Reviewing my recent blogs, I am made acutely aware of the recurrent thread of “the void,” repeated regardless of the subjects covered: I am obviously protesting at the lack of any long-term vision, of positive goals, of a sense of destiny, or even of a modestly better future. Aspirations all around seem diminished. Progress currently appears submerged by the tentative. (For example, by the inability to make basic reforms to an economic system which has failed us.) What does this reveal about us?
I try to think back a hundred years to 1913 — the height of “La Belle Epoque” as that brief era was later named. The promise of that time was uplifting: new roads for automobiles, telephone poles rising everywhere, communication by radio on its way, the potential of air travel a sudden possibility, scientific breakthroughs occurring in multiple directions, and for those living in Britain, France and Germany a growing pride in their expanding imperial powers. The arts, especially in painting, music and ballet, were pushing in exciting new directions.
A year later this collectively uplifting vision crashed! In the Netherlands, my grandfather, Alex Citroen, who had believed that wars had finally come to an end, was crushed. The profound despair overwhelmed him. It caused a swift end to a middle-aged man who had been in good health. His wife, Tilly, said the outbreak of war broke both his spirit and his body.
Nobody had foreseen the horrors of WWI with its massive millions of deaths, gas attacks, machine guns, tanks, trench warfare and surprising air attacks. The world which followed the armistice of November 1918 was a somberly reflective transformation from what it had been four years earlier. Nevertheless there were a number of reformist leaders following WWI with utopian plans for a League of Nations, attempts at creating a universal language, a world court, and a ban on the use of chemical weapons and gas.
Four generations later we still see gas being used and new and even more lethal weapons held in massive stockpiles: A-bombs, Hydrogen bombs, Neutron bombs as well as undisclosed varieties of biological weapons. However, our leaders express no vision of the kind of world towards which their populations should be aiming.
For many years I have been advocating cooperation instead of competition, co-operatives instead of corporations, but there are few takers. Ours is not the age of utopias. Viewers and readers apparently prefer dystopias which illustrate how much worse the world could be under any other system.
Indeed “The Market” is now the prevailing driving force in most of the world. It serves as a materialistic endorsement for capitalism. This market is purportedly based on customer and investor preferences. Nothing spiritual, moral, or ethical is involved, as Adam Smith had cautioned more than 200 years ago in his Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments.1
Price, profit, competition, greed, practicability, availability, convenience, speed, possession, security and “trends” are among the principal determinants of decision making in ”The Market.” Hunger, inequality, poverty, unemployment, environmental pollution, or fairness are of no immediate concern. Neither are justice, charity, cooperation, nor fraternity. The arts have no greater impact than sports as driving forces in the Market. So where does this leave a planet where the population is headed steadily upwards towards the 9 billion mark?
I must admit I feel overwhelmed by some of the prospects facing us: a planet flooded by a population 2/3rds of whom will be huddled in megapolitan urban slums. How will the landless and property-less masses be able to express their inevitable frustration and anger over the shortages of food, water, and security? What kind of life goals will these masses have in the automated structure which surrounds them and which will increasingly protect ring-fenced oligarchic wealth?
It is all well and good to hold out the “open society” as a role model for a democratic future, but will it provide the next generation with some degree of satisfaction? Our global collective has yet to produce a clear picture of the direction in which we, the inhabitants, might seek to advance or the kind of world we might ultimately envision as desirable. At the moment our principal concerns seem to revolve around minimal changes in economic policy or myopic party politics.
Perhaps, at this stage of our relatively youthful civilization, we have to recognize that the world cannot be transformed according to some ultimate plan. The millions of years old insect societies offer no model. But I firmly believe that we can exercise our extraordinary mental powers in order to leap out of the current void.
Thinkers with both imagination and powers of persuasion are sorely needed to show us the way towards an equitable and effective economic structure. With billions of people going to bed hungry every night, with ever more living in grueling poverty, with tens of millions of young people in the advanced northern tier of nations lacking employment opportunities, and with banks often being run by inept, sometimes corrupt and universally greedy managers, the existing economic system is not fit for purpose.
A start must be made by recognizing that no economic system can forever depend on growth: that is the way of cancer. From there we have to find a system not based on dollars, pounds, rubles, rupees and the rest, but on a more universal and equitable form of payments based on cashless credits. And then we must make certain that a distribution system for our powerful agricultural and manufacturing base, now capable of providing enough for all, is focused on both fairness and effectiveness. I am not describing a utopia but a way towards a working economy whose administration is now made plausible by the incredible power of the new computer systems and the global internet.2 Proposals for alternatives such as the above must be welcomed and closely examined instead of being ignored or feared. That is the most sensible way out of our current void.
1See: Yorick Blumenfeld, Dollars or Democracy? (2003) pp. 156-157.
2Op.cit. Dollars or Democracy? Part II.