We’re witnessing the last knockings of 2020 (as Charlie Brooker said, ‘so good they named it twice’). It’s a time to look backwards and forwards — except this year our collective psyche seems poised on a knife-edge. As I write, today is Dec 28th. In two days time, my step-mother is having a double injection: the Pfizer vaccine into her arm and confidence restored to her spirit. Today could also be the day when the Oxford vaccine is approved and a massive UK inoculation programme starts, giving a real prospect of the lifting of restrictions in weeks. At the same time, our hospitals, particularly in London, are at breaking point; the new Covid strain has seen a 57% increase in cases (Brentwood in Essex currently has almost 1500 cases per 100,000 people) and the whole country is set for a national lockdown.
So, we can look ahead to 2021 with either hope or fear.
I choose hope.
I choose hope, not because I’m a wide-eyed optimist. As my new book, The Power of Us: How We Connect, Act And Innovate Together details, the ways in which we have responded to the pandemic gives real grounds for positivity. The global drive to collaborate, to share knowledge freely, to supply PPE, or simply to feed the vulnerable, has engaged pop stars and publicans, clergy and campaigners, hackers and health heroes. The result has been the shrinking of developmental timescales from decades to weeks. We’ve ridden a time machine, seeing what the future should look like. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: how shall we live? Once whatever passes for ‘normal’ returns, what should our values and priorities be? Do we want a vibrancy to return to our big cities? If so, are we willing to subsidise accommodation for our young people? Do we temporarily park our concern for the climate emergency in order to turbocharge an economic rebound? Or do we see job creation and prosperity through a real commitment to greening our economies? How do we restore our fractured communities? Is part of the solution as Randy Fielding has argued persuasively, a New Deal that brings schools, employers and community organisations together in building shared, Covid-safe, spaces?
There are three factors that will shape how we turn that glimpse of the future into a shared, daily vision. The first is that how we act is governed by how we feel. Hope triggers action while fear triggers inaction. The second is that actions that result in positive outcomes can only be informed by reason, logic and truth. We’ve been on another knife-edge recently. The distortion of reality through keyboard conspiracists, fuelled by a paranoid president, has to be challenged and protected by law. The reported story, that the man who blew himself up in the Nashville Christmas Day bombing had 5G paranoia, tragically demonstrates where unchallenged untruths lead us.
The third, unique, factor is that although we’re not ‘all in this together’ — the pandemic has demonstrated that some people are experiencing a far worse crisis than others — we are all focussed upon this together. The conversation about the regeneration of our cities is happening in Buenos Aires, Brisbane, and Bristol, alike. This is an opportunity, like no other, to leverage our global cognitive surplus. Just as we did with the decoding of the virus, we have the chance to share future solutions, around the entire planet, by planning, and prototyping, together, through the free exchange of information.
Speaking of Bristol, the good people of that city point a way forward: they were the first city in the world to declare a climate emergency, and social housing projects have formed a network of energy cooperatives (like the Repowering case study I featured in The Power Of Us). These coops are transforming the lives of ordinary working class people through ingenious community energy initiatives. This, for me, is the most exciting aspect of the power of us, and one that gives hope — ordinary people are finding solutions to extraordinary problems. Together.
We can use that time machine to see how our revival is possible. But we can also look back for reassurance that we’ll figure this thing out. It’s easy to overlook, in a year of almost unremitting tragedy, but life, for the planet as a whole, is as good as it’s been. The Legatum Prosperity Index aggregates factors such as health, natural environment, social capital, education, governance, economic prosperity, the business environment, personal freedom and security/safety. The overarching headline from Legatum (admittedly Before Corona) was that global prosperity has never been higher, every region in the world saw improvements in governance, and most saw improvements in health and the natural environment. While there are still depressing exceptions (sub-Saharan African now has 29 of the 30 poorest nations in the world) growing numbers of countries have now been lifted out of poverty. So, before we assume we’ve all gone to hell in a handcart, let’s take comfort from the slow but steady improvement for the world’s population as a whole.
That knife-edge that I spoke of only exists in our minds. How we feel will determine how we remake the world.
It’s for that reason that I choose hope.
The Power Of Us: How We Connect, Act And Innovate Together, published by Thread, is currently on special promotion through Amazon, Google, Kobo and Apple book stores.