Water in the Lake
Par Pierre Calame le lundi 25 avril 2016, 11:06 - Lien permanent
In a rapidly changing world where new challenges are endlessly cropping up, where the interdependent nature of our world is of a whole new order – between societies, between humanity and the biosphere – the conceptual and institutional frameworks of yesterday are becoming the main obstacle hampering our ability to face reality. Our inability to see the water will end up making us drown in the lake.
The French-speaking Swiss, who have no shortage of fresh water, have a nice saying for people who don't see what is right under their nose (something I often experience in my day-to-day life): you can't see the water in the lake!
For more than fifty years, this is something that has struck me in our society: we don't see the water in the lake. We have the proof in front of us but we don't see it.
Sometimes we don't want to see: we have a vested interest in not seeing, or we are blinded by our cynicism. These 'merchants of doubt' come to mind, who for decades have done everything within their power to deny the facts: the harmful effects of smoking and asbestos, acid rain, the dangers of nuclear power, the impact of GMOs on ecosystems, the dangers of toxic financial products, climate change (The Merchants of Doubt; Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway ; Bloomsbury Press).
But if this refusal to see was all there was to it, life would be simple. What struck me was rather the processes that cloud our view, the filters that come between us and reality, obscuring what is in actual fact blindingly obvious.
There are many of these filters: some are ideological – that which doesn't conform to our beliefs must be wrong and if what we see doesn't fit into our ideology, it's simply because appearances can be deceptive. Some are conceptual – that which we cannot apprehend does not exist. Some are cultural – we interpret the reality of others using our own codes. Some relate to accounting – we can not manage that which is not measured. Some are institutional – we only perceive the version of reality that institutions present to us.
This can all be summed up in one word: conformity – the fear of being isolated because one does not think like everyone else, the difficulty in seeing the relative, outmoded nature of conceptual and institutional systems, which are so significant in our everyday lives that we mistake them for eternal truths, and there is also perhaps an element of reticence which causes us not to believe our own eyes when the experts say there is nothing to see.
The business gurus answer to this is: 'think out of the box!' But the reason they say this so often is precisely because public and private institutions ram a way of thinking down people's throats (consciously or not), which is difficult – and often dangerous – to break away from.
Conformity is, after all, the most practical, comfortable way through a world where change is slow-coming, where the ways of thinking, cultural codes and institutional frameworks are the result of long learning processes where thinking like everyone else guarantees integration and social peace.
But in a rapidly changing world where new challenges are endlessly cropping up, where the interdependent nature of our world is of a whole new order – between societies, between humanity and the biosphere – the conceptual and institutional frameworks of yesterday are becoming the main obstacle hampering our ability to face reality. Our inability to see the water will end up making us drown in the lake.
The journal 'Après demain' asked me to write an article on the policies that should be implemented in France's deprived neighbourhoods, which Patrick Kanner, the French Minister for Cities, Youth and Sport, described after the Brussels bombings as 'many Molenbeeks in the making'. I felt I no longer had anything else to add to a topic that was so popular in the media and which brought out so many self-proclaimed experts.
I had already been directly involved in these questions over the course of my professional and activist life, and I was more interested in taking a moment to look back: was it true that the situation that developed over several decades was invisible? Was it unforeseeable? Had society done everything that was within its power to do? What struck me was that at different periods there was proof of what was happening – simple proposals that were not taken up, forewarnings treated with a commiserating smile – 'where is that guy from?'
I have attached the article as well as the link to the issue in which it features http://www.fondation-seligmann.org/NF38/sommaire. I'm not interested in playing the role of the grumpy prophet, in saying, 'Oh, if only they'd listened to me!' What's done is done, period. By delving into the past, I was interested in the parable I found of our current problems and the short-sightedness of our institutions and leaders.
The words of Paul Krugman, come to mind: 'the biggest obstacle to change is not vested interests, but the power of preconceived ideas.' At the risk of boring you, I have noted several examples of realities that no one seems to want to face up to, subjects that have been discussed in my previous blog posts:
- Should Europe's future depend on the building of a single market when the global market is already largely unified?
- Can we have markets as the sole management model for both goods and services when they are two distinctively different things?
- Can we carry on compartmentalising problems, inflexibly allocating administrative powers to different levels of governance, when none of society's serious problems can be tackled solely on one level?
- Can we decouple economic growth from fossil fuel consumption while also using a single currency to pay for both energy and for human work and creativity – the former being something we should be economising and the latter something we should be developing?
- Can we reach the goals set by the international community to reduce global warming without an annual fossil fuel quota system?
- Can the global impact of financial, economic and political players be managed through a liability law that is primarily national in scope?
- Can we move towards a shared awareness of our common fate by trusting governments that are caught up in so-called 'national interests'?
- Can we prepare the next generation to assume responsibilities that are of a much more critical nature than those our generation had to face (and which we still failed to assume) when our teaching methods fail to incorporate a holistic approach?
Just as we know there is water in the lake, the answer to every one of these questions is 'of course not'. Why is it then that our actions reveal the total opposite response?