After the Pandemic

The struggle for survival.
The 5 years following coronavirus lockdown will be characterised by struggles between powerful forces.

“Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them? Impossible to say at this stage, perhaps. Certainly not without a fight against all those who will promote a return to business (and emissions) as usual.”                  Guardian editorial 13 April 2020

At Easter, we traditionally reflect upon death and resurrection. Christopher Hafner, of the Strategic Planning Society, observed that, while we are experiencing lockdown and high levels of mortality in this pandemic, people considering their future strategies, extensively use the words return and recover. He suggests they would do well to reframe their issues, thinking instead about how their organisations might emerge and evolve.

This is characteristic of an inevitable struggle in the world “out there”, a struggle between “back to normal” on the one hand and “regenerative change” on the other. It is mirrored by a struggle within each of us, between that part of us which would like to roll back time to the status quo ante and a more compassionate part which is eager to create a better society. Because the latter is unknowable and therefore scary, we are tempted to opt for the former. But apart, perhaps, from the possibility that we previously enjoyed a position of privilege, why would we go back to a greedy, destructive, inequitable and unsustainable past? It was a crap world for the vast majority of people, who were reduced to units of consumption and production. Let’s not try to get “back to normal”, when we could, instead, create a better, more wholesome, inclusive and sustainable future for all of humankind.

This is our challenge. The question is, will we rise to it or will we capitulate and leave the increasingly unacceptable issues to be dealt with by future generations (if there are any)?

Can’t we just leave it to governments?
Of the 100 largest economies on the planet, 69 are corporations. Governments, even if they had the intention, are not currently capable of protecting our futures. Much of the delay in responding to the present pandemic was due to the vested interests of major global corporations. Even in those few countries where government might be considered to genuinely have the interests of ordinary people at heart (e.g. Norway or Switzerland), they can still make mistakes and may be influenced by lobbyists and vested interests. Perhaps, with our help, governments can take control and re-balance their economies in order to suit their populations’ longer-term interests – i.e. they can actually do their job?

Global issues that humanity must urgently address.
We know that the present global capitalist trajectory is unsustainable and has unacceptable side effects.  These include:

> Global heating and climate change
> Depletion of resources – especially clean fresh water
> Gross inequality between rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
> Wars, terrorism and crime – often initiated or exacerbated by wealthy western nations and their agencies, especially the supply of armaments
> Migration – caused by poverty, starvation, climate change and wars (all the above) – leading to racism and brutality, cruelty and genocide
> Pollution – poisoning water supplies, foul air, filling the oceans with plastic
> Destruction of species and habitats

Fortunately, the world is not full of inherently bad people. Just beneath the surface of every greedy, self-centred or unthinking person is a decent, aspirational human being trying to get out. Scratch and you will discover a conscience. We all need to recognise that, if we are among the well off, we are standing on the backs of the less privileged. Inadvertently, we are killing the planet that sustains us, our children and our children’s children

The outer aspects of struggle
Outwardly the struggle is between East and West, North and South. Those who were doing well before Covid 19 want to get back to business as usual. All those people in the fossil fuel industries wish to return quickly to polluting the planet and poisoning the atmosphere. The airlines wish to rapidly return to their subsidised and privileged activities, which helped exacerbate the problem. We all want to fly and to fuel our cars. Most of us want to return to “normality”. Not only were we enjoying it, we knew where we were and what was expected of us.

On the other hand, were those people who took a different view. Climate activists, for instance, or even those scientists of the United Nations who pointed out the need for dramatic change, if we are to avert climate catastrophe in current lifetimes. Power currently is in the hands of the economic giants – but they are not looking after the interests of more than a small minority of people. The poor and disadvantaged certainly want to see change. People want a good life but their desires have been distorted by the power of advertising and the media, the agents of those same corporate drivers.

All this could change. It can be redesigned to be sustainable. We can build a better world – indeed we must, because the one we were operating is doomed.

The inner aspects of struggle
The inner struggle is there to be resolved within each of us. We all want to retain at least some of the pleasure and privilege that we have enjoyed in the past. Perhaps the freedom to travel around the world, the joys of eating lavishly from the global larder, the pleasure of endless leisure time with the resources to enjoy it fully, the fundamentals of stable infrastructure, civic amenities and health care, for instance. Yet also, we may remember that others are undeservedly less fortunate. That there are people starving and dying while we feast. That many people are penniless or homeless, sick or lonely. That immigrants are drowning in our seas.  That other lands are subject to climate change and other ills. That there is strife and war on this planet. That wilderness and wildlife are disappearing. That globalisation destroys community. That even the supposedly successful often find they have lost all meaning.

Where can we possibly influence?
This is a crucial question and for each of us there are unique answers. Firstly, of course, we can each listen to our conscience. Indeed we can educate our consciousness so that we are more aware of the price of our existence. A little enquiry tells us that the world is not equitable. No man is an island, so the good life we enjoy is paid for by the suffering of others, elsewhere in space and time. It is not a zero-sum game but nevertheless we have largely lived at others’ expense. In Europe, for instance, we have inherited the loot of colonialism and slavery perpetrated on our behalf by our ancestors. Even today, some large corporates take disproportionately and minimise their contributions by avoiding taxation. We can bring such ideas into our awareness.

Most of all, what we can influence is the choices we make. Especially we can influence the choice between seeking more wholesome living as opposed to living as we were persuaded by the agents of the old order. We can prepare to sacrifice some of the privileges that inevitably we will lose eventually anyway. We can let go lightly because we will enjoy what we create for the future.

We can be instrumental in fostering change within our sphere of influence. In our professional work, in our social milieu, in our family and friends, we can model the change we wish to see. We can be pro-active in championing a new way of being. We can elect to be part of a global movement for change and renewal. Let us heed that Easter message and rejoice in the death and resurrection of the world as we knew it.

John Varney,  Centre for Management Creativity

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