In the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic which threatens many lives, we need to remember that this is just one of several global crises we face which will change our world in profound ways. All these challenges require us to alter the way we think and the way we tell our story.
Here is a suggested A-Z of some of what we will need to draw on:
Adaptability: We have a tremendous capacity to adapt to changed circumstances and innovate but only as long as we feel safe and our basic needs are met. Through education, we can nurture our capacity for change but we also need to ensure that the people who face the most disruption get the most support.
Basic Income: in a crisis, it is clear how essential it is to protect every citizen’s basic income. Human welfare shouldn’t be conditional, and it shouldn’t take a disaster for us to see the benefit of providing everyone with the security of an acceptable minimum standard of living which allows them to participate in society and withstand economic shocks and crises.
Care: Our economy and culture need to shift permanently towards valuing caring and nurturing at least as much as production and consumption. An ‘economy of care’ would mean making different choices and investing in different priorities; the care and education of our youngest, oldest and most vulnerable for a start.
Co-operation: Acquisitiveness, selfishness and competition are of little use to us in a crisis. Working together for the common good is clearly the only way to address the challenges we face. We need to develop a culture and practice of co-operation and build the structures which can hard wire it into our society and economy.
Democracy: We cannot put democracy on hold bescause difficult decisions need to be made. We need to develop new forms of participation and informed deliberation which empower people and locate accountability and decision-making at the level where they can be most effective, whether global or local.
Economy: Our economy should serve human needs of survival and flourishing as well as planetary sustainability. It must be built on principles of care, equality, co-operation and solidarity and we have to factor in all the consequences of production, consumption and distribution in our investment decisions.
Equality: Our economic and social policies need to be based on an assumption of the equal value, equal rights and basic entitlements of every human being on the planet and a recognition of the injustice of prejudice, discrimination, xenophobia, hatred and inequalities of all kinds.
Food poverty: Public policy should consign every variety of poverty to history: food poverty, energy poverty, housing poverty, transport poverty, rural poverty, digital exclusion etc.
Global politics: The greatest challenges we face don’t respect national borders and cannot be tackled by any single state. Global challenges require a democratic global level of politics not beholden to national governments. Global structures like the United Nations need to be strengthened and democratised.
Growth: It is not sustainable to keep increasing production and consumption without end. We need to find ways to achieve a steady state economy which can meet human needs and support human progress in ways which are compatible with long term life on Earth.
Homelessness: Rough sleeping and homelessness are an affront to a civilised society, and we have the means to end this form of poverty, and others, if we choose to.
Inclusion: Wealth and power need to be distributed more equally and we need to remove barriers to access and participation to ensure that everyone can play a part in society.
Investment: Spending on public services, health and education are not drains on the public purse but investments which pay for themselves many times over. The way we value the returns on our investments need to take full account of the human, social and environmental costs and benefits.
Jobs: We need to redefine the value of work and its place in our lives, by sharing it more fairly and resetting the balance between constructive and nurturing purposes and destructive or unsustainable ones.
Knowledge: Our education system needs to value the knowledge and skills which people need to address the crises we face. We all need the political, cultural, scientific, economic and emotional literacy which will support a good understanding of our complex and interdependent world and the skills to make it work for everyone.
Localism: Every global crisis is experienced at a personal and local level and our understanding of the global must be rooted in our commitment to the local. We need to be citizens of somewhere to understand the challenges being faced by others elsewhere and everywhere. Globalization has brought many benefits but it can make us vulnerable and overdependent on systems beyond our control. We need to build resilient, self-sustaining communities around us.
Markets: Markets have a role in allocating resources, but they don’t deliver a fairer society. Public health, vaccines and treatments, education and social welfare should not be seen as commodities to be traded. There are many other essentials which cannot be left to the vagaries of the market.
Mutuality: The principle that we are all prepared to contribute to caring for others because we know they will contribute to caring for us can be applied to more than just the National Health Service. The idea of mutual aid makes sense in every context, at both the personal and social level, and it inspires some of the most creative grassroots community responses to our current crisis.
Nationalism: Love of country does not justify mistrust, prejudice or hatred, xenophobia or exceptionalism. National identities and values need to be seen as nesting within a shared human identity and universal values and any national sentiment should be capable of including everyone.
Openness: In a democracy, people need to have access to what the decision makers know and the reasoning for particular policies needs to be scrutinized and open to challenge. Transparency and accountability are essential in an open, democratic society.
Politics: A healthy civic life requires all of us to take part in discussion and deliberation and help make choices. Politics belongs to every citizen and should not be the preserve of a few leaders or representatives. We need to make it possible for everyone to have a voice, to engage meaningfully in the conversation about our future and help to shape it.
Production: Our productive capacity needs to prioritise what is socially useful and life-enhancing. If, in a crisis, we can convert production from weapons to life-saving medical technology, this begs questions about our priorities before the crisis.
Quality of life: Indicators such as GDP and measures of growth do not properly reflect human well-being or happiness We need to redefine what constitutes a good life and a good society and place this at the heart of public policy.
Questioning: We need to explore and define the challenges we face in order to tackle them. Secrecy and ignorance breed mistrust and irrationality and the antidote to prejudice and superstition is open, well-informed and critical public discourse.
Rationality: The truth matters, even if it is a provisional and partial account of reality, and we need mechanisms to establish and propagate it, particularly in the face of propaganda and fake news.
Resilience: Change can be sudden and difficult, particularly in a crisis, and making the transition to a different social and economic order will require practical and psychological preparation. Once individuals understand the power of working together, their communities can develop their collective resilience.
Solidarity: Looking out for others is in our self-interest and real solidarity is built on the commitment and determination of individuals. When we stand with others in challenging injustice or suffering, we are also setting a standard for what we expect of and for ourselves.
State: We need to be able to act collectively at the global, national regional and local level and hold to account those who exercise power on our behalf. We need a vision of the active and interventionist state; protecting, empowering and liberating people rather than being oppressive or bureaucratic.
Sustainability: The interests of future generations and our planet’s finite capacity for renewal should be factored in to all our decisions about production and consumption in the here and now.
Trust: Trust is an essential currency in all the transactions of an open and democratic society. In our complex and interdependent world, we need to be able to trust in the expertise, honesty and good intentions of others. We also need to learn to be worthy of trust ourselves.
Universalism: If equality is one of our key values, we need to ensure that our entitlements are universal rather than building barriers and placing conditions on who should have access to the social benefits of citizenships. Universal income should join universal health care, childcare and education as social entitlements for all citizens.
Value: A crisis forces us to re-evaluate what matters most. When this crisis subsides, we will need to hold on to what we have learnt about what we really value and use this to help shape our future.
War: We can and should mobilise phenomenal resources in ‘fighting’ for human survival, human health and human development. However, conflicts over territory and resources will never be properly resolved through violence. The only ‘wars’ we should be engaging in are against poverty, disease, ignorance, inequality and injustice.
Wealth: We need to recognise the injustice of glaring inequalities in wealth distribution and start by defining what all people need. Accumulated resources and power are of little value if they’re not used for the purpose of addressing human concerns.
Xenophobia: There are many ways in which humans are different from each other but what we have in common is so much more important. If we allow difference to justify building barriers and promoting prejudice, mistrust or hatred we are on a path which leads to injustice, violence and war.
Young people: The future is where we will all spend the rest of our lives and the young have the biggest stake in it. Young people regularly demonstrate their concern about the future consequences of our actions, or inaction, and they need to be full partners in developing the policies which can safeguard the future.
Zeitgeist: By learning the lessons from the crises we face we can shape a new spirit of the age based on what we really value.
The world will never be the same after this crisis. It’s already clear that things won’t just get back to ‘normal’, and neither should they. From A to Z, everything will change, and it is up to us to ensure that change is for the better. Right now, we can only sketch out the outline of where we’re going and describe in broad terms the tools we will need. We need to get through this and learn the lessons about what has to change.
Edgar Morin on ‘Thinking Global’ (August 2017)
A global crisis requires a global politics (March 2017)
The global economy of care (May 2016)
Decarbonising education (march 2020)