenting and up-voting. They had conversation menus that people could download and discuss the workings of government at home. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't massive, but it started to gain some traction. Then, the critical moment—and this is why I wanted to dwell in the story, because I think these moments, as you say, are so important and so powerful—came in 2014. The government under the banner of the Economic Power-up Plan tried to rush through a trade bill with mainland China.

A protest broke out at that point, and the protestors occupied the Taiwanese Parliament. But what happened was that the Gov-Zero gang got a broadband connection in and started streaming on social media first, and then it got picked up on broadcast, started streaming footage of what the protestors were doing. What they were doing was using Gov-Zero tools to discuss the clauses of the trade bill. At that moment, the speaker of the Parliament came under pressure to boot the protestors out. All the people I interviewed, everyone sort of thought he was going to. He was a member of the governing party by affiliation, old guy, pre-establishment figure. But, he didn't. What he did was he said, "This is what democracy looks like. This is what this space is for." In that moment, the whole thing shifted. So, he promised the protestors the trade bill get due scrutiny. It got due scrutiny. It got thrown out. Within six months, the municipal elections all over Taiwan and candidates were elected who had stood by the protestors all over the country from nowhere often.

In response to that, central government invited one of the leaders of the hacker movement to become a mentor to a government minister. They started to bring in the workings of Gov-Zero into the workings of government. Two more years passed. There's a presidential election. Power changes hands, and that person, Audrey Tang, is invited to become a minister in their own right, so hacker to mentor to minister in four years. Then, it was Audrey who essentially led that COVID-19 response that we talked about just now.

So, what you've got in this moment, I think particularly that moment when Speaker Wang—that was his name, Wang Jin-pyng—acknowledged and validated and encouraged the idea, he stepped into a new story, and the nation stepped with him.

When I think about that, I always contrast it in my mind with the moment here in the UK, where I think you and I both are, where when the initial wave of COVID-19 hit, the initial wave of the pandemic, and the British government's response was to say, "Stay at home. We'll save you." It was nonsense from the beginning, because we were doing just what the Taiwanese were doing, what everyone around the world was doing. We were doing mutual aid groups and street WhatsApp groups and helping each other. Schools were repurposing their tech labs to create personal protective equipment, all of this.

We were all leaning in, and so it was nonsense. But when the story had to change because people were dying, it didn't. It could have changed in that moment. It could have become, "Let's do this." Government could have come in behind the energy of people and structured it and brought resource. And, there is a role for the state. There is a role for organizations and institutions. In Taiwan, there is a role for these things, but instead, because those in positions of power, those in government, those in institutions in Britain see people as consumers, the story that got imposed was one of individual responsibility. It was one that said, "If you look out for yourself, if you stay alert"—was the specific wording—"If you stay alert, then you'll be all right. If they don't, then they'll get sick." We even had a campaign that summer called Eat Out to Help Out. Do you remember?

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Yeah, absolutely.

JON ALEXANDER: Eat Out to Help Out. What are we doing? We're explicitly co-opting the citizen instinct, the citizen energy that is inherent in all of us, because I believe deeply this is who we are. We're co-opting that actually and channeling it into consumption, which is just madness. But we're doing it because it's the only story we can see, apart from the subject.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: I think they can't see that actually, growth, or sustainable growth, or even commercial and business reality is not incompatible with this. People seem to frame this as an either/or. "Well, if we don't have consumers, then we can't pay for anything." But, actually this in its own right, the citizen story is a more empowering and enhancing way of achieving the aims of society.

JON ALEXANDER: Yeah, absolutely. In a lot of ways, I once got asked—when the book first came out, I was invited to do a very strange interview with an American, my first interview with someone in the U.S. One of the questions they asked was, "So, are you a communist?" It's great, isn't it? Whenever you talk to a kind of American media outlet, and if you say something that is remotely not in the core assumptions of capitalism, you're immediately suspected of communism. What I said in that, I think and I really hold to, is basically I just don't find talking at that level of the outcomes particularly helpful, or the whole systems like communism or capitalism or growth. If we start there, we're trapped before we even begin.

The thing I love about the work that I can do with these ideas and I see lots more people doing all the time is that it says, "Let's flip the telescope. Let's not try and design the society that emerges out at the end of this. Let's just start by orienting differently. Let's start by orienting ourselves as citizens. Let's start by treating people as participants in purposeful work in the world, and let's see where we go."

Because, if you make that flip from consumer to citizen, actually there's huge amounts of value to be created even in the current terms. There's case studies in the book of businesses and one of probably the single best commercial application. This is actually with an organization called the National Trust in the UK, which essentially is a major charity with half-a-billion pound of turnover every year and runs fundamentally off a kind of membership model. When we started working on this, they were treating people as consumers, because they treated their membership offer as a transactional offer where if you bought a membership, which is the language, then you could visit places that they own for free.

We sort of stepped back from that and said, "Well, actually this is a really purposeful organization. This is an organization that believes in the importance of beauty in the world. We want people to buy into that belief and to stand alongside us and volunteer with us and participate in what we're doing, not just to buy a membership from us. They want to buy into us." Just the simple shifts that were made in the organization off the back of that not only unleashed a whole load of energy and made much clearer the purpose that that organization exists to fulfill, it also worked much better financially. Because a relationship where people are buying into what you're trying to do in the world is far more sustainable, far more loyal, far more functional than a relationship where people are simply transacting with you.

What we found was that people would stay members, even if they weren't visiting. So the organization, rather than trying to generate value, was building a movement essentially. That's possible for commercial organizations. Like I say, there's case studies in the book of all sorts and sectors, but the point is you don't have to—to your thing, this is not a call. It's not not a challenge to quantitative growth. There is a challenge in it, and I think we all know, if we're honest with ourselves, that a lot of the structures and processes and incentives and measures and indicators of success of our society are not helpful. But, it's a take on them that says, "Actually, no, let's start here. Let's not start there. Let's start here, and then we'll see where we go."

One of my favorite ideas that I'm working on at the moment is we're working on what we're calling the citizen confidence index as a measure of success of society that is explicitly—I have one idea, Hilary. It's just to challenge anything that has the word consumer on it, and replace it with the word citizen.


JON ALEXANDER: Right, who needs more than one?

But there is this really powerful measure of the consumer confidence index that is measured in pretty much every country in the world, is reported in the halls of central government, is reported in the confederations of business and industry in every country, and yet traps us in this idea that the only contribution that most human beings make to the success of their societies is the act of consumption. It's just bonkers, because that is a pathway to unsustainable models of growth on any definition of sustainability. What it does is it creates household debt, and it fuels—whereas actually, citizen confidence, if you have citizen confidence, you have agency. You feel you can shape the world you live in. You feel you can shape the context of your own life.

When people feel that, this is such old news in the context of employee engagement. If you get people, if you get your employees to feel they have agency, then they're more productive. Duh. We need to a apply that logic at the level of whole societies. If we do, I think we'll find that the productivity goes through the roof, but also that the level of creativity and energy and ideas that's brought to bear on the big challenges of our time will be completely transformational. The problem is that at the moment, the problem isn't that humans are rubbish. All of this stuff, all of this stuff that we face, the inequality, the climate emergency, the loneliness, and mental health, that doesn't tell us that humans are bad. It tells us that we're trapped. It doesn't tell us humans are broken. It tells us that the story that we're drawing from is broken.


What I love about this, and this is very much the focus of this podcast, which is if you look at things from another angle, a small shift in a way to perceive ourselves as citizens instead of consumers, opens and just makes the world look different. That's what I got so excited about having you on for because your work is the epitome of that. Just flick the angle a bit, and then look at the world. Then see what you can do with it. That's why I'm so excited about it.

But just give us very quickly, a little bit more backstory, because you aren't a communist. In fact, you were an arch-capitalist, Jon, weren't you? So, there is a Damascene conversion that has happened here that has brought you to this. Give us a little bit of that story.

JON ALEXANDER: Sure, okay. I began my career working in the advertising industry and did pretty well there, frankly. I went into that industry to make a contribution. I think again, to your thing about see it from another angle, my worldview has shifted so dramatically, because I chose advertising pretty consciously really, because I was 19, right? I was at university. I was starting to think about what jobs I was going to do and what I was going to do in my career. When the World Trade Center came down—and if you remember that time, what happened then was that the leaders of the free world came out and basically said, "Go shopping." It was Eat Out to Help Out again, really.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Yeah, on a universal scale. Yeah.

JON ALEXANDER: Yeah, exactly, exactly. But, the message was, "Champion our values. Champion our way of life. Show that we are unbowed." I bought it. So, I went into the advertising industry. Okay, if the right thing to do is go shopping, then the best job I could possibly do would be advertising, right? But, it wasn't very long in that world before—obviously, your political awareness starts to develop. By the time I was there, 2003, I started, was also the year that the protests against . . . There were a million people on the streets of London protesting the Iraq War. You have to have some degree of awakening. This was starting to develop for me.

The thing that really got me caught as my first boss described my job to me by saying, "What you've got to remember is the average consumer sees 3,000 commercial messages a day, is exposed to 3,000 commercial messages a day." He said, "Your job is to cut through that. You've got to make yours the best." For a while, I was happy with the second part of that sentence. Make mine the best, go. White guy, go. But, over time, I was like, "3,000 a day." By the way, was the 2003 studies that were suggesting about that. There's more recent ethnographic, etc., studies that suggest certain cohorts, it's anything up to 10,000 a day.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: With social media, explosion of those messages.

JON ALEXANDER: Right, exactly. As I sort of started staring at the growing challenges of climate change and so on that we've discussed, I began to ask, "What's that doing? What are we doing to ourselves when we tell ourselves we're consumers 3,000 times a day?" I've started to see myself—well, you called me this. Did you call me an arch, a high priest of capitalism just now?

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Something like that.

JON ALEXANDER: I think you call me an arch-capitalist, but actually I've come to start thinking of it as a kind of priesthood, quite honestly. The most insistent religions in the world today call their adherence to prayer nowhere near 3,000 times a day.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Yeah, good point.

JON ALEXANDER: We live in this kind of post-religious society. This, by the way, is why I think the word story is so important. What this work does and what this way of seeing does is it makes you go, "Humans are storytelling and story-dwelling creatures." We are two things. Firstly, I think we are citizens by nature. I believe we are capable, creative, collaborative creatures. We want to get stuck in and make the world a better place. That is human nature in my book, and I will argue that to toss on that as long as the day is, but I think you might have another episode in this series where you go a bit different.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: We hope so, yes.

JON ALEXANDER: The second thing, and the thing I would complement that first with in order to explain the evils of our world and where we are today is that we are also storytelling and story-dwelling creatures. What I mean by that is we need stories in order to understand, in order to know who to collaborate with, what to care about, what to create. And the stories that surround us shape that very deeply. This is where I go back to the way I set out right at the beginning of this conversation, that the consumer story doesn't say, "Pursue self-interest because you're an asshole." Excuse my language. You might have to edit that one out. The consumer story says, "Pursue self-interest because that is the way to the best outcomes for society as a whole."

That story, it is because of that that people behave selfishly when they do. That is in the agency of organizations and institutions and particularly governments to change and reinvent. And, that's what the Taiwanese did. That's what the National Trust did. When we shift that story, we don't have to teach people to be citizens. We don't even have to get to a world where there are as many prompts to be a citizen as there are to be a consumer. We just have to give people enough oxygen to be who we truly are, right? We just have to stop throttling ourselves with this story.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: I think also what's quite interesting, and I don't know if I just spent too much time reading books like yours, but I really see it happening now. Has it always been there, and I've only just started to look? I'm reminded of when I had a baby, I was in an area where there wasn't really any children. I just thought, Oh, well, I'm sure I'll find someone. And, you have a baby, and you go out, and the world's full of babies. So, you're thinking, Oh, have they just popped up? But, you just weren't looking for them. I wasn't looking for them. I wasn't out at the right time. I wasn't doing the right things.

And I'm feeling that about this, feeling and seeing the people taking agency and taking constructive action to the benefit of us all. Now you start to look at it, it just pops up everywhere. I think that's one of the things I'm most excited about is this sort of uprising of the citizen story and of people acting in altruistic and I think more purposeful ways. Actually despite the fact that governments and businesses are still trying to squash us back down, people are popping out from that and not taking that anymore.

JON ALEXANDER: I think it's happening inside those governments and businesses as well. Firstly, just to build on what you're saying, it is absolutely everywhere. I'm doing some revisions to the book for the paperback edition that's coming out soon at the moment. It's interesting, reading back my own words. The way I opened the book initially was actually a little bit tentatively. I sort of said it's happening everywhere, but I didn't say it in a way that made me feel like I really believed it. It was like, "It is happening everywhere. It must be." But, after a year of going around the world, someone said to me the other day, "You should make a tour T-shirt, because it'll be hilarious. It'd be a cross between a big rock tour and the van from Only Fools and Horses."

Because it's Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Wellington, Auckland, Sydney, but also Grimsby, Blackpool, Coalville. I've been everywhere, Nairobi, but not just any part of Nairobi, but the slums of Nairobi. I've been in so many different contexts and so many different places, Tamale in Ghana, and everywhere. Every organization actually is a microcosm of this. The moment you start to look for this stuff, the moment you put forward this proposition and you say, "Do you recognize this? Where do you see this in your world in this place?" There is always response. I could talk about McKinsey where it started, where a little group of ten McKinsey consultants got together to write an open letter to the partners, challenging them on their relationship with fossil fuel companies. That letter has now been signed, last I heard, by over 1,200 McKinsey consultants, and it's causing a really deep conversation about what the role of that organization is in the world.

That's citizenship, finding one another, pooling your agency, achieving, raising a voice collectively. It's in Grimsby where something that started as a litter pick four or five years ago has evolved into an organization called East Marsh United that's just run a £500,000 community share offer, which in Grimsby is enough money to buy ten houses, refit them using good local jobs, let them out as a social landlord, and create a sustainable revenue stream for the rest of your organization. It's in all these shapes and sizes, in all these dimensions, and all at the moment in time, the place that we're at, I think. And this is why I emphasize that moment when Speaker Wang acknowledged it. Because what it requires now is people in positions of power to acknowledge it and step into it. We need those moments, and there will be choices. There will be moments that come, right?

Arguably, we're in a big macro one at the moment in the context of the Ukraine War, Russia's invasion of Ukraine. You can see the three stories encapsulated in that opening moment when Russia is—Putin is subject story through and through, the make Russia great again and his on high—Putin's the subject story. The Western response has been primarily consumer, right? The economic sanctions will solve this, the frame of democracy versus autocracy. And, it's important. It's better than the subject story. What Zelenskyy did, what the Ukrainians have done is citizens story through and through.

There was a moment in the very first days of the invasion. He recorded one of his social media films, but he recorded it in Russian. What he did was he said, he explicitly said, "I'm addressing the citizens of Russia not as president, but as a citizen of Ukraine, as an equal, as a peer, as a brother." Then, halfway through the speech, he turned outward to the rest of the world and he said, "I need you to help me get accurate information about what's going on here." He made an appeal, like the Taiwanese government did in response to COVID-19. He invited. He said, "I need you. I need your help." In response to that, there was a huge wave of creativity and energy that started with people sharing, figuring out they could post information about what was going on in the war using Google Maps and TripAdvisor on restaurants in St. Petersburg. But it evolved into the wave of Polish citizens driving there and Germans and others driving their cars to pick up refugees.

In the UK, hilariously, a website was set up where people could volunteer their homes for Ukrainians. I think it was supposed to be able to deal with 10,000 people to sign up in the first week. Don't quote me on the exact numbers, but 120,000 people signed up in the first 72 hours and crashed the website. There was this moment of people going, "This is astounding, the generosity." Two years before, a similar website had been set up for people to volunteer to be National Health Service first responders, to volunteer to help the NHS. That had been designed for 250,000 people to sign up in three weeks, and 750,000 people had signed up in 36 hours and crashed that.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: It's all out there. It's all happening.

JON ALEXANDER: But then if you look to this thing of moments, what we haven't done is we haven't seized the opportunity to really lean to step into that story. The political systems of the West have not evolved to, I don't know, incorporate citizens assemblies that would advise government on what we were prepared to deal with, what hardship we could take in order to play our role in the Ukraine, these processes that none of our leaders turned to us and addressed this directly about the challenge in the way that Zelensky showed is possible. We didn't step into that mode of going, "This is a really big challenge, but we can fix it together." Instead, we stayed in the mode of, we, the government will sort this. Shush, little people. Just go shopping. We're more like the Economic Power-up Plan, and we'll sort it. You just carry on with your little lives, than we are leaning into this thing.

Frankly, that isn't going to work. The thing, again as I have talked about the book and gone around the world, increasingly at one level, I feel more excited and more reassured, because I see that it is actually happening everywhere. But, at another level, I feel more concerned, because I don't see enough of those in the positions of power who need to do the Speaker Wang thing and open the doors, understanding what's possible, seeing what can happen. Instead, I see them seeing their role. I spoke to a lovely German journalist called Mark Schieritz who is Olaf Scholz's biographer. He describes the mentality of the leaders of the West, and particularly of Scholz, as what he calls change without consequences.

HILARY SUCTCLIFFE: That's big in the UK at the moment. That's government strategy in the UK at the moment.

JON ALEXANDER: Change without consequences, but we're in the age of consequences, right? We're facing challenges that are going to need us to all be involved. They just won't be solved for us. The problem is that if we try, and if our leaders continue to try and solve them for us, then the levels of frustration and anger because those challenges are not being solved will become overwhelming. That's what's driving people into the arms of QAnon in America. That's what's driving the surge in the popularity of things like the Reform Party in the UK. It's frustration. It's people saying, "If you're going to keep telling me that I have no role to play, then I'm going to find a role to play."

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: I think also that is how people are taking positive action as well as negative action. As you say, I think let's just sum up this actually because what you've identified is the opportunity, you've identified millions of people taking positive action, but also not. What we're trying to do with this podcast is steal Baratunde Thurston's ending to his podcast, which asks guests to just briefly tell us what you propose from three particular aspects, how people listening to this—and, we have got very influential people listening to these podcasts from the Carnegie Council. What could you offer them in terms of internal reflection? What could they do to become more informed? And what could they do to take action? Could you give us those, internal reflection, to start?

JON ALEXANDER: Yeah, so the internal reflection I think is, particularly for people in positions of some power and influence, is really to say, "What power do I have? And who could I invite to share it?"


JON ALEXANDER: Who could I invite into it?

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: And how should those people who want to take these sorts of steps become more informed? We will be actually just putting at the end of the podcast, the links that Jon will give us.

JON ALEXANDER: Some of it I think follows naturally. As you say, once you start to think like this and see this, then you start to see it everywhere anyway. But yeah, look, there's a pretty good book you could read. I would listen to Baratunde's podcast as well. How to Citizen is a remarkable resource. The word citizen is a pretty good byway into this sort of space. Citizen University is a really fascinating initiative in the U.S. run by a guy called Eric Liu. The work of things like Citizens UK is well worth worth checking out, the kind of community organizing models. But I think ultimately it's more about, for me, it's more starting from where you are, finding the others who want to shift the thing that you want to shift, and figuring out what to do together.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: I think you've summarized how to become more informed on how to take action in one piece there.

Jon, thank you so much for being with us. The links to those fantastic resources that you've outlined will be below the podcast, and really, the very best of luck with your work and for 2023. Will it be as exciting, and can it be? Thank you very much for being with us, and good luck with 2023, which I hope will be as exciting and fulfilling and transforming as '22 was.

JON ALEXANDER: Game on. Thank you for having me.

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Carnegie Council para la Ética en los Asuntos Internacionales es una organización independiente y no partidista sin ánimo de lucro. Las opiniones expresadas en este podcast son las de los ponentes y no reflejan necesariamente la posición de Carnegie Council.

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