Where were we?
Oh , yes:
pandemics; rising inequality; and of course the pending implosion of basically all systems, due to climate change.
Is there any point in writing? Is there any point of signing petitions which governments don’t even bother to read, of joining protest marches that attract little notice unless they are brutally castigated by riot police. Is there any point of even discussing these issues?
Over the past decade, Greta Thunberg, Thomas Piketty, and Yuval Noah Harari have all been saying – each in his or her way – Stop the runaway train! They are no doubt still saying it and many, many others with them. Yet, all we hear from the powers-that-be is, as Greta Thunberg points out: bla-bla-bla.
Many of the passengers on the runaway train are bent over their mobile phones or tablets, some are chatting quietly, some are gazing out the window, a few are reading a book or a printout of a report or academic paper. In one of the wagons where a group of 6 are singing Christmas carols, a man has managed to fall asleep in a corner. Night has fallen outside, and the train careens on.
But not all is lost. Tireless efforts by millions of dedicated scientists all over the world have yielded results. Most of the deleterious processes undermining climate as we know it have been identified. By the same token, researchers have found out how these processes can be halted, even stopped. Yes, it can be done!
There is only one overwhelming obstacle: “the matter of money”.
Not that there isn’t enough “money”. Far from it. Somebody said the other day, “it only takes 2 % of all countries’ national product” – that’s not much, really, not when so much is at stake.
What is so utterly unresolved, however, is “whose money?”
Alas, there is much callousness about! Take for instance the British authorities’ reluctance to provide relief to its own citizens during the great famine in 1845-52. (One million died, and more than 2 million fled.) Was there an element of ethnic cleansing involved (after all, the victims were Irish, Catholic and poor) or was this disaster only a matter of “who pays?” At any rate, Great Britain was the richest nation on earth, and the authorities knew exactly what was happening.
Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries, when neither the nobility nor the clergy paid any tax, was a different matter. The Spanish crown, nobility and Church desperately needed funds to pay for endless wars and unimaginable profligacy (“noblesse oblige”). For a while, the Crown had access to silver and gold, robbed from Latin America, but over time, Spanish decadence was basically paid for by the peasants, who had the nasty habit of dying of starvation and exhaustion. There was no industry, few if any bustling towns with wealthy, tax-paying burgers, and hardly any agriculture to speak of. Spain was an extremely backward country.
Why? Because of what we would nowadays refer to as an “attitude problem” or, more precisely, because of ideology. Finally, in the 18th century, “the enlightenment” started seeping in, eroding cracks in the pernicious ideology that enveloped Spanish society, and Spain slowly started picking itself up out of the gutter.
Mind you, there was plenty of resistance to the progressive reforms advocated by adherents of “enlightenment”. Neither the clergy, nor the nobility wanted to relinquish privileges and – this is key – the destitute peasants weren’t impressed either; the reforms sounded outlandish and would not immediately benefit them. Spain remained a backward country until after the death of its last dictator, Franco.
Ideological sea-changes tend to be painful. There will be unpleasant discussions between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and students. Besides, not all so-called “progressive” ideas are good ideas even if rioters are willing to die for them.
In many countries, we see a traditional “right wing”, a traditional “left wing” and a so-called “centre”. And then we have what the press calls “extreme right” and “extreme left”, both of which are condescendingly referred to as “populist”. The majority of voters want to play safe, so they tend to prefer “centrist” parties. In recent years, however, growing income and wealth inequality and anxiety about the future (immigration, crime, and climate change) has driven growing segments of many populations to lose faith in Democracy, to vote for fascist leaders, and to demand “tough action”. (We are now seeing a neo-fascist taking the lead in Chile, after the first round of elections. Interestingly, an Italian newspaper has seen the writing on the wall for Chile and has published an excellent analysis of Antonio Kast’s style.)
Whether a government is headed by traditional parties, fascists or “populists”, most countries are in the throws of ideological, economic and political petrification. There is an unwillingness to acknowledge that a free market has not and will not solve the issues of immigration pressure, crime and climate change. The free market has, inst exacerbated the problem of growing income and wealth inequality, i.e. the divide between rich and poor countries (hence the growing flow of desperate migrants) and between the haves and have-nots in each country (hence crime and civil disorder).
Moreover, no country that I know of has started adapting to a very simple little fact:
Continued economic growth is simply not sustainable. There is absolutely no doubt about this, like it or not. I repeat: Continued economic growth is not and never will be sustainable.
We need to find other ways of doing business. There are lots of ideas out there, alternative economic models, elephants we fail to bring into the runaway train. They are tied up outside the train stations, in the freezing cold. There is no doubt in my mind that something will have to give, sooner or later. We are at a sea change. In comparison, the advent of the Pill and the Personal Computer will have been small change. So bring in the elephants!