After the Virus - Time for Deep Change
Great crisis passes and the pieces are picked up. Sometimes big lessons are learned and real change is made. Sometimes, obviously, not.
The world changed its approach to health after the 1918 Spanish Flu. Many social things didn’t change, partly because it was tangled up with the aftermath of World War One, which also didn’t change many things. Sometimes the recovery mess can itself be a crisis - the hardening of positions is called for by some big interests.
But things do change, whether much of that is forced on us or not, and we can always work together to direct our history toward well-being, the general interest, the planet and our humanity.
Some big problems we need to keep seeing …
- It’s important to recognize and remember the “structural” or “system” problems that made possible, or made worse, the crisis and its impacts. In the case of the coronavirus, things well beyond disease monitoring, equipment and supply, research and funding. The state not just of particular services, departments, governments or political cultures, for instance, but the state of the state and of our democracy. Those biggest things are being tested.
- Our general problems today include information access and abuse, together with their impact on citizens, but we often treat the issue too simply or technically, while keeping, or seeming to keep, the public and general interest at bay - failing to address this issue, leaving it to radicals - except in “over the top” cases like the pandemic emergency. Information abuse should be considered not just a public welfare or management problem but also a social problem, at least among the vulnerable third or quarter - having to do with many things including escape, revenge, desperate entrepreneurship, mental association and misunderstood emotion, aggressive participation, reactive cultures, the imitation of social controls, identity and bad activism - not just measured or usual policy matters like speech, education, income or mental health.
- Our attention to the general interest, the weak presence and contested role of this in our society and our politics, as well as its use in radical politics, is one thing that very much needs work.
Some big things we should put into place, or get back to …
- A Nation Of Fact And Principle - A democracy and a politics that work very differently because they use facts first. The next step for our democracy should train and test potential candidates, feature elections and “direct democracy” in which voting is first of all for programs and priorities, have no parties or campaigns, involve no money, and adopt other “best practices” from advisors and theorists around the world, while making the capacity for big change, even constitutional change, a normal possibility.
- Science Always At The Table - Government publicly informed by scientists, academics and other experts. Democracy works when citizens can see facts, ideas, options, advice, flowing toward the decision-making process, in a way that supports understanding and “ownership” of the process, and therefore trust and support for government. The state of our science and of our use of science is frequently a concern in the broader scientific conversation.
- Good Information, Usability and Access - A public interest information system that is widely used and supported, adding to the success of commercial and small media, making a venue or channel for good information and real matters such as working ideas, meaningful advice or sector trends. Most of us get most of our information through entertainment, selling, personal connections, direct interest and easy tech – this has made possible the “infodemic” and its impacts.
- New National Systems - A national emergency system, ready to go when invoked, that reaches individuals, families and communities with information, income and services, using a well-being and sustainability framework that embraces more than health.
- The Right To Know - A free dedicated online and radio receiver, distributed to every adult, that does not send and is of no other use or value
- Well-being In Practice. Support in communities and online for use of the information, emergency and receiver systems. Well-being centers in communities that anchor good use of services, understanding and eligibility, commitment and responsibility, effective agencies, responsible spending and community advisors to connect the dots.
- Re-organization Of Programming - Service regions larger and more effective than America’s current “fifty little countries.” It’s time for the unnecessary localizing, complicating and blocking of services, programs, information, rights and standards.
- Transitions To Well-being - An economy that supports pragmatic or realist transition from destructive practices to sustainable and well-being practices, doing more than simply stopping, opposing or criminalizing current interests and activity. A key feature should be the development of major impact technology and selling or giving it to jurisdictions and sectors.
- Social and Community Engagement - Renewed public education that provides civics, factual understanding, working civility and meaningful inclusion. This is one piece in the reduction of impacts on government from interests and ideologies.
- Stronger and Simpler Democratic Participation - A single secure national system, also used by states and other jurisdictions, that makes voting on matters of public interest a regular thing. This makes plebiscite or “direct democracy” participation a working feature of our democracy and builds in interested use of public and expert information - direct democracy would mean deliberative democracy at the same time. Votes may be of a “public opinion” or “advisory group” kind, in which governments can get an informal sense of how people feel about a certain matter, and this need not replace commercial polling but could add to it.
Much more should be said, of course, about any of these matters. Governments and institutions putting deep change into place means extensive and wide-ranging discussion, debate, understanding, agreeing in democracies.
There are many wonderful and powerful ideas out there, coming from experts, activists, insiders. Even so, they often find their suggestions, models and plans ignored, watered down, re-purposed, stolen. Or characterized as good but too much, naïve, idealist, utopian, plain low priority.
There are many related and unrelated problems competing for our attention, our dollar, our legislation. For instance, the all-too-human problem. Corruption, incompetence, deception and distraction will always be with us. The pragmatic response, a point often made but not widely understood, is to minimize damage from big ego and weak morality.
On the way to a stable future we might ask what is realistic or pragmatic.
If our society is geared toward continuity, control, management, and the realism of that, how much is this overdone? How much can the actually possible be made do-able or let be okay?
At the same time, of course, we confront cultures of the empty and extreme. Simple disruption, radical sabotage, opposition with no analysis or even agenda, a politics of no control and no direction - much of it with academic grounding.
Deep change to the democracy, the political system or the state, including constitutional change, is often regarded as impossible in a frame where those who have power are the only people who can really change it. This is perhaps why violent minds could decide to just smash or overrun it. Human services workers see it reduced to this for many who come through the door. Many of us should be helped to ask is the only real choice between a system that can’t change and one that has to be overcome? All of us should see that “right wing populism” is more psychology than politics and is nothing new. Understanding the culture and the history are part of the answer in a fuller democracy.
Whether there’s a crisis that makes us think and work together, or a quiet disaster that is really the result of our conflict and self-interest, we must remember that it’s important to keep the future flowing and the big ideas on the table.
Our biggest ideas are part of recovery but more than recovery.
We can make them also the plan.
© 2020 Kurt Halliday