I was interviewed by Mark Evans of Real Utopia for the May 2023 issue of the monthly newsletter ‘RU Participating’. The full newsletter PDF is below, and under that is the interview text.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your name?
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
What kind of work do you do? What are your
interests? What is your all time favourite book,
film or piece of music? Anything that you feel
Well, thank you for the opportunity. My name is Ferdia
O’Brien, I was born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland,
where I live today.
I trained as an electrical engineer but these days I’m a
social cybernetician focused on investigating solutions to
humanity’s great problems. That work involves research,
policy, and communications, organised as Bright Age
Beyond (brightagebeyond.com), formerly After The
I’m particularly interested in developing detailed models
of postcapitalism. Anders Sandström and I are writing
a book extending and revising Parecon. We also just
submitted a journal article called ‘Postcapitalist Retail
and Accounting: Personal Consumption Planning in the
Participatory Economy’. I have lots of projects up my
sleeve, but that’s enough for now.
As a proud generalist, my interests are very broad.
Apart from social science, I’m particularly interested
in pragmatist philosophy, philosophies for life (e.g.
secular buddhism), complexity science, cybernetics, and
technology. I’ve also been vegan for 10 years.
I’m adamantly pluralist and open-minded. Dogmatism is
the norm, including among radicals. Identifying your self
with an ideology is the death of thought. It’s a constant
struggle to keep my mind open but I try. My pragmatist
Regarding postcapitalism, that means I read everything
serious and I try to evaluate every proposal on its merits. I think parecon is very promising but it has
its own gaps and flaws.
I’ve also been making music, writing poems, etc, for many
years. That is a huge part of me but I don’t advertise that.
I’m also a big fan of rugby.
Did you have any significant events in your life that ignited your interest in politics and social justice?
Yes. Like many my age in Ireland, the formative political events were the 11th September attacks, Afghan War,
and War on Terror (2001), the Iraq War (2003), the
Global Financial Crisis (2008), and the international
horizontalist movements (2011+).
More specifically, I was born in 1993 into a very political
middle class family, my parents being anti-clerical
republicans. Ireland was still a Catholic theocracy (for
example, homosexuality having only been decriminalised
in the year of my birth); so my parents would have been
pretty radical by mainstream standards, particularly my
mother who has long been an ardent feminist. When I
was growing up, they despised the two parties which had
dominated the Republic of Ireland since the civil war in
1922, favouring the centre-left Labour Party. They were
also very critical of British imperialism, sympathetic to
Sinn Féin, Irish unification, and the armed struggle.
So, I grew up being critical of the Catholic Church, the
Empire (including the US empire), Fianna Fáil and Fine
My route to serious politicisation as a 15 or 16-year-old
was atheism, Irish nationalism, internet ‘conspiracy
theories’, and anti-corporate, anti-war material, much
facilitated by the internet especially YouTube and
I was captivated by the British oppression of Ireland
and its other colonies. The US wars against Iraq and
Afghanistan impressed me greatly. To me they epitomised
pure and needless evil, and with much guidance from
my brother I tried to understand how to stop the
war machine. That eventually lead to learning about
something called ‘capitalism’ which seemed to tie it all
I was reared without religion and taught to think for
myself, so I’ve always been an atheist. That immediately
made me an outsider, and as I got older it became clear
that the Catholic Church stood for everything I opposed.
It didn’t help that I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was
a small child. Around 2008, the Church was hit by abuse
allegations which stuck – and, in hindsight, permanently
broke their moral authority – and that catalysed me in
wanting to tear them down.
I was born into a household where domestic abuse was
the norm (my father), and that also made me an outsider
in ways I’ve only come to understand recently. I think
that made me more sensitive to suffering and injustice
but retarded me in other ways. My parents split in 2004,
and my brother, sister, and I went with my mother. She
had to go into a lot of debt. Then the 2008 crisis hit her
physio practice hard. In effect, we were declassed.
In wider society, the system was collapsing and people were
looking for answers. I went to student protests; I saw a
classmate drawing the word ‘SOCIALISM’, and looked
it up. I’ve been a self-described socialist since age 17. As
usual, Chomsky helped a lot. I’ll stop the story there.
I can trace this simple narrative in hindsight, but of
course it isn’t clear at the time. We tend not to think that
we are people of our time, but we are; even the most free-
thinking of us. In any case, in my life I’ve been different
people. Nature is a powerful factor, but I know that in
different circumstances I would be a different person
Today my mission is to help transform human society.
Everything else is secondary. That is the great mission of
our time, and I’m in it to win it.
What attracted you to RU? Why did you join?
I joined Real Utopia primarily because of my interest in
postcapitalist vision, and specifically in the participatory
economy. I’d like to be much more active in RU but I
haven’t found the time so far.
Also, because I’ve formed relationships with quite a few
RU members. Mark Evans in particular gently encouraged
(and reminded) me to join a few times.
Which aspect of RU appeals to you the most?
Mainly that Real Utopia is one of very few organisations
which takes systemic vision seriously.
The default on the Left is to ignore the question of
where we are going. To say that is impractical is an
understatement. There are some short-to-medium-term
programmes, such as the Green New Deal. There is a lot
of protest. There is a lot of analysis of the system, and
what is wrong with it. Sometimes there is discussion of
strategy. I always wonder what the purpose of a strategy is
if you don’t know your destination.
This is all necessary. But we need a clear plan for the
economic and political institutions of the future.
Otherwise, we aren’t really socialists, we’re just anti-
capitalists. The movement should be prioritising
solutions, including solutions in ‘political’ democracy.
If we do, we could still open a new enlightened epoch
for humanity (a bright age beyond, if you will). If we
don’t, we’re doomed. Either way, I don’t believe in giving
up. That doesn’t compute, you always try in whatever
situation you’re in.
Are you engaged in any other organisations? If so,
which ones? What appeals to you about them?
Yes. I’m a member of the Democracy in Europe
Movement 2025 (DiEM25), and a member of the
Participatory Economy Project (PEP).
I joined DiEM25 at the beginning of 2020. I had become
extremely disillusioned with the Left and in 2019
Yanis Varoufakis’ writings and talks helped me regain
confidence that socialism was a viable project. I looked
into DiEM25 and it seemed the most promising political
project which I could find. DiEM has its flaws, but I
appreciate its spirit of democracy, innovation, and hard-
headed policy, and I think we are doing a good job of
forging a new democratic socialism.
In October 2021, I co-founded our Postcapitalism
Collective. In November 2022, we created a Task Force
on Postcapitalism Policy whose purpose is to develop
DiEM25 policy on postcapitalism in accordance with the
views of the membership.
This is very significant. If you’re aware of another
party or movement – outside of self-described socialist
countries – with a detailed programme for the transition
to postcapitalism, let me know. To me that seems either
highly rare or non-existent. If we’re serious about
achieving postcapitalism, we need practical policy which
parties, movements, unions, and concerned citizens, can
use to create the next civilisation.
DiEM’s Green New Deal for Europe and its European
New Deal policy papers are 94 and 102 pages respectively.
I aspire to something at least as detailed for achieving
postcapitalism in Europe.
As to the Participatory Economy Project, I got involved
in early 2022 after interviewing Prof. Robin Hahnel. I
admire PEP’s focus, efficiency, and collegiality, and I
think it’s a great vehicle for researching the participatory
economy model and communicating about parecon to a
What are your hopes for RU and the progressive
left more generally?
As to RU, that’s a good question. If an organisation isn’t
clear on its objectives, it will fail. I haven’t been involved
enough to have a strong opinion on that. Given that
disclaimer, here are some thoughts. There are many,
many, leftist activist organisations, so the question is RU’s
distinctive contribution. I see RU’s distinctive role in its
focus on systemic vision; that is, answering the question
‘what are you for?’. Thus, internal and external education
about that is an important goal. Furthermore, I think RU
can facilitate developing policy, whether in the kinship,
political, economic, or community spheres. Generally,
I think without working towards a policy programme,
people will talk in circles or engage in reactive protest.
As to the ‘progressive left’, I’ve said quite a bit about that
so I won’t add to the word count.