The struggle for survival
The 5 years following the coronavirus lockdown, the post pandemic period, will be characterised by struggles between powerful forces – a Clash of Titans.
“Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them? Impossible to say at this stage, perhaps. Certainly not without a fight against all those who will promote a return to business (and emissions) as usual.” Guardian editorial 13 April 2020
The lockdown came just before Easter, when we traditionally reflect upon death and resurrection. Christopher Hafner, of the Strategic Planning Society, observed that, at a time we are experiencing lockdown and high levels of mortality, people considering future strategies extensively use the words return and recover. He suggests they would do well to reframe the issues and to think instead about how their organisations might emerge and evolve.
What is our challenge?
This is a characteristic of the struggle in the world “out there”. It is a struggle between “back to normal” on the one hand and “regenerative change” on the other. Each of us mirrors the struggle within us, between that part of us which would like to roll back time to the status quo ante and a more compassionate part which is eager to create a better society. Because the latter is unknowable and therefore scary, we tend to opt for the former.
Apart, perhaps, from the recognition that we previously enjoyed a position of privilege, why would we go back to a greedy, destructive, inequitable and unsustainable past? It was a crap world for the vast majority of people, who it exploited as units of consumption and production. Let’s not try to get “back to normal”, when we could, instead, create a better, more wholesome, inclusive and sustainable future for all of humankind.
This is our challenge. The question is, will we rise to it or will we capitulate and leave the increasingly unacceptable issues to be dealt with by future generations (if there are any)?
Can’t we just leave it to governments?
Of the 100 largest economies on the planet, 69 are corporations. Those in government, even if they had the intention, are not currently capable of protecting our futures. Much of the delay in responding to the present pandemic was due to the vested interests of major global corporations. Even those few governments which might be considered to genuinely have the interests of ordinary people at heart (perhaps Norway or Switzerland?) can still make mistakes. Or they may be influenced by lobbyists and vested interests. Perhaps, with our help, governments can take responsibility and re-balance their economies in order to address their populations’ longer-term interests – i.e. maybe they can actually do their job?
Global issues that humanity must urgently address
We know that the present global capitalist trajectory is unsustainable and has unacceptable side effects. These include:
- Global heating and climate change
- Depletion of resources – especially clean fresh water
- Gross inequality between rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
- Wars, terrorism and crime – often initiated or exacerbated by wealthy western nations and their agencies, especially the supply of armaments
- Migration – caused by poverty, starvation, climate change and wars (all the above) – leading to racism and brutality, cruelty and genocide
- Pollution – poisonous water supplies, foul air, the oceans filled with plastic
- Destruction of species and habitats
Fortunately, the world is not full of inherently bad people. Just beneath the surface of every greedy, self-centred or unthinking person is a decent, aspirational human being trying to get out. Scratch and you will discover a conscience. We all need to recognise that, if we are among the well off, we are standing on the backs of the less privileged. Inadvertently, we are killing the planet that sustains us, our children and our children’s children
Outer aspects of the post pandemic struggle
Outwardly the struggle is between East and West, between North and South. Those who were doing well before Covid 19 want to get back to business as usual. All those people in the fossil fuel industries wish to return quickly to polluting the planet and poisoning the atmosphere. The airlines wish to rapidly return to their subsidised and privileged activities, which helped exacerbate the problem. But we, too, want to fly and to fuel our cars. Most of us want to return to “normality”. We believe that we not only enjoyed it, but we knew where we were and what was expected of us.
On the other hand, were those people who took a different view. Climate activists, for instance, or even those scientists of the United Nations IPPC, who pointed out the need for dramatic change, if we are to avert climate catastrophe in current lifetimes. Power currently is in the hands of the economic giants. They are not looking after the interests of more than a small minority of people. The poor and disadvantaged certainly want to see change. Ordinary people want a good life but their desires have been distorted by the power of advertising and the media, the agents of those same corporate drivers.
All this could change. It can be redesigned to be sustainable. We can build a better world – indeed we must, because the one we were operating is doomed.
Inner aspects of the post pandemic struggle
The inner struggle is there for each of us to resolve within ourselves. We all want to retain at least some of the pleasure and privilege that we have enjoyed in the past. Perhaps the freedom to travel around the world, the joys of eating lavishly from the global larder, the pleasure of leisure time with the resources to enjoy it fully, the fundamentals of stable infrastructure, civic amenities and health care, for instance.
Yet also, we may remember that others are undeservedly less fortunate: that there are people starving and dying while we feast: that many people are penniless or homeless, sick or lonely; that immigrants are drowning in our seas; that other lands are subject to climate change and other ills; that there is strife and war on this planet; that wilderness and wildlife are disappearing; that globalisation destroys community; that even the supposedly successful often find they have lost all meaning.
Where can we possibly influence?
Where to influence is a crucial question and for each of us there are unique answers. Firstly, of course, we can each listen to our conscience. Indeed we can educate our consciousness so that we are more aware of the price of our existence. A little enquiry tells us that the world is not equitable. No man is an island, so the good life we enjoy is paid for by the suffering of other people, elsewhere in space and time. The post pandemic struggle is not a zero-sum game but nevertheless we should acknowledge that we have largely lived at others’ expense. In Europe, for instance, we have inherited the loot of colonialism and slavery perpetrated on our behalf by our ancestors.
Even today, some large corporates take disproportionately and minimise their contributions by avoiding fair taxation. We can bring such ideas into our awareness. Most of all, what we can influence is the choices we make. Especially we can influence the choice, between seeking more wholesome living, as opposed to living as we were persuaded by the agents of the old order. We can prepare to sacrifice some of the privileges that inevitably we will eventually lose anyway. We can afford to let go lightly, because we will enjoy what we create for the future.
The choice is ours
In the post pandemic struggle, we can be instrumental in fostering change within our sphere of influence. In our professional work, in our social milieu, with our family and friends, we can model the change we wish to see. We can be pro-active in championing a new way of being. We can elect to be part of a global movement for change and renewal. Let us welcome that Easter message and rejoice in the death and resurrection of the world as we knew it. Let us join forces to explore a new way of being human.
Article by John Varney, April 2020
Founder of High Trenhouse Centre for Management Creativity