Thinking and Acting in a Disrupted World: Governance, Environment, People, Inequality and Disease

The belief that fatalities, previously attributed to external events, would now be under the human control, is an illusion; today’s societies and individuals, far from emancipating from the “whims of the gods”, are now under the whims of other forces, dispossessed of true autonomy and increasingly powerless (Gauchet).
The ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (war, pestilence, famine, death), not only defied human protagonism but also hoarded men as accomplices in the announced misfortunes. Solidarity and hope, if it is not based on education, public policies and cultural grounds, would not be integrated into everyday life.

Problems should be defined and dealt with in the core of the “boiling pot”, not reduced to the bubbles of the surface (effects, segmented, taken for granted issues), the object of fragmented programs geared by momentary circumstances or the interests of political and economic predominant coalitions.
“Common good” and “citizenship”, becomes an obstacle to unruled “individual freedom”, despite its effects on natural devastation, biodiversity loss, precarious housing, lack of basic sanitation, fatal endemics, high levels of crime and violence, conflicts of all kinds, with severe political, economic and social impacts.
The stress on “governance control”, based on a legal approach, on institutions and institution building, “fails to account for the design, formation and maintenance of institutions”, for the role of leaders, elites and coalitions “and the general patterns of institutional failure or corruption” (Leftwich).
“Social inclusion” only accommodates people to the prevailing order and do not prepare them to change the system; once “included”, a new wave of “egocentric producers and consumers” (Chermayeff) reproduce the system responsible for their former exclusion, increasing the abuse of nature in the name of “progress”.
Large differences in power, between common people and corporations, allow substantial influence of business on public policies and state affairs; influential lobbies, entrenched in the existing institutions, impose a reconfiguration of political authority (priority is profit, business expansion, not vital needs or quality of life).
“Development” proposals, “technological solutions”, generally ignore social, cultural and environmental impacts, linking nature (natural capital) to the financial domain, always requiring more resources, without changing the irrational system of production, transport and consumption that plagues the world.
Regeneration of natural and built environments, and social and cultural regeneration, are complementary aspects, they depend on each other, changes must be simultaneous in time and space, to guarantee their reciprocal support (motivations and enabling environments and contexts are interdependent).

Trying to solve isolated and localized problems, without addressing the general phenomenon (which has the conditions to solve specific problems), is a conceptual error; instead of surrendering to specialisation and fragmentation, a “new global covenant” should be based on an ecosystem approach.
Advocacy, communication, public policies, research and teaching programmes should consider all dimensions of being-in-the-world (intimate, interactive, social and biophysical), as they combine, as donors and recipients, to elicit the events (deficits/assets), cope with consequences (desired/undesired) and contribute for change (potential outputs).
Development of institutional capacity, judicial neutrality, informational transparency and social spaces for civic engagement is a necessary condition to change the current paradigms of growth, power, wealth, work and freedom embedded into the political, technological, economic and educational institutions.
Sharing stories in the socio-cultural learning niches about a system can help people develop new perspectives on the system they share; a small core of agents emerges within the system as the incumbent for innovation and emergent structures stimulate further niches development (Frantzeskaki).
An ecological civilization should care for the natural and built environments, the cultural heritage, the collective bonds, education, health, ethics, aesthetics, equity and justice. But this involves many actors, in a planet united only by the media and ‘globalization’ and divided by confrontation and competition.
Rather than accept the problem as given, design thinking encompasses processes such as context analysis, problem finding and framing, ideation and solutions generating, creative thinking, sketching and drawing, modelling and prototyping, testing and evaluating, in view of path-breaking solutions.
“Being-in-the-world” encompasses four modes of existence (Binswanger): man’s relationship with himself, man’s relationship with his fellow beings, man’s relationship with society, man’s relationship with his environment. These dimensions can not drift apart but must support each other.

Humanity has already passed through many catastrophes, wars and conflicts of all kinds, but suffering is not transformative unless people decide to change the forms of being in the world, combining all dimensions: the intimate, the interactive, the social and the biophysical dimensions.
While within and among nations, the asymmetry of power, involving the less favoured population, led to all sorts of inequities, only now, when a pandemic puts both rich and poor at risk, it is that is recalled that something (or everything) was profoundly wrong in the mindset of the rulers of the world.

Environment retrieval and cultural and social retrieval are a two-way street.
(Figure drawing by the author)
Problems are not the “bubbles”, but are deeply entrenched in the boiling pot.
(Figure drawing by the author)

By André Francisco Pilon
from the University of São Paulo / International Academy of Science, Health & Ecology
gaiarine (at)

Featured image credit: by Sergio Souza

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