Nordic Ideology by Hanzi

Cover of the Hanzi Freinacht book entitled Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics. Book Two

Hanzi Freinacht’s books help popularize complex, important ideas that we need for imagining the co-creation of a regenerative world. I see The Nordic Ideology and the Listening Society — the latter is the book length preamble to the former– as key reading for those interested in how political, social and personal development combine. In the words of action-oriented research for transformations (ART) we could call this the integration of first, second and third person action research. This integration moves us in the direction of a more regenerative/ sustainable world, which, according to Freinacht, is Metamodern, i.e., beyond the deconstructive critique of the postmodern.

We reach this regenerative promised land by learning to successfully tackle current catastrophic challenges. Pick your poison: ecological unsustainability, social inequality and escalating personal alienation, unethical AI robots. If it sounds like too much of a utopian claim, hang in. While we may not reach this promised land soon, what makes these books useful is that we are treated to a grounded roadmap for many generations . Yea, I guess I’m saying it’s an important book for action researchers – and anyone who cares enough to step into the challenge of transformative action together and wants a big picture and a useful set of ideas with which to navigate and coordinate.

The author(s) had me at hello (actually there are at least two authors, but I won’t digress). The mission statement touched my heart. It articulates a consciousness broad enough to include all sentient beings (humans and and more than humans) in our politics. I was inspired enough to bring it to the board of ARJ last year and it helped us refresh our mission statement to call for articles specifically engaged with action research for transformations.

They write: “Our mission, in a nutshell, is thus: 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.”

I – a reformed academic – find it refreshing that the ideas of the books are robust but not so carefully fine-tuned as to amputate capacity for impact. There is a refreshing (and I believe necessary) mix of personal and impersonal voice which brings reflexivity, and some irony, to the powerful arguments. I like the occasionally annoying author(s) I meet on these pages – he’s awake, a bit imperious, vulnerably insightful, feminist, youthful and self deprecatingly humorous. I imagine he’s a bit of latter day Nietzsche, ‘cept more friendly, comfortable with his feminine side. Vegan too!

The thesis of the Listening Society establishes that the next era in shared political life requires more from us citizens. Politics can’t be for spectators. More citizens need more capacity for multi developmental, multi perspectival thinking and collaborative action.  This means a mix of awareness and capacity to coordinate action across growing differences in our increasingly diverse and complex societies. Gone are the days when our simplistic action logics are fit for purpose.

This self and other development will take a little work. We’ve been socialized, after all, by conventional education (and objectivist research methods!). Getting the very, very right answers, without attention to pragmatism much less collaborative action does not help us adapt to the big challenges of complexity around us. Still we can understand why it’s been hard to make it to the promised land. Conventional education doesn’t help. Consider the waste of resources in conventional science studies. As an action researcher I’d like a modest 50% of the IPCC budget to be moved from describing the problem of climate change to supporting community leaders’ experiments in responding to – and syncing up –  the changes needed. But given education’s reliance on cognitive preparation alone, it’s little wonder that many choose to bypass the complexity of how to live differently. Or we leave it to experts. How many even consider how to re-align our lives within a new ecosystem of inter-being with nature.

The Nordic Ideology elaborates a constructive approach to how we might shape useful approaches to living better together – together with humans and more than humans. In six modes of politics no less (Democratization-, Gemeninschaft-, Existential-, Emancipation-, Empirical-, Theory- Politics). I found myself quite engaged by the “Empirical politics” which elevate and broaden how action oriented research for transformations might imagine a broader role for ourselves too. (For too long we have hovered on the margins of academia – when academia itself must transform, with us!)

The scholar in me wants also to briefly note that the faults of the book are, naturally, many. For example I am not at all convinced by the early choice to focus on Michael Common’s developmental theory, over say the far more pragmatic Jane Loevinger tradition (on which Bill Torbert’s work builds). And despite really good sociology of emotion that helps us understand our complicity in societal sleepwalking at a time of peril, there’s too little attention to psychoanalytic frameworks. Melanie Klein and more contemporary relational psychoanalysts explains the “politics” of envy like no other, which helps us understand how we keep each other trapped in inaction and resentments. And – aah! – there is no mention of our own darling, namely pragmatic, participative and action approaches to knowledge creation. This neglect has me grieve what might have been. Of course, all important work is partial and courageous authors take chances. I am very curious about how action researchers will find it useful and build with it our notions of action oriented research, beyond proposing bright ideas to experimenting and learning from practice with them.

The book is timely and everyday timelier. Recently we watched Boris Johnson become Prime Minister and Donald Trump hail him proudly as a fellow good old boy “English Trump.” How is it possible that THIS is politics in our world today? Where are those who can help us address the truly serious issues with the same devastating aplomb that Trumpians use to obliterate nuance? How can we the people begin to address Climate Change, much less the depth of despair we see in escalating suicide and drug addiction rates, forget the sinking of Bangladesh, cruelty of factory farming… when collaborative approaches to politics and power are usually dismissed? The book is timely in asking us to work to create this alternative path, not as spectators to politics but as participants.

Mostly I resonate with the audacious political ambition here (I so appreciate the confidence of young men!) to connect the severed worlds of politics / societal systems with the more intimate world of emotions and personal suffering. This combination is new. Let’s be honest – our personal suffering always trumps our ability to care for others and to take coordinated action, yet rarely do conventional politicians connect the personal and the political. Too rarely do action researchers. So rarely perhaps that our society is sleepwalking into catastrophe. Better then if we don’t have to choose a me versus you. Best when we integrate me and you. We are not actually separate.

As scholars of sociology, the author successfully explains and integrates a host of powerful concepts from the social sciences that have not made it to date over the walls of the Ivory Tower. Powerful ideas — e.g., constructivist adult development; social constructionism— that are revolutionary in potential are therefore hauled from the margins of academia and may actually be useful. I am inspired to learn that the Nordic countries have already been making these powerful ideas useful through adult learning efforts available to all through public funding for personal retreats. (Non Nordics may weep. In the USA we might think of intentional retreat communities, such as Highlander which emphasizes participatory action research). And we can extrapolate. How do we create learning opportunities that move us away from “me versus you” politics to seeing that we are in this together. How about more Highlander Centers – on line too!

My own favorite is the chapter on empirical politics. Let’s just say I was surprised to find myself , an action-oriented researcher for transformations, so engaged. At first sight, the title had me fear some mad embrace of male-coded, materialist empiricism. Instead I found an open minded view of science and conservative insistence on a more scientifically minded society – one that, for example, calls for funded fact checking in response to science denial. (Non Nordics may again weep; Americans are left to rip out their hair!) This lays the foundation for a peer reviewed society. One in which the average citizen is helped  – through education – to build her capacity for collective intersubjective cross checking. Simple. Radical. Let’s do it. And add some action learning to the capacity building. So that we are scaffolding a new kind of citizen, one who as a knowledge co-creator, experiments in her own life spheres. Learning by participating. Combined with the other forms of politics – existential, representative etc, I feel inspired by what the world could be. A world of learning/practice in which we participate like we belong.

This book inspires, additionally, with many concrete examples and suggestions of the kind of integrated politics within reach at different levels of system, households to local politics. I particularly recommend it to dissertation students so they choose a topic that helps move us forward as a society. We are, after all, the ones who must enable the conditions for regenerative society. We are the ones, therefore, who must develop ourselves and our collaborative capacities. I’d call this this participative action research 3.0 (beyond fixing the problem, and even beyond changing the system in which the problem arises, to transforming self and community through timely action).

Please read The Listening Society and The Nordic Ideology. Then share it with your friends & colleagues. Beyond that consider forming reading and listening circles and cook up a few good ideas around which to take action/enrich your current action-learning. Invite your local political representatives if you have connections (make some!) and help someone (you?) run for local election infused with a few metamodern ideas. If enough of us – we action researchers devoted to participative methods that help gradually improve our world – can manage to see how the jigsaw pieces fit together and we might look for opportunities to enact random acts of developmental collaboration.

Perhaps the Metamodernist movement can be a loose affiliation of thinkers/actors with whom ARTists might align, each of us building pathways away from ecological catastrophe (e.g., see our special issue on climate transformation); healing the hell in which many animals and trafficked people are consigned [I think of Danny Burns and IDS colleagues work on the latter or Helena Mary Kettleborough’s Gaia Graveyard on the latter], heal our personal suffering – [I could offer my work on mindfulness on palliative care wards as one example]). So many of us are working toward a more beautiful global world. I am very interested in what can we accomplish when we put our heads, hearts and hands together.

To that end I invite anyone interested in being in a conversation for organizing across like-spirited communities of practice to be in touch with me. Never doubt the power of a small group…