By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ January 7, 2021
One of the largest and most challenging issues in times of revolutionary, paradigmatic change is sorting out the problems from solutions. This issue can be described in several ways, but each shows how things get very complicated when we find ourselves in interesting times.
Large scale changes cause things to be redefined socially and culturally. These definitions can make things that were once bad become good in the new context. Languages change rapidly during these times, reflecting the redefinition of basic concepts and new relationships between things that were once unrelated.
In morals and ethics, things that were once considered acceptable, racism or misogyny, for instance, became completely unacceptable. These become points of conflict as change rolls on and the inevitable reaction of parts of a population who fear change and fight to keep the old ways even if everything else has changed. The old logic begins to fail, and absurdity driven by political opportunists takes over.
Because of our digitized media, we are constantly presented with the most violent and dramatic activities. In extreme change, the most violent and newsworthy situation is the violent reaction of those opposed to change. The anxiety and stress of actively adapting to change are referenced but not as a top story. The people successfully adapting to diverse change don’t threaten or shout. They work to change to fit the new paradigmatic structure finding the positive, the neutral, and the negative. Foundational paradigmatic change is inherently neutral with the emphasis on positive, or the change would not have occurred—a topic for a later discussion.
Important questions become answerable, and problems that appeared unsolvable, in some cases, disappear from the new perspective. This process is only a partly conscious choice by people but accepts a better way to see the world and understand. We follow new ideas, and our feelings about things around us change.
Social level trends in fashion and lifestyle change with bigger structural changes. We are now rapidly moving out of an extreme era of materialism and overproduction to one focused on sustainability. This was becoming obvious fifty years ago and was critical twenty years ago, but human society did not feel the urgency or even see it as necessary. An archetypal change was required, and that has been triggered by the pandemic and is now spreading to the planetary majority. What people buy and how they buy things changes with social weighting for different levels of society. For the levels of post-capitalist societies buying things for fun is not really fun anymore.
In these times of paradigmatic change, some events trigger larger and faster changes. Natural disasters are the most common form. So the COVID-19 pandemic, as the first planetwide disaster in the digital age, is already well understood as triggering massive changes that will not be reversed post-pandemic. Our climate and biosphere conditions now even question if there will ever be a post-pandemic that ever resembles the old mindlessness for unsustainability and viral contagion.
We are dealing with that daily and even hourly, whether we are dealing with the wild and irrational reaction of the part of the population most threatened by a very different world or with stunning changes in our daily routine. The political collapse in the US and some other countries is the primary news in our societies but close behind that will happen to our institutions that have had to stop or drastically redesign themselves.
Political collapse, dangerously minimized by the media, as the US capitol riots incited by Trump were a shock only to those who accepted the US media's blinders. Blinding oneself culturally to the reality of drastic change sets the stage for reactions by those most threatened by positive change. It is an example within the government of what can happen when the reality of change has been suppressed. Society becomes the hostage to the most troubled reactionaries in that society.
There is constant discussion of all these things as we stay in isolation or limit our activity and have time to think about them. Usually, these ruminations are an effort to predict what will remain as a new form or what will revert when that becomes possible. General thinking about this hasn’t quite gotten to the next level of this process.
As repercussions of the COVID-19 shelter in place begin to become permanent, the questions redefine good and bad? How do we fix the bad and retain the good? As noted at the start of this, that is, now, not a simple question at all. To decide that, we need to reserve our initial judgment as the criteria for good or bad have changed. At the broadest level, this the public recognition that returning to old forms is not an option.
That is what I mean by sorting out the problems from the solutions. To be more specific, this requires a fresh look and a new perspective on problems and solutions. Symptoms of failing paradigms are the proliferation of unsolvable problems. The range of standard solutions no longer works. The reason may be that what was seen as problems may not be problems in the new perspective and, instead, the standard solutions may have become problems. We must reanalyze all problems and look for new solutions without the old baggage of irrelevancies.
One of the largest and most frightening of these is the collapse of small businesses in the US and other countries. These include stores and restaurants that have always been the foundation of a business-based economy.
The death list of businesses is almost always focused on the major store chains that have declared bankruptcy in one form or another. On a personal level, the suffering and failure of small, personal, locally owned businesses were an important part of daily lives.
There is a general feeling that the loss of small businesses is bad. It was always true in the past, but this is not the past. The bankruptcy of large, well-known chain stores, JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, Pier One Imports, J Crew, and, soon, many others are disturbing because we shopped there, and may have favorite things that they sold. Those things may be tied to fond memories of gifts or vacations, or family events.
We may also think about people that we know or knew who worked for these establishments, and we may know people out of work with no hope of return. Their jobs are permanently gone.
These are problems, but how do we solve them? Things have changed drastically, and we know there is no easy way back. But what can we do and, an important question, how do we think about these problems?
Closely tied to the retail apocalypse, as it is already known, is the dominance of Amazon with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, soon to become the first trillionaire. Many of us feel this is bad but would need help to understand what supports that feeling.
But is Amazon bad? Its employees are exploited, and that isn’t good. But what has changed, and how do we need to reevaluate what is both good and possible in the world we have now?
Almost every day, I read articles or posts by people angry at the loss of local business for many reasons who announce they refuse to buy from Amazon. The pointless production and shipment of goods are deadly but centralized provisioning providing regional distribution centers is less carbon for the atmosphere. Often, in our current evolving situation, people make that vow but admit that they still buy from Amazon because that is the only way to get what they need without the risk.
This isn't very clear. Should we work to topple Amazon? But with local stores and department stores going down, what will replace Amazon? Is a giant corporate set of stores all retailing the same basic thing and frantically selling things to people they don’t need a better situation? Clearly, that is no longer a reasonable economic model.
What are the factors that have created this situation, and what is truly a problem? Perhaps we are unhappy, not with a problem, but a solution. That is a slightly different question requiring us to define a better solution. Perhaps the basic problem has changed in ways we didn’t previously understand and what looks like a problem is part of a new solution that needs to be refined rather than rejected or completely replaced.
While almost all of our awareness is on the pandemic and what it is doing to us, this temporarily overshadows the increasingly critical climate crisis. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic and earlier epidemics over the last twenty years are products of environmental changes caused by climate heating and population growth. Because of that, we know there will be ongoing and epidemics and pandemics. That is the new reality. The COVID-19 pandemic is seen as a hundred year pandemic like the 1918 Spanish Flu. These are more likely to be endemic and never really defeated, while variants may well major every ten to twenty years in our era. Think about the economic damage of this pandemic, and we will be barely over that in ten years when a new one could hit.
Scientifically and economically, we know that our atmosphere’s carbon loading results from resource abuse and massive overproduction of goods utilizing fossil fuels. We have been struggling for twenty or more years to reduce the effects of auto exhaust, chemical attacks on the zone layer, and waste reduction. This has not really helped, and the climate crisis is already past the critical point of no return. We have lost the goal of holding temperature increase to 2 two degrees Celsius and are facing four or more degrees by the end of this century. That is a drastic change in our environment, as our great extinction accelerates around us.
Up to this point, nation-states have argued that the existing economy is the only way we can manage to live, and drastically reducing production is anathema. We have just spent ten months learning that we do not need everything we thought we did while growing death and suffering at the failure to provide essentials of life to the entire population.
We have also learned that most such nation-state resources can provide what is needed to support the population until the new vaccines allow us more choices. When this is not happening or happening inadequately, nations are a management failure or the result of decades or even centuries of exploitation by richer nation-states. There is enough for everyone to make it through this disaster if assets are managed properly.
We see the failure of the existing economic and political model to maintain human welfare in the conditions. This has been an eternal problem, but we know now that this is not true. While all nation-states are suffering, many are maintaining their population's wellbeing. Not surprisingly, the old leading nation-states are now unable to meet their population's needs due to their lock on the old paradigms and old solutions that are no longer relevant. In fact, as in the US and GB case, people are dying in great numbers due to this failure.
While the reactionary movements' problem is potentially fatal for the affected nation-state, the changes required to adapt to the new planetary paradigm are time-critical. These changes will completely redefine social, political, and economic structures. The demands of the reactionaries, Trumpists in the US, are already nonsensical. They see solutions as problems using the wrong lens for this age.
We cannot afford the old patterns of endless growth, endless consumption, and denial of our unity as a species. What is required for our biosphere's well-being is no longer a purely academic thought game but a critical strategy for the survival of human civilization.