An antidote to pessimistic thinking
On Tuesday I received a powerful antidote and complement to my optimistic thinking in my previous post on COVID-19. It came in the form of a Medium article by Umair Haque, one of the better independent thinkers of our time in my view. Here is his counterargument (paragraphs added):
“Forget social distancing. It’s treating the symptom, not the cause. The lesson of this pandemic? We need global systems, and we need them now. Healthcare for every life on the planet, decent food, sanitation, drinkable water. For every single person. And that’s just to prevent pandemics. In short, a radically reimagined global economy, made of genuinely life-expanding institutions, based on new paradigms.
What about climate change and ecological collapse? For those, we need to build a whole new global economy. Yes, really. Not one where Amazon, Inc is worth a trillion dollars, while the Amazon itself is worth literally… nothing. Not one where Facebook and Google are worth trillions, while the planet’s rivers and reefs and oceans and trees have literally no worth. But one where nature has incalculable value, so it’s literally priceless, and therefore, no one can pillage it.
Then there’s mass extinction. We’re killing off our very own food and resource chains, from the bottom up. The most vulnerable things are being killed off by an industrial-capitalist way of life. Insects, bees, birds, fish. What happens when the whole chain collapses, having had its foundations eaten away? Those sudden collapses of everything from our food supply to our medical supplies to our water supplies are going to make Coronavirus look like a happy memory.
Here’s what that really means. The rich world is going to have to give a lot of money back. Back to whom? All the parties it’s been exploiting for centuries. The poor world. The middling world. Nature, as in forests and oceans and rivers. Animals of every kind.
Let me give you an example. The only real way to save the Amazon is for the rich world is give very a large sum of money to create the institutions and resources to protect and nourish it. Indigenous tribes could staff them — an Amazon Protection Agency, an Amazon River Bank, and so on — as rangers, bankers, tour guides, and so forth. But without that money to create those resources and institutions, the Amazon will continue going up in flames. Because the poor world doesn’t have the money — and it doesn’t have the money because the rich world left it poor, having exploited and enslaved and colonized it, for resources like the Amazon’s, for centuries.
Capitalism has literally eaten through the planet, nature, and life on it. Now it’s beginning to eat away at the human race itself — it’s health, happiness, longevity. That is what Coronavirus really is. Why did Coronavirus happen? It’s predecessors, SARS and MERS? Because poor people in poor countries eat unsafe things they shouldn’t in unsanitary conditions, and then have no healthcare. Bang! A dude in Wuhan eats at a bat and a few months later, the whole world is locked down. Why is he poor in the first place. “The thing about today,” I continue, pushing my luck, “is that our problems are now different. They can’t be solved with more of history’s same: more capitalism, more supremacy, more abuse, more exploitation, more violence by a tiny portion of humankind to everyone and everything else.
Our problems are global. They exist at a species level. That dude in Wuhan didn’t have healthcare and decent food — and the bat didn’t have protection or rights — and the whole world crashed down around us. Bang! Every single one of our problems is like that. There’s no local solution to climate change. To ecological collapse. To mass extinction. To skyrocketing inequality. To stagnant economies. To societies being divided into ultra rich and new poor. To fascists and authoritarians blaming it all on the nearest powerless minority. Pandemics are just an example of that.
Our first task this century is therefore building a global consciousness. Teaching the world, especially the rich West, to care about the world. Why does that hedge funder live a better life than that poor Chinese dude, by sheer privilege of birth, because of a long history of violence and exploitation by one’s side against the other? Equality, freedom, justice, truth, selfhood — these notions have no meaning whatsoever at the global level yet in human history.”
Amen! Amazingly powerful and nailing it. Thanks Umair… He is less optimistic about the lasting changes after the COVID-19 crisis. But he is also referring to the systemic transformation phase we are in, to the old and the new world, to power and incumbents and the emergent. His critique on capitalism is right but the good news today is there are now alternatives to Wall Street emerging, like the Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) founded by Eric Ries. Similar initiatives are popping up in Europe and Asia, driving more socially and ecologically inclusive financial markets and KPI systems.
Bill Gates estimated in his now-famous TED talk in 2015 about a possible global pandemic that would cost us three trillion dollars. Now we all know the costs are significantly higher, with the USA alone spending at least two trillion dollars. It is not unimaginable that long term it will cost us globally around 16 trillion dollars as Ray Dalio predicted a week ago. That is 16.000.000.000.000 US dollars. I would call that a valuable lesson learned. Or lessons learned as shown above.
Perhaps we should invest some of this huge amount of money in the new global systems Umair Haque is writing about? Might be worth the effort.
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