The Free Range Network:
The 'Free Range' Concept
The Network describes itself as a "dysorganization" – that is, a group of people without any desire or expectation to create a formal structure. Even in the middle of the 1990s, it was clear that the growth of the Internet would enable individuals to do things without the need to expend effort running 'groups'. That in turn enables new ways of working as a 'community' of activists.
What is the Free Range Network? What does it think or represent?
It's all about adapting to change:
- Science tells us that the Earth's environment is limited, and that we're rapidly approaching or breaching those ecological limits, ultimately threatening the well-being of society. Dealing with that involves reducing our demands on the environment in order to live in balance with the natural world.
- The theories of our 'political-economy' which underpins our daily media debate tells us that growth is essential to our way of life, and that consumption and growth are essential to our well-being. Fundamentally our individual status and importance is based on our possession or command of wealth and resources, identified through how we consume.
Given the contradiction and cognitative dissonance of everything we see and hear around us today, is it any wonder that people are confused and disillusioned about our modern lifestyle?
More importantly, how do you move beyond the "fear, uncertainty and doubt" that these contradictions create in order to change your own circumstances?
The Free Range Network is a "dysorganization" of activists and researchers. What does that mean?
'Dys'-organization literally means we have no interest in creating an organized structure for our work. We are not interested in forming a group, as in our view that would create obstacles to achieving our aims. What we are interested in is sharing our resources in order to address the contradictions not only within society, but also within the environment movement.
It's this latter objective which sometimes makes our approach rather controversial.
Today the 'mainstream' environment movement has been captured by the economic dialogue of government and politics. It is unable to act against the modern 'suicide cult' of growth because it cannot elucidate the ideas at the heart of the opposing contention – of ecological limits, lifestyle change and simplicity.
One of the main reasons for that is because of their need to utilize a large amount of resources to keep their organizations functioning.
The Free Range Network are a 'network' because that enables co-operation without the need to maintain an organization. By lending our individual resources to the Network, we create the capacity to undertake work in common. At the same time, this gives us freedom as individuals to work around the issues which drive our own interests as part of our contribution to the Network.
If the world has problems how do we, as individuals, create change?
This is the question we see asked in the media every day – with a variety of answers depending upon the political persuasion of those making the point.
Thing is, is that fundamental question correct?
Change is not "a thing"; change is a difference in human consciousness, the understanding of which creates physical change.
Change happens when we realize that we are able to do something, or we are convinced that what we have been doing is wrong and must do things differently.
The difficulty is that so much of change is built around "things" – either building them or not building them. Even 'green' ideas have largely become a construction or consumption agenda, rather than minimizing our use of resources by changing our lifestyle.
Rarely do we ever see an argument about "not having" growth or development. That's because, irrespective of whether you're a right-wing capitalist or a left-wing trade unionist, the only conception of change in society is built around the production, acquisition or possession of "stuff".
In a world which values "stuff", unless you change the fundamental metrics which we use to value society, you can only measure change in terms of a change in "stuff".
However, what the latest research around ecological limits tells us is that this whole model is flawed, not just the elements within it. Consequently encapsulating change as a consumption or development agenda fails to address the root causes of the crisis.
Even the green movement has been caught up in this vacuous debate. Instead of arguing for changes in the level of overall consumption, today the green movement looks to 'sustainable' or 'green' consumption – despite the evidence on the impacts of that policy which indicates it will not create sufficient change to address the problem for which it is being undertaken.
Change has to be a process of consciousness – a process of accessing the objective information on the state of the world around us, and then finding ways to express that new understanding through change in our own lives.
'Information as action'
What we lack in society is an infrastructure to communicate the information for us as individuals to achieve an new value and understanding of our circumstances – and from that realignment of the measure of how we view ourselves and the world around us, to create change in the portion of the world we can individually influence.
The media have become increasingly uncritical, and subject to the demands of lobbyists and public relations companies – due in large part to the Internet removing their monopoly on information distribution. At the same time the management of information via social media by computer algorithm has trapped people in an echo chamber, where they overwhelmingly hear only their own, self-reinforcing opinion.
That restricts the ability of the mainstream agenda to carry a radical or controversial message, and thus achieve 'large-scale' change to society as a whole.
Underlying all of this, the state has used the surveillance potential of this new digital domain to more closely watch the public, and enforce more restrictive laws to control public behaviour. Even where the law is not used, the use of the fear terrorism as an instrument of public policy, and using terms such as "domestic extremist" or "non-violent extremist" to vilify anyone who doesn't conform to their idea of a model citizen.
What this new situation necessitates is looking at change as an individual, person-by-person process, rather than a coarse process of trying to get large groups to change behaviour.
As individuals we can move past the "fear, uncertainty and doubt" of modern society through finding our own understanding of the issues before us – taking responsibility for our own lives, and our own potential and options to respond to change.
That is the purpose of the Free Range Network and the Free Range Activism Website.
'The (R)evolution Between Your Ears'
Change happens when people act differently. The strength of that change tends to be more wide-ranging and permanent when that change comes from their own choice, rather than it being enforced upon them.
The Free Range Network and the Free Range Activism Website exists to communicate the information, and understanding of our modern world required for people to define their own solutions. And from that process of personal action, to create more widespread change from the grassroots.
How we do that depends on the context:
- We run the FRAW site, and primarily its library of technical information and research, which provides the more in-depth information required for people to understand what's happening around them;
- As a collection of individual activists and researchers, we run workshops and lectures which promote the core themes of the Network, allowing people to improve their knowledge and potential to act; and
- As a group, the Network undertakes events such as festivals, where we work together to promote the materials produced by the members of the Network.
Fundamentally then the Free Range Network aims to create 'change' not directly, but through enabling others to express their own desire for change using the information or materials which we supply to them. We do not enforce what that change is; our aim is to supply the means whereby people able to express themselves to make that demand for change.