The Post-Pathogen Reset Button — Action Pointer #4

‘Mending our ways’, goes viral

We may perhaps succeed in constraining COVID-19 by social isolation but there’s a newfound connectedness amongst those thinking of ‘mending our ways’.

Action Pointer #3 noted exponential growth in charters for ‘new normalities’ — the hopes and expectations beyond the horizon. Now those initial gusts have filled the sails of other voyagers. Some are navigating on bigger charts; others on chartlets for specific destinations. Knowing where we want to go is still easier than knowing how (or if) we will get there.

It is as if responses to the COVID-19 have mutated, multiplied, flourished and flown in many directions. The central challenge is gradually becoming clear: finding leadership and support for new priorities as the canvas widens. Some parts are sketched while others are more deeply layered.

Bigger Pictures — PAN PAN PAN

Governments everywhere have reacted to this pandemic as if it were an epidemic. Centres have not held. Even between EU States, coordination has been secondary — a nod perhaps towards their sovereignty. The UK is itself dis-United. The USA in disarray. WHO calls so loud? Those previously considered to be in the Premier League have all been relegated to play in the chumpionship of countries determined to self-isolate from the planet. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if not tackled everywhere this pathogen will not perish. Isolation teaches everyone that we are all connected.

It was heartening this week to see evidence of wider, more global, perspectives. Angus Lambkin, informed by UN experience in camps for the displaced, deduced holistic lessons for Northern Ireland. Similarly Chatham House channelled Churchill to ‘not let a good crisis go to waste’ and urged reform of Universal Healthcare Services — particularly in less developed countries like sub-Saharan Africa and in the USA. Another great educative moment was prompted by US-based economist Stephanie Kelton and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demolishing the perennial ‘How will you pay for it?’ objections to sensible reforms — a Stateside perspective that translates well into European economic management. “Because the coronavirus is a threat to all of us — not just the poor — we are choosing to act in ways we always could have acted.”

BBC’s World Service (The Real Story) discussion on virus impacts laid great emphasis on positive lessons — particularly in the use of digital comms — but was less certain of political pressures with populists deflecting charges of incompetence by shifting blame to ‘others’. At the same time, it has become more difficult to deny the value of experts and that might shift attitudes towards the (even greater) Climate Challenge.

What matters, says Kate Raworth, is competence. “Political slogans, Kate says, “do not bring down infection rates” but excessively authoritarian governments may be scuppered by perceived incompetence. If, post-pandemic, we do not have the will to shift to a more humanitarian governance there will, certainly, be further tests to come. Who will now step up to invest in resolving the challenges of displaced people?

Homing in on safer havens

Champions are also rehearsing very specific policy targets — though these are, as yet, stage whispers, hoping to prompt performers who need to learn new lines. The caution reflects fear of instant ridicule. For specific policy champions, unlike the global generalists, the danger of dismissal is more keenly felt.

With polarised minds radicalised by decades of unbending market myths, any suggestion that formal exams could be replaced by teacher assessments prokes rabid reactions. Doing away with student debt is no easy pitch. ‘Degrowth’ barely makes it onto the agenda. As for Universal Basic Income (UBI), the defence, it seems, must be part of the introductory headline: ‘The case for a (modest) Universal Basic Income’.

Some UK observers note a correlation between ardent Brexit supporters and critics of the government’s newfound enthusiasm for investment, or [boo, hiss] handouts. In this same territory, handouts and subsidies are much the same thing — both apparently distant from any justification that values the common good. Similarly, ‘support’ is translated into ‘propping up’ in the tabloid tongue to deliver a heap of hate — oft directed at experts and science. The rediscovery of Society must be unsettling for diehards suddenly dependent on keyworkers.

The long battle for investment in the NHS may seem to have been won. That victory, however, does not translate into all other aspects of austerity-weakened public expenditure.

Plotting a course for repair and reconstruction of life and endeavour is hampered by uncertain leadership of opposition parties and the temporary suspension of critical oversight and local elections. Despite these difficulties — and the unavoidable grief for lost souls — there will be no let up in the determination to ‘mend our ways’.

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Notes:

1. Graphic depicts signage at the Wealds and Downland Living Museum, West Sussex, UK — the site used for a BBC craft/reality TV series produced by Ricochet, a division of Warner Bros.

2. This Action Pointer series by David Brunnen @ Groupe Intellex monitors the evolution of ideas for future governance whilst most minds are preoccupied with the immediate and urgent work of citizen survival.

Fresh thinking for economic & societal development: David Brunnen on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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