by Joseph Markus
It does seem as though we are a generally optimistic species.
Following the final stroke of the final hour of 2011, predictions and hopes began to appear in the world’s newspapers, its social media and the writing of independent bloggers (us included). This is a good sign. Why not be optimistic at the beginning of a new year, with the symbology of rebirth and renewal?
Nevertheless, I usually find that when I express hopes, at this or any time of year, they tend to be hopelessly unrealistic. Surely, though, the intent of hope, optimism, and of activism, is in making the ideal that little bit more real (or, at least, painting areas and issues for further discussion). So, in the spirit of the New Year, I have two—one realistic, one less so—hopes.
The first relates to political organising.
This will be a year in which ordinary people will bear the brunt of the now manifest failings of ‘predatory capitalism’. Financial crisis has plunged millions into misery. It will be a year, then, of anger and upset. Though recognising that solidarity entails some belt-tightening on everyone’s part, belts should only be tightened in a proportionate and just way. My hope is that those millions will not stand for the widespread policies of austerity. The crisis offers the chance to reinvigorate both the left and alternative political-economic visions.
Occupy movements around the world—at its height, stretching across six continents, more than 60 countries, and up to 2,600 demonstrations—have given a brief prelude to what is possible. It is a promising and exciting time. Social change requires the backing of a society and, if the message is right, perhaps this year we will see some movement to a more just social compact.
The second is my more unrealistic hope.
It is that we finally get an appropriate global deal on climate change which can link explicitly to ideas of (sustainable) development. This would build on the recognition of the same expressed by the United Nations Development Programme in its Human Development Report for 2011.
In my view it is not possible any longer to claim that the end-point for development is a world of fully developed, essentially ‘middle-class’, states. The world will not support it. The alternative is to reign in excess, to reign in the growth-impulse of capitalism, and to come to an understanding as to how now-developing nations can reach a comfortable existence for all their inhabitants. It may entail breaking from a world economy premised on market-freedom and it may entail levelling down.
I’m aware that this may seem a controversial hope. But it is something that, year by year, becomes ever more pressing—at least it does if we hold as equals people in developed and developing nations alike. Some progress was made at Durban last year, although it amounted to little more than an agreement to agree paired with (relatively small) cash transfers.
Even if no agreement will be reached this year, which seems likely, discussions must happen, between policy- and law-makers, and amongst ordinary people.