Reflections 22 August.

On my mind this week.

I have been aware for some time of what I have described as a “quickening.” A sense of dissonance; an unease generated by events that we do not talk about but often surfaces in reflective conversations. It’s also, I understand, a term used by midwives to describe the first feelings of foetal movement during pregnancy. Seems approporiate somehow,

Perhaps it’s the disruption and angst triggered by responses to the pandemic. Or maybe the increasing awareness of the fragility, and shallowness, of the organisations that run our lives. When the pandemic is followed by an IPCC report that puts the planet on “code red”, more than a little dissonance is to be expected. However, when that is followed by the almost surreal collapse of twenty years of imposed control in Afghanistan in forty-eight hours by a movement with no aircraft, no satellites, no sophisticated weaponry, and WhatsApp communication, our grasp on things seems more than a little tenuous. Combine that with a stock market that carries on unbothered and media that gloat on misfortune, and our direction feels very unclear.

We seem to have somehow moved into a third party world. “They” have become much more numerous and dangerous, and “We” much smaller and less confident. It is easier to see the world as a more complex and unwelcoming place. We have become more disconnected from each other and the reality of the world in which we live.

Yet, I think there is another way of looking at it. What is happening has been underway for a long time. From unconstrained corporate greed to democracies weakened by mediocre politicians as populism and totalitarianism grow, we have been sleepwalking into what we now see as happening suddenly. As a result, what feels like a sudden change is not; it’s an awakening. 

Our obsession with growth and scale has created organisations, businesses, and leaders with volume but little substance, like the foam on a cappuccino. They appear from nowhere and disappear suddenly, as they collapse under the debt or obligations used to inflate them or get acquired. Either way, only shareholders win. Customers, employees and communities are left without a voice and find themselves picking up the pieces as taxpayers. So it is not just the blind pursuit of growth that harms us and the planet we are part of; it is the quality of that growth. 

The awkward part is that we are complicit. We may have been manipulated and misinformed, but we are the most intelligent animals on the planet. We have allowed it to happen, anaesthetised by credit-based consumption, and we know it. Awkward and embarrassing, but there it is.

When we sense that there is so much we need to do, where do we start? 

I think the answer lies close to home, with people we know, pursuing things that matter for those around us – humans and otherwise. Internet technologies offer us the scope for connection to do that, rather than accept the froth of Facebook, the toxicity of Twitter or the insincerity of Instagram. The pandemic has punctured the illusion of the office for many of us, and the IPCC report has reinforced the need to double down on what we have learned to reduce the pressure we place on finite resources, whether carbon-based energy or rare minerals for batteries. Face to face, vibrant conversations are vital, whilst we can do most routine meetings remotely. 

Where we live is another issue. We know cities are productive, but if we want to work in cities, perhaps we have to live in them. There is no productivity or efficiency in commuting. So whether we work in the city or the country, maybe we will have to live where we work. 

Global supply chains were convenient for outsourcing to invisible, low cost, low compliance locations to improve profits. Still, as labour costs increase and supply chains become disrupted by climate triggered events, we will increasingly find ourselves having to make where we sell. We will find ourselves consuming less of better with known provenance.

All of this represents a fundamental change in the way we live and work, and we all need somewhere to be grounded as we come to terms with it. Somewhere we can talk openly, share hopes and fears, and find support. Realistically, it is unlikely to be where we work because we have conflicting agendas – businesses are legally obliged to prioritise profits over people. They also seem unlikely to be on large public forums like social media – they are too big, public, and also have conflicting agendas – they are designed to provide advertising platforms, not support.

In the end, we go back to where we started – small communities where people know each other, trust each other and work to support each other. Villages can now be virtual, somewhere to gather out of the mainstream of the day to day pressures. Digital sanctuary. Somewhere human scale.

What we are going to go through is the price we pay for creating something better than the “growth at all costs” system we have built. We don’t yet know what that “something better” looks like, but the least we can do is start talking about it with people we trust and find somewhere to start.

Things that have inspired me this week.

The nature of grief. Aeon Magazine. As we step into what is next, I think we are all grieving the passing of something familiar. It’s a strange process, and this article gave me positive food for thought.

Generationalism is bad science. Millennials start turning forty this year. Categorising people is the sort of lazy thinking practised by poor marketers. We are all individuals, and we need to connect as such.

The fourth globalisation. We are used to thinking of globalisation in terms of container ships stuck in Suez. It’s changing.

Doubt. A short video of Kierkegaard’s relationship with doubt, and why it is to be welcomed right now.

Cascades. Greg Satell. A book recommendation given to me in a conversation. An account of how social change really happens. I’m enjoying it.

A quote.

“I don’t pay no attention to no kind of critics about nothing. If they knew as much as they claim to about what they’re criticizing, they ought to be doing that instead of just standing on the side lines using their mouth.”

Cassius Clay

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