Thursday, 1 May 2014

Is hope preventing us from glimpsing a brave new World?

I have been looking at relationships, not the personal kind, but those that can be found between social, economic and environmental theories. This is the stuff of which sustainability is made, in much the same way as sub atomic particles are the building blocks of our universe!

Scanning through my feeds recently, I read two different articles ;one about the failure of capitalism and the other about the perverse nature of hope. I enjoyed both of them, in their own right, it was only later that the connections between them dawned on me and their potential relevance to the raft of issues that face collectively! 

I will briefly summarise what each article was about, to provide background for my thinking. I will also provide links (for as long as they remain live), so that you can also enjoy them in their own right.

The article about the failure of capitalism is by Thomas Pikety a new left of centre economist, who has a book out entitled  Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It has found a wide audience at recent gatherings of economists around the World. In essence he is saying that using data from the last 200 years, he can clearly prove that wealth generation exceeds productive capacity and that this inevitably results in wider and wider inequality of wealth. He posits that this results in an unfair burden to the middle income taxpayers, which in turn leads to degradation of public services,  working conditions and well-being. Left unchecked this could escalate to protectionism and ultimately conflict. More on this can be read here.

The second topic that I wanted to mention was also published in the Economic Journal, but is more about behavioural trends. Following the sad disappearance of flight MH370, there was an awful lot of uncertainty around what happened and where. These voids were filled with messages of hope, both by the media and by the governments involved in the search. Twenty five years of German research suggest that the link between hope and expectation is one that delivers social pressure and that freedom from this repressive fear factor, brings about a release. Hope, if you like, is a major factor in maintaining the status quo or following a business as usual scenario! More on this can be seen here.

I kept coming back to the same point in my head, whichever problem that you look at, whether it be climate change, resource depletion or wealth disparity, hope appears to be the enemy of radical change!

Each issue taken in isolation, comes with its own profession, media perceptions and political baggage. Problems are analysed, debated and reports written , but the clock ticks on and in effect, nothing changes (the rich get richer, the climate warmer and finite resources, ever more stretched). The problem with this cycle of events is that hope is refreshed with each iteration, which in turn maintains the status quo!

The writing is on the wall for capitalism, the mathematics are suggesting that the sell by date is looming large! The political model is becoming ever more dysfunctional and arcane, bearing disproportionately more relevance to those with a vested interest in maintaining that status quo and accretion of wealth! The environment is becoming increasingly degraded and will serve to ramp up the existing social and economic pressures.

It is only when you take all of these things together and fire them at each other, do you realise they represent a perfect storm. I find it difficult to imagine that within in the confines of the current socio-political and economic environment, that we have any hope of finding a workable solution, or a means of transition to new more equitable and sustainable model.

The art of giving up hope here, is not to stop breathing, but instead to take a deep breath and to say OK what now? By giving up hope, you are giving up on continued support and trust for our failing systems and leaders. You will need to let go of concepts about the current norm. This can and will be both frightening and cathartic! Without  going through this barrier of perception however, I do not believe that any of us can find it within ourselves to innovate and be free enough to make the radical changes needed to design and implement a new model.

The evidence is mounting that the climate is warming and that the economic model is failing the vast majority. Beyond this lies a brave new World of connected localism, can we jump the hurdle of hope and land running on the other side?