Well into the 21st century, we have not yet been able to face crucial contemporary challenges head-on. Old and new problems might be worked out by changing the course and reorienting wills and resources. It might seem ever less possible that we may, with “a little more of the same” or on automatic pilot, be able to overcome very difficult situations. The crucial challenge lies in preserving the ship and choosing a better course that may constructively admit such diverse interests and needs.
True, not only is vigour needed in the economy, in politics, in science and technology, in social movements, in our personal development, but also wisdom, intelligence, experience, ability, generosity to better use that power by choosing promising courses for everyone.
Well into the 21st century, and in spite of the vigorous economic growth, the phenomenal technology available, the enormous scientific knowledge, the unyielding effort by good-willed people, we have not yet been able to face crucial contemporary challenges head-on, or prevent affronts, destruction, distress and insecurity from pullulating. Definitely, it is not just a matter of adding more power to our engines but also of re-routing the course.
New problems appear and old problems are reproduced which might be worked out by changing the course and reorienting wills and resources. Poverty, inequality, fierce antagonisms, famines, severe environmental deterioration, the explosion of oil and food prices, increased aggravated crime systems, financial crises in central markets with global implications, add challenges (and these are not the only ones) that are very difficult to face. Some say that these types of problems have always existed, and they will be worked out as a result of the “normal” evolution of things. Let us hope they are right for the sake of the planet and of those who inhabit it, although in fact there is evidence to the contrary that does not cease to accumulate.
When tensions mount to the point of jeopardizing the fate of immense majorities, when conflicts and confusion no longer affect only some sectors or regions but threaten the systemic functioning, it becomes very difficult to continue to believe that it is possible to overcome situations with “a little more of the same”, or that some enlightened being or automatic pilot will be able to solve problems, obtain better answers and clear dark clouds per se. Rather, there is a need for each of us to assume a greater share of responsibility and determination to face those challenges: easy to say, not so easy to assume.
Changing does not mean dismissing the past indiscriminately; the efforts made, the accomplishments, experiences, paths, count a lot. Changing requires using history, what has been learned, what has already been conquered, as well as sorrows, mistakes and regressions, in order to be able to advance in better condition. Adjusting the course has nothing to do with burning our precious ship; instead, it implies rerouting it towards a better port with greater social cohesion and environmental preservation.
When we wonder what each one of us can do to adjust the systemic course, thousands of doubts spring as we compare the complexity of the challenge with our modest strengths. It is worth the while to acknowledge the magnitude of the purpose, and that there exist contextual parameters conditioning any action; also that the history of civilizations teaches that individuals and organizations impact upon the course that social, economic and political processes take. Even though nobody per se and in isolation is capable of generating systemic changes, the mobilization of the whole generates the conditions for that transformation to materialize. We need to review behaviours and clearly express where we mean to head for. Each opinion counts, each mobilized will makes a difference, regardless of the existence of a diversity of visions and preferences in relation to the new courses. This plurality of viewpoints and interests make it possible to enrich the construction with everyone’s contribution.
Voices and interests
In fact, multiple players are involved, each one of them holding and exercising very different shares of power. Not all voices are equally heard; some of them echo in many corners of the planet, while others only resound in the family circle or the neighbourhood. Yet, the development attained in the field of communications makes it possible for thoughts, proposals, longings, to circulate more than in the past, and be known even in very remote corners of countries and the planet. In spite of the strong concentration verified in the media, a large diversity of small and medium-sized engines that generate content find alternative channels to spread new ideas, experiences, proposals, calls for action, surmounting conventional hurdles and wire fences.
In the marching of society, almost without exception, each one is loaded with interests and needs (of material, psychological and spiritual nature) that would like to be able to meet. Those individual interests and needs may help, facilitate or impede the realization of the other ones. To release energies that may reinforce our capacity to do, it is then necessary to de-antagonize to the greatest possible extent such accumulation of interests and needs. Yet, to reinforce our capacity to be, as individuals and as a planet, it is at the same time necessary to align those same interests with a different perspective on welfare, as well as not only a short-term, but also a mid and long-term horizon.
De-antagonizing implies facing and working out–rather than hiding–differences; employing all the intelligence and generosity we are able to gather to find creative ways that may help attain acceptable degrees of satisfaction for the different interests and needs. Intelligence is necessary to design solutions that may help reach convergence and reward knowledge, innovation and work; generosity is necessary to secure spaces for those that have been left behind.
Another notion of welfare would facilitate more existentially meaningful searches rather than getting us stuck in an exacerbated and alienated consumerism that is maintained on the basis of promoting permanent dissatisfaction, envy, anxiety. That new aspiration profile would help reorient ourselves towards building societies where peace, security, good-neighbourliness, cooperation, weigh more than a strenuous and selfish “save himself who can”.
In the economic arena, there exist functional mechanisms in imperfect markets whereby resources and energies are allocated among multiple possible choices. These mechanisms enable the interaction of millions of wills of different natures and sizes. Since each will is the bearer of its own sector or individual interests and needs, the rationality of the whole emerges from massive economic forces funneled through their two-fold role, as they are supply and demand at the same time. It is impossible to ignore the dynamism of these mechanisms, although it is critical to assess the consequences of the different degrees of imperfection in our markets and the way they work today, which is not the only possible one. That is, assessing where we are headed for, at what social and personal cost and how effectively we are doing so, what problems we solve and what problems we generate as we move forward, who benefit a lot and who benefit less, who are harmed to a certain extent and who, instead, do not manage to survive, and succumb.
Our engines are not short of power; the crucial challenge lies in the course and how to manage, with a new direction, to constructively align such diverse interests and needs. The actual complexity of the challenge becomes all the more evident when we realize that we must make decisions based on always incomplete information, pressed and biased due to the struggles for interests and needs we are a part of. Caught inside that fog, we can only resort to a mix of knowledge, experience and intuition, equipped with an ethical compass having compassion, generosity and everyone’s dignity as its north.
Who are the leading and the supporting actors in that search for new courses? This is the subject we will try to approach in our next issue.