Genesis 1:26-28 King James Version (KJV)
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
We are all sitting around in lock-down with little else to do but consider what the future holds. Projections show the lock-down might last for as long as three months and almost certainly, for those deemed vulnerable, for more than twelve months and/or until a vaccine becomes available. In the interim, many of us have time for reflection. Our minds might, for the moment, be diverted by the Covid-19 pandemic but, let us not forget the far more serious threats of nuclear war and rapid global warming that have yet to be averted and both of which hold the potential of infinitely greater disruption and lethality.
Will our world and our attitudes towards it, be the same at the end of this period as they were at the beginning? If not, what will be different and how might our attitudes have changed?
In practical terms, we are almost certainly heading for a global depression on a scale not experienced since the 1930s. With the grotesque bail out of US big-business and the enormous increase in the already near intolerable level of national debt taken on by the US taxpayer, after a fleeting post-crisis recovery, we will see hyper-inflation and a massive loss of savings. The ensuing further impoverishment of the vast majority of US society will threaten a destabilisation of society that will be met by the state repression that appears to have been long in preparation. Countries such as China and Russia, that have kept away from ensnarement by the world Bank and IMF will suffer less.
However, what we might currently view as our loss and the loss of the vast majority of mankind, should be viewed as the Earth’s gain. Over and above the most welcome and now inevitable, planetary respite from pollution that a recession will bring, the planet may well score other log-term gains – and, if we work for it, so might we.
To select from the minutiae at random, many of those New Zealanders, who are currently working at home, may well never return to a central office. They will have to adjust to a life in which much of their interaction with colleagues and clients takes place remotely. This will have multiple consequences both psychological and practical. What is to be done with the empty office space and what is to happen to the multiple businesses which depended on a bustling CBD life and the tidal flows of commuters?
More serious for those involved, we can imagine that those many that used to earn their living through tourism and hospitality, will be forced to find new outlets for their energies. I don’t say new jobs, as it could well be that those jobs may not exist for several years and maybe, for ever. Frivolous overseas sight-seeing (and especially on cruise-ships) will lose much of their attraction and Zoom and Virtual Reality will come into their own for both business and recreation.
The question will then come to be asked, with the State paying benefits to so many and in all likelihood, for so long, could those benefits more sensibly be replaced by a Universal Basic Income? In New Zealand, the Earth is certainly rich enough to support such an arrangement, provided the population was prepared to adjust to a lower rate of consumption of life’s unnecessities.
The pressures that could lead to the introduction of a UBI could also lead to nationalisation of key industries and a higher proportion of the work-force becoming government employees. Internationally, privatisation of key state functions like health, policing and prison services will start going out of fashion. The neo-liberal tide, that has done so much to encourage greed and short-term hedonism at the expense of the environment and the resilience of communities faced with crises, will be on the ebb.
If people were relieved of the immediate anxiety over loss of a basic income, they would start looking for other outlets for their energy. We can expect a boost in unpaid voluntary work and that people with more time on their hands will have more time and attention-span to give to the needs of their natural environment and those that share it.
Outside New Zealand the suffering of our fellow humans will be immense. There will be a tragic increase in the number of failed states, each one accompanied by vast suffering. Far worse, if we are to judge future international conduct by current practice, the wealthy, neo-liberal ideologues of the western tradition, could seize the opportunity to indulge in an economic and/or military feeding frenzy at the expense of those less fortunate. In a worst case scenario, such a lack of self-control and such self- indulgence could well result in a global war and annihilation of ours and of many other species. It is to be hoped that the supine western publics, currently content to crouch in silence, as their world is trodden by the American cockerel, might find a voice to raise in protest.
There are some, or even many, who yearn for the days when the USA was the sole power that dominated the international scene. America has blown it. Those days will not return. Already, long before the current pandemic, the post WWII pre-eminence of the single USA pole was diminishing and a more multi-polar world was emerging. Covid-19 can only accelerate this process.
So too, as petty nationalisms burgeon, bringing chaos in their wake, will a realisation spread that all inhabitants of Earth are mutually vulnerable and mutually dependent members of a globalised community. Legitimised mechanisms are urgently needed to smooth the governance of that community and control the dysfunctions that emerge from the unbridled practice of individual state sovereignty. In short, the UN needs to be either reformed or replaced. The alternative is a nightmare scenario of global crises to be managed by global anarchy.
In the previous three blogs, I have written about the nature of this problem and proposed steps that might be taken to address it. In New Zealand, we are powerless to do anything to control the conduct of the mighty, other than to offer advocacy and an example. That example has to be of living in harmony with our fellow citizens and above all, of living in harmony with the Earth. In effect this involves a conscious implementation of Kate Raworth’s doughnut economy and the UN’s sustainable development goals.
In recent blogs I have argued that the descendants of European colonists in New Zealand and Australia are mistaken when they continue to view their nations as ‘Western’ and in some essential way, different to the Asian peoples that surround them. They try to escape the tyranny of geo-positioning at their peril. Both countries are firmly embedded in the southern hemisphere and Asian world. It is dysfunctional and delusional to insist on considering their two, young nations as part of a northern and western world.
The main cultural difference between these two worlds is that the East has a culture that stresses communalism while the west stresses individualism. The one stresses social responsibility and civic duty, whereas the other, places emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Though it is a big ask to expect the current descendants of western colonists to make so huge a psychological alteration to their view of their place in the world, it is a life-enabling leap in consciousness that will have to be made if our community is to thrive, or even to survive.
New Zealanders are fortunate in that they didn’t quite obliterate the culture of the Maori, who had arrived before them. The Maori have retained their sense of communalism and of harmony with the Earth that the western culture has done much to destroy. Whereas the Christian god gave man dominion over the beasts of the Earth, the Maoris were taught by their elders that the other creatures were their brothers and sisters.
They, themselves, were but temporary guests of an Earth that should be treated with the respect due to a generous host. As guests, they shouldn’t stub out their cigarettes on the carpet or elbow their hostess’s other guests away from the table. They should leave the venue to be enjoyed by future guests in as good, or a better state than they found it. These ideas are most eloquently expressed in this little pamphlet which offers a perfect exegesis on the conceptual changes we as individuals now have to make. Tiwaiwaka
New Zealand currently has a Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern, who emphases the duty of New Zealanders to be kind to one another. We have also to be kind to the Earth that nurtures us. The immediate future is going to see us having to make great readjustments to our individual lives and to our society. We need to approach this period of enforced change with mutual respect and a determination to emerge from the turmoil with empathy and caring. Many people, both rich and poor are going to suffer.
I will finish this blog with an article by Rod Oram in which he summarises New Zealand’s moves towards incorporating the Maori concept of harmony with nature into the framework of national life. Oram We need to get on with it and each of us to undergo our personal epiphany.