It’s increasingly clear that most people are dissatisfied with the governing of the world. Even those who can’t articulate exactly what disturbs them know intuitively that we’re on the wrong path. The majority of people want governments to preserve the planet. They want to be less overworked. They want to co-exist and accept others’ differences rather than be unable to escape polarising debate. They want an end to wars, to reduce suffering, etc. Unlike a small elite who do everything they can to uphold the status quo, most of us would like to live in times when exciting paradigm-shifting ideas and solutions invigorate our minds, bodies and souls. We would like to see a different approach that could set us on a new path, one that enlightens us both inwardly and outwardly.
Instead, we live in times of ecocide, growing inequality, and decreasing democracy. Social and state institutions are becoming less powerful while larger-than-life corporations are more influential with each day. The ever-increasing power of the patriarchal state, of capital, and economic globalisation, or what I refer to as PIE, is especially debilitating now that we find ourselves on the brink of a global pandemic. If you’re wondering what patriarchy has to do with this, yes, Covid-19 is a feminist issue. For. Many. Reasons.
It’s ironic that the same institutions that push for economic globalisation don’t look toward a global effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The World Bank, for example, has a “Pandemic Emergency Financing” fund, which is great until you find out that it will “not pay out until 12 weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes its first “situation report”, which would not be until 23 March.” Pray tell, how is that an emergency fund? Cue: it isn’t. As LSE research shows, the “Pandemic financing scheme serves private sector interests over global health security”.
The World Bank and the IMF were quick to assuage the 2008 recession, so why is there comparably so little interest in spending money on assuaging Covid-19? At the time of writing this blog post, only a shameful $2.5m of WHO’s $61.5m appeal has been met. To give context, the UK spends £50bil/year on defence. If it and other wealthy patriarchal states were to put only a fraction into improving global health as they do in their unnecessary wars, it could make a huge difference. As head of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, wrote in a thoughtful release, “Epidemics like COVID-19 are so much more than just a public health crisis. Like the worst financial crashes, they are global events, which can impact every sector of society all at once.”
Yet while citizens of the world feel growing dread about the future, our governments are still working in the interest of megalomaniac capital investments rather than in the interests of the people. Worse, they are working secretively which is not only particularly worrying when it comes to sharing research data but also because the root cause of people’s panic is “fear of the unknown”. A system that doesn’t care about the people is, of course, limited in diminishing such fears.
Still, I’m reminded of the words of the playwright, Arthur Miller, “An era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted”.
Miller’s words are powerful not only because they speak to the truth of our times. The basic illusions of this era–imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, classism–, are nearing exhaustion. But Miller’s words also point to a future where something new has taken shape. After all, another era must replace the current one. This duality also underpinned my talk at TEDx Brixton titled, “To change the world, change your illusions“.
A change in mindset is what to do when everything seems to be falling apart. To change our mindsets about social ideas and structures we need to do three things: 1) Welcome the falling apart of that which no longer works. While nobody is welcoming Covid-19, or any of the numerous ills that also plague society, times like this at least provide fertile ground for planting new seeds that can flourish into a way of being in this planet that is more interesting, more elevating, more aligned with what it means to be human. 2) Seek to understand how we got into the mess we are in. A real understanding how history shapes the present is the only way to individually and collectively go into the future with clarity, compassion and conscientiousness. 3) For better or worse, we have all become “global citizens”. We are impacted by decisions made in all parts of the world and not only in the societies we inhabit. We must, therefore, start to seek ideas that can positively impact our sense of not just being global citizens, but also of being good global citizens. We tend to think about our citizenship in relation to the passports we hold or where we find our ancestry, and that’s absolutely fine, but the world we live in now means we must also ask what it takes to be a good, patriotic, compassionate citizen of the world?
Ultimately, although economic globalisation has made the world exponentially worse in many ways, it has also made us a species who are more integrated than ever before. While that in return has made us unprecedentedly polarised, unequal and subject to so-called “black swans” such as pandemic/terror/natural threats, it has also made us a wiser species who is more aware of issues we could previously ignore. The predicament is something to leverage on; to be educated on, and to refuse to be told that there is only one way to think about. My colleague, Andreas Herberg-Rothe, at the Sahel Consortium where I sit on the editorial board, writes that “The End Of The Liberal World Order Is Not The End Of The World“.
The poster pictured above is by London creative agency La Boca for the movie, The Black Swan. It strikes me that it reflects both the drama and danger of our times. But it is also graceful and victorious. It is a reminder that fear and faith always work in tandem and that sometimes when things are falling apart, it also gives us an opportunity to fix them.
What do you think?