Books: I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that …

Written By: Mike Parker
Published: March 12, 2017 Last modified: March 12, 2017

The Simpol Solution
by John Bunzl & Nick Duffell
Peter Owen Publishers £14.99

However much one wants something, merely wanting it will not make it happen. Which is why, of course, we argue, canvass, campaign, organise, march, protest, get arrested, get elected, occasionally fight, when we have to. But what if there was a simple solution: the SimPol Solution (geddit?).

OK, tell your local candidate (Parliamentary, Council, whatever) they will only have a chance of getting your vote if they sign a pledge stating that they support the principle of nations coming together to agree a Simultaneous Policy (SimPol, geddit?) decision to tackle some of the planet’s most pressing, dangerous problems. If they sign it, their support is publicised so that others will know … including their opponents, who will be incited to sign the pledge themselves in the hope of getting your vote. No skin off their nose, since, signing is “a no-risk proposition”; as the authors admit, the politicians know that Simpol’s “platform of policies would only be implemented if and when all or sufficient other nations support it, too. Until then, politicians can carry on with their usual policies.” Mmmm …

And what is Simpol’s “platform of policies”? Well, “their precise content is yet to be decided … [they] could include any desirable policy that nations cannot implement alone for fear of incurring a first-mover competitive disadvantage.”

And how? Well, first the ‘national’ stage, building up support sufficient to force a government to inaugurate the SimPol process: 10% of the electorate in a FPTP democracy is suggested as the tipping point at which the legislature might be sufficiently influenced. Then comes the global stage, “much later, if and when support around the world became sufficiently widespread for the prospect of Simpol’s practical implementation to occur”. Don’t wait up.

But look, I don’t want to sound too cynical, otherwise my tier of consciousness might be considered too low for me to be able grasp the need for this sea-change in global political thinking. The authors mean well, and coming at politics and economics from a psycho-historical point of view means they can offer some interesting and sharp observations about the motivations and behaviour of individuals and society. The later section on the evolutionary perspective is particularly enlightening and some of the psychological insights are thought-provoking … though the book does occasionally veer between a political version of one of those mindfulness self-help manuals and an A-Level text on socio-economics. (A-level … does that age me?)

The authors’ primary political argument is that the world’s economic system is mired in Destructive Global Competition (DGC) and that this is the motor driving climate change, poverty in the developing world and so on, leading us on the path to catastrophe. I always thought that this was called Capitalism, but that word is barely (if at all) mentioned (and Marx/ism appears only twice in the text, in passing). DGC, it would seem, is now self-generating and self-perpetuating, and the nations, governments and economic decision-makers of the world would just love to call a halt to it, if only they had the power! It just needs SimPol to give it to them.

The idea that Rupert Murdoch, the Russian Mafiosi in their Mayfair mansions, Donald Trump in his gold-trimmed tower of tat, Amancio Ortega in his Zara leisurewear, the anonymous logging pirates who burn down the rainforests or the hairy-chested Godfathers of the drug cartels are all powerless beneficiaries of DGC, swept along in its luxurious wake, is, of course, nonsense. But while individualism, greed, selfishness are acknowledged as cultural and psychological factors in the development of human society, the supra-national power of those individuals who actually drive DGC, benefit from it, and will not wish to see it halted – and would therefore do everything possible to undermine the ‘SimPol solution’ – is totally ignored.

As, too, is the effect of new technology. While Bunzl and Duffell argue that technological advances have driven phases of social development, they offer no suggestions as to how the internet, for instance, might advance their SimPol project. And in pointing out how few people it took to instigate mass cultural change in the past – in the European Enlightenment, for instance – they do not venture an opinion as to whether mass access to instant, worldwide media, and the ability to instantly contribute to it as well, is likely to drive or stifle such future intellectual advance.

I cannot help admiring the optimistic nature of the SimPol idea – and I might even register with the campaign myself (at simpol.org) – but the analysis in this book simply doesn’t have the coherence to persuade me that there is actually a solution within.

About Mike Parker

Mike Parker is Literary Editor and Production Editor of Tribune