Social media, of late, has been abuzz with the expectation that one golden lining to the Covid-19 crisis will be a change of world paradigm. A shift away from the neo-liberalism that has fuelled the growth and wealth of corporates at the expense of those who actually produce the wealth, the labourers at the bottom of the heap.
Whether that’ll happen or not is yet to be seen. I blogged about that last time – check it out – and offered some suggestions.
One thing that has occurred to me, though, is that paradigm-shifts across history usually don’t come very easily. Often they emerge from a protracted contortion. The First World War, for example, essentially brought the ‘old European order’ to an end; but it was not until the end of the Second World War that a stable ‘new order’ of sorts emerged. Between times – as the central powers fell into fascism and police-state communism grew in the Soviet Union – there was a very real risk that the world’s majority governmental system would not be democracy, but totalitarianism in its various flavours.
The Covid-19 crisis has come at a moment when the existing economic paradigm – neo-liberalism – has clearly hit its use-by date. Already there has been talk of finding different ways for governments to approach economics. Whether the virus and the economic apocalypse that will follow it suffice to push governments into that new mind-set, however, remains to be seen. One of the reasons why neo-liberalism didn’t fall when its hollowness became evident during the GFC, a dozen years ago, is that there was nothing credible to replace it.
What worries me, though, is the potential that humanity will – once again – miss the boat, by swinging into a new paradigm that doesn’t really fix what had gone wrong with the old, but merely reverses what was perceived to be the bad side of the old idea. That seems typical of human societies: the ‘recency effect’ means that one generation, often, reacts to what they object to about the last.
One of the more recent examples of this was the ‘baby boomer’ reaction to the society that had emerged, across the western world, from the two world wars. It was a staid society, safe, rather dully, and with certain social norms such as short haired and clean-shaven men, an exalted nuclear family, and so on. All of which were reversed by a ‘hippie’ generation who went bearded and long-haired, and experimented with ‘communal living’ which, they imagined, was the way of the future.
It wasn’t, of course. Today we still live largely in nuclear families and, curiously, men mostly have short hair and are clean shaven. All that had happened was that the ‘hippies’ had simply reversed what they didn’t like, without changing the fundamental paradigm.
That’s true to a certain extent of the way neo-liberalism entered the picture too. By the 1970s, the ‘liberal democratic’ approach of the mid-twentieth century with its regulated welfare state was beginning to reach its use-by date. Regulatory creep and a sense of entitlement to welfare, two generations on from when these systems had been introduced across the world, created a sense of being dated and tired.
The neo-liberals entered power here in New Zealand after the Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, got drunk and called a snap election in mid-1984 (he did consult on it, but still…) What followed, however, merely reversed whatever Muldoon had done. If Muldoon had done things one way, the neo-liberals had to do it the opposite way. Specifically. In short, it didn’t offer a new approach: it was still being defined by the old mind-set.
You see what I am getting at. For humanity to really move forward – as is necessary – we cannot afford to let what has just gone define the way we tackle the future. A new paradigm is needed, one that builds on the best that society has created to date, that nurtures what we already know works for us, and which gets rid of the worst. It must be sustainable, and it must be built around a mind-set of kindness, and of genuine care for all others. All? All. I am not the first one to suggest this, of course.
I am probably being wishful in offering such a thought. Human society, in reality, is messy. Still, to get anywhere we have to first start with a dream. And the best way to dream is to dream big. We can’t allow the obvious problems and failures of the immediate past to shape the vision of a better future.
Thoughts? And, in case anybody thought I was being hyperbolic about a drunken Prime Minister calling a snap election in 1984, here’s the clip. He was so pissed he could barely speak.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020