Carne Ross entered the British Foreign Service in 1989, full of well-intentioned ideas about advancing democracy and free markets around the world. After fourteen years at the highest
levels of international diplomacy, he resigned over his country’s lies about the Iraq war
(he was the UK’s Iraq expert at the UN Security Council). But his disillusionment ran deeper, as he began to acknowledge the chasm between governments and the real people whose lives
were affected. It was then he saw that everything he had previously held to be true was false.
Locate your objective, grasp your flag, and then march deliberately towards the enemy.
If you do so with courage and conviction, others will surely follow.
– Carne Ross, The Leaderless Revolution
In December 2010, a Tunisian street trader named Mohamed Bouazizi, angered at harassment from the authorities, set himself on fire in front of the Governor’s office in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid. Bouazizi died, but his act of defiance triggered the chain of events which became known as the Arab Spring.
Bouazizi was the butterfly that flapped its wings; his was an act of self- sacrifice, which was born of deep-rooted conviction and a feeling of powerlessness in the face of authority. That sense of impotence and discontent is shared by many across the world, not only in the Middle East, as people realize that problems like inequality and climate change are worsening rapidly, while they feel their own actions will make no difference and disillusionment with governments grows.
For former diplomat Carne Ross, the lesson of Bouazizi is that the action of one can now spread to the many with unprecedented speed. But to be effective action must go beyond protests, like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street, but must instead create and establish the new forms of economic and political life that will address our common problems: a gentle anarchism for the 21st century.
Himself a defector from a top-down institution and ideology, Carne’s insights propose the crucial next step for the change we all clamour for.
PART ONE: THE ACCIDENTAL DIPLOMAT
As a boy, growing up in south London, Carne Ross dreamt of being a pilot. But when colour-blindness scuppered that plan, instead he decided to become a diplomat...
Carne strolls along a corridor of power with John Le Carré – the scene evoking the mood of the writer’s own novels. Le Carre based the main character of his latest novel on Carne (a diplomat forced to choose between his conscience and his duty to the service). Together they discuss in hushed tones the subtle but humiliating induction process into the gilded world of the British Foreign Service - a kind of hazing, designed to discourage independent thinking.
The British diplomat embodies the state: the individual “I” becomes the “we” who infallibly understands and orders the world. As he underwent this transformation, Carne reassured himself that if asked to do something wrong, he would refuse. But his ambition, not his conscience, was already in charge.
Carne had entered a Foreign Service that was about to witness an extraordinary change in the world. This was 1989, the year the people of Eastern Europe brought down the communist regimes of the Eastern Bloc.
Carne walks along Narodní Třida, Prague. A protestor from 1989 describes the actions that took place there and what inspired them. The sequence is intercut with archive/images of students chanting, ‘We have empty hands’, in front of a line of riot police.
In Berlin, Carne meets Francis Fukuyama, who in 1992, famously declared the ‘end of history’. They stroll along the Bernauer Straße, where the remains of the wall which divided the city – and two ideologies – can still be seen. Fukuyama reflects on what appeared to be, at the time, the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism over communism. Inside the government, the message to its young diplomats was to go forth and spread that doctrine to the rest of the world. There were no doubts or questions: it was the best, the only, way.
However, contrary to such optimistic predictions, the end of the Cold War ushered in an era of uncertainty... Archive of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989 calling
for a global treaty on climate change: "We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere... The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto."
In 1992, Carne worked on the first ever UN Earth summit in Rio [Archive of world leaders making earnest speeches]. But tackling such problems required governments to abandon the age-old pursuit of narrow national interest. Nothing concrete resulted from the conference and the Earth is already paying the price for the lack of effective global action. The era of dominance of the nation-state was waning.
Meanwhile, in the most developed economies, the promise of rising wealth for all hit the reality that incomes for most had flat-lined [archive of beaming Clinton “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”]. Carne visits a housing project in New York’s Lower East Side: “no opportunities ever came to us; nothing “trickled down” here”.
Carne meets writer and economist Thomas Piketty who suggests that the current level of rising wealth inequality, set to grow even further, now imperils the very future of capitalism.
The truth was the end of the Cold War had in fact ushered in an era characterized by chaos and unpredictability; and threats, such as climate change and transnational terrorism, which transcended national boundaries. But as atmospheric carbon rose, and incomes for most plateaued, governments – and their diplomats - still claimed that they knew the answers.
And still Carne continued his rise through the diplomatic ranks. He became speechwriter to the Foreign Secretary, where he himself penned government’s claims of omniscience and effectiveness. In 1997 he was posted to the UN in New York, to head the UK’s Iraq policy at the UN – weapons inspections and maintaining the sanctions against Saddam Hussein. This was to be a crucial twist of fate in Carne’s odyssey.
PART TWO: BIRTH OF AN ANARCHIST
From the start of his time in New York, Carne Ross was aware of the dreadful human cost of the sanctions regime, but such considerations were deemed naive in the veiled and amoral world of high diplomacy...
And so for four years, Carne ferociously defended the policy against its critics. But at a cost: he took to drowning his repressed conscience in New York dive bars.
In the shadow of the UN Building in New York, Carne meets Denis Halliday, a former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq who resigned over the sanctions policy. They discuss the devastating impact of the sanctions on the people of Iraq and the mindset within the UN that allowed the policy to continue.
Then came 9/11. With the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the ‘War on Terror’, the West entered an era of perpetual conflict. Carne was an usher at the memorial in NY to the British victims of the Twin Towers.
Carne meets a prominent Neo-Conservative of the time (such as Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle) to try to understand the rationale behind this era of conflict. Noam Chomsky provides an alternative to this view. The sequence reflects Carne’s attempts to make sense of what was going on around him in the UN at this time.
Carne came to doubt everything he had previously held to be true. At the UN Security Council, something profound was missing: there was a total disconnect between the diplomats and the real people affected by the decisions made behind the closed doors of the UN. Eventually Carne’s disillusionment at the lies that led to the Iraq war was to drive him from his once- cherished profession: he testified first in secret then in public to Britain’s official inquiries into the war [archive of Carne at Chilcot Inquiry].
Carne had become what John Le Carre describes as the most feared creature of our contemporary world – a solitary decider. He started to search for answers: there had to be an alternative to the old failed ways of thinking.
In the tranquil surroundings of New York University Library, Carne describes his moment of epiphany: he discovered complexity theory. The world was not the neatly structured chessboard of states imagined in the Cold War era, but a miasma of billions of agents constantly interacting with each other. In a complex system, individuals, rather than authorities, are most powerful agents of change. An anarchist was born.
But what is anarchism? The prototype is not the balaclava-clad protestor fire- bombing McDonald’s or the lawless dystopia of Mad Max. In the Spanish Civil War, ordinary people took over farms and businesses and ran them collectively, an anarchist “Spanish revolution” that was crushed by fascism. Carne will tread in George Orwell’s footsteps in Barcelona, where he chronicled this tragic defeat, and visit the Mondragon group, a massive Basque cooperative that is today Spain’s seventh largest company.
A contemporary model is eBay. Why is that millions of people are happy to send money over the internet to people they have never met, for goods they have never seen? Ebay founder, Pierre Omidyar explains that answer does not lie in coercion from a centralized authority, but through the trust and goodwill built up by the simple device of the ratings system.
Carne discusses these ideas with Noam Chomsky. Chomsky: ‘[Anarchism] seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, authority and domination that constrain human development, and then subject them to a very reasonable challenge: If these structures can't meet that challenge, they should be dismantled—and, anarchists believe, "refashioned from below”.’
But how possible is change? Yahoo’s Duncan Watts explains his research showing that individuals across the globe are separated on the web by an average of around “six degrees of separation”. This mesh of connections means that today change can spread from one to the many faster and further than ever before. This, rather than the top-down state system in which Carne had been so deeply embedded, is the way to confront the world’s problems.
PART THREE: MAKING SALT
The pessimistic, even apocalyptic, view of the future is becoming more plausible with each passing day. But for Carne Ross there is an alternative...
Carne meets New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert, who has recently claimed that mankind is in the midst of a mass extinction, and NASA mathematician, Safa Motesharri, who believes that resource depletion and inequality will bring about catastrophic breakdown of civilization.
But Carne believes that we need not be fated to live in a Mad Max dystopia – the future is a function of how we act in the world. The anarchism he espouses is not based on a utopian vision of the future – it is predicated on the simple concept of not abdicating responsibility to the powers-that-be, but taking action oneself.
At the end of his Salt March “Satyagraha” protest in 1930, Gandhi held up a handful of mud and declared, ‘With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.’ He did not merely protest, he showed a better way through his own actions: he made salt, rejecting the colonialists’ monopoly.
Carne sets out to find those people who making their own salt. His journey begins on his own doorstep in East Harlem, where deliberative democracy is transforming the way the community makes decision and allocates funds.
But self-government can work on a much larger scale as well. Carne travels to Porte Alegre, a city of 1.5m people in southern Brazil. Here, he meets citizens taking part in the city’s participatory budgeting, a project which began in 1989 and has led to dramatically greater equality, a fourfold increase in schools, improved public health and, just as importantly, has fostered transparency and collaboration in the political process.
Carne himself founded and today runs a unique diplomatic advisory group, Independent Diplomat, that helps democratic governments and movements – like the moderate Syrian opposition – navigate the otherwise closed corridors of diplomacy. And he encounters some of those who have turned the protests of Occupy Wall Street, in which he was involved, into concrete action for change.
Treading the shoreline of Queens, New York City, Carne meets the volunteers of Occupy Sandy, who have helped rebuild neighbourhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and the “anarcho socialists” of Valve Software, a “flat” organization that makes world-beating computer games.
In War and Peace it is the foot soldier who turns the tide of battle, while the General is lost in a literal and metaphorical fog. The same is true now: governments designed for separate, bordered states are ill-equipped to solve borderless problems like climate change, inequality and terrorism. The truth is that if government cannot fix these problems, we must.
There is a kind of paradox. On the one hand, globalization now presents unprecedented hazards to humanity’s future. But the world’s complex, highly- interconnected nature also offers unprecedented opportunity for the determined individual or group to create dramatic, far-reaching change, and fast – as Mohamed Bouazizi showed. If we fail to act, dystopia looms. But if we act to change things directly ourselves, not waiting for authority, others will be inspired, others will follow, and things will start to happen, and change. Nothing is ordained, but one thing is certain. The choice is ours.
Carne will tell his story, as far as possible, through addressing an off-camera silent interviewer and through interacting with contributors, rather than through pieces-to- camera/voice-over. He is taking the viewer with him on a journey, with the camera on his shoulder, rather than delivering a lecture. In place of voiceover text will be used to link sections. We’ve also assembled an amazing award-winning creative team to make this film. DoP Neville Kidd (Sherlock and Doctor Who), Editor Ben Stark (Sundance documentary editing award, The Summit).
Director Iain Scollay Producer John Archer Written and Presented by Carne Ross IScollay@ mentorn.tv +447958565520 firstname.lastname@example.org +447710344508