Coming out of COVID is a chance to radically reimagine our societies
February 23, 2021 10:30 AM   Subscribe

We need to engage with the two sides of any conscious change: imagination and experimentation. "Human beings find it easy to imagine an apocalypse or a disaster. But we struggle to imagine positive alternatives: what education, welfare, workplaces, democracy, or neighborhoods might look like in 30–40 years, or how we could make them radically better."
posted by folklore724 (25 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 


A smidge of context from the about page:
UNTITLED’s purpose is to collectively reimagine the society, set the agenda for the most important experiments and execute them together. It is founded by an alliance of activists across sectors. The Alliance and its invitees gather together in an annual festival.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:51 AM on February 23


I find things like this interesting in theory, but as far as the US goes we're living in a society where we can't even commit to maintaining roadways and urban infrastructure we built 70 years ago with an expected lifespan of 50 years, let alone manage to some together with some mass cultural reimagining of how our world works.

I mean, great on them for trying to move the needle. I guess you can't get to the moon if you don't try for a moonshot. But projects like this are too outside-trying-to-move-in rather than grassroots inside-spreading-naturally to have any meaningful impact.

I mean, I look at that article about Amsterdam and the donut economics reformation taking place there. Can you imagine ANY city in the US even attempting this? But that's a real world thing taking place right now, not wishes and smoke-and-mirrors with weird graphics and an annual festival to attend.
posted by hippybear at 12:21 PM on February 23 [10 favorites]


Yes. Yes I can. I can imagine ANY city in the US attempting this. I have an excellent imagination for positive alternatives to the Way Things Are.
posted by aniola at 12:34 PM on February 23 [14 favorites]


ditto FeatherWatt. Is it "real"?
I would love to contextualize a better future of hope, and have the subtle vocabulary to do so. But before I click to add my name to mailing list... I pause wondering why the website design looks like I've zoomed in 2x on my browser, uncertain if the language of hope just sounds like another AI wordsoup.
Is it real? Mikko-Pekka Hanski seems to be.

Because L. Ferlinghetti died, and he never liked Brautigan, I'll put this here:
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
posted by rubatan at 12:36 PM on February 23


btw, also in that Amsterdam article: 'In the U.S., Portland, Ore., is preparing to roll out its own version of the doughnut, and Austin may be close behind."
posted by aniola at 12:38 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Arundhati Roy:

[C]oronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

posted by doctornemo at 12:51 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


Thanks very much for sharing this, since I would never have heard of the project otherwise. It's a good reminder that despite our sense of collective exhaustion, we need to spend serious time imagining and supporting the exploration of alternatives.

I followed a few of the links and found this paper, which seems to be "ground zero" for a lot of the discussion on the site. I'll be returning to give it all a more thorough read.
posted by rpfields at 12:53 PM on February 23


I really, really miss futurism. It seems like somewhere along the way a lot of us, myself included, have lost the ability to imagine that positive change is possible. I mean, I think it's a completely normal reaction to seeing how many people, both powerful and plebian, are giving it everything they've got to hold progress back. But if we come through this crisis and haven't learned anything, it's going to be incredibly sad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:22 PM on February 23 [17 favorites]


We learned that 30% of the population are brainwashed / white supremacists.
posted by benzenedream at 1:26 PM on February 23 [17 favorites]


Though perhaps less imaginific than the link in the FPP, here are a few documents I've come across in these months by folks attempting the difficult work of thinking ahead differently:

- 5 key proposals from a group of "162 Netherlands-based scholars working on issues around development": Planning for Post-COVID-19: A call for Post-Neoliberal development (April 2020)

- from the Hawaiʻi State Commission: Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs
A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19
(April 2020)

- a post-COVID plan from British Columbia: “This Economic Labour Hurts The Arch Of Our Backs” (July 2020)

- the 10 principles of the US-based (I think) Feminist Green New Deal (Sept. 2019)
posted by progosk at 1:56 PM on February 23 [6 favorites]


Architecture Magazine also has a series envisioning post-vaccine architecture
posted by cheshyre at 2:19 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Architecture Magazine also has a series envisioning post-vaccine architecture

Here's a starting point: Return to closed offices with sterilized and filtered air.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:27 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


I really, really miss futurism.

The timeline split when Ikea switched from Futura to Verdana.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:28 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


Here's a starting point: Return to closed offices with sterilized and filtered air.

Or, you know, windows. Which we've forgotten about since the last pandemic.
posted by meowzilla at 2:32 PM on February 23 [11 favorites]


From Ezra Klein today: A Radical Proposal For True Democracy - it's in the same vein calling for collaborative experiments in democracy.
posted by flamk at 2:47 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


I really, really miss futurism. It seems like somewhere along the way a lot of us, myself included, have lost the ability to imagine that positive change is possible.

Positive change is absolutely possible, as long as you mean the change in global average surface temperature.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:34 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


I'm here for the positive alternatives. Tell me more about those, please. What are y'all working on in your corner of the world?
posted by aniola at 7:00 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


I'm here for the positive alternatives. Tell me more about those, please. What are y'all working on in your corner of the world?

Thanks for the continued encouragement towards optimism and action aniola.

I recently wrote about the loose network of interesting projects and businesses here in Liverpool over on my blog. There are two or three times as many projects still to be listed on that but the pandemic has somewhat curtailed my getting round to visit them (I've met and am friends with, on some level, most of them already, but this personal project is partly to shine a light on them but also a reason for me to find time to meet up for a coffee and try to seed more ideas and cross-pollinate things more).

I'm slowly working my way towards explaining the direction towards a more positive, equitable future that we could be taking. That blog post is part of it, but weirdly it's something I find easier to implement (in part) than describe.

That does mean that there are a bunch of weak signals of how that might look, which have been in operation for years now - DoES Liverpool, the makerspace and co-working space that I co-founded as part of my "implementing things" is ten years old this year. Maybe instead of calling ourselves "Do Epic Shit Liverpool" we should've called ourselves "Do Epic Shit and Explain What Makes It Special Liverpool" this comment would've been more illuminating, but DoESaEWMIS Liverpool isn't as snappy... :-D

The examples are there, they just need amplifying, copying, and encouraging.
posted by amcewen at 1:24 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


btw, also in that Amsterdam article: 'In the U.S., Portland, Ore., is preparing to roll out its own version of the doughnut, and Austin may be close behind."

you might even call them ringworlds? :P

also btw, re: amsterdam...
By some accounts, that system, capitalism, has its origins just a mile from the grocery store. In 1602, in a house on a narrow alley, a merchant began selling shares in the nascent Dutch East India Company. In doing so, he paved the way for the creation of the first stock exchange—and the capitalist global economy that has transformed life on earth. “Now I think we’re one of the first cities in a while to start questioning this system,” Drouin says. “Is it actually making us healthy and happy? What do we want? Is it really just economic growth?”
How Amsterdam is stealing a march on rivals as Brexit trading hub - "Data last week showed the Dutch capital had displaced London as Europe’s biggest share trading centre in January, grabbing a fifth of the 40 billion euros-a-day action, up from below a tenth of trading pre-Brexit... Amsterdam has also overtaken London to become Europe’s number one corporate listing venue so far this year, data shows, and the leader in euro-denominated interest-rate swaps, a market estimated to be worth about $135 trillion in 2020."

as for reimagining society (for varying values of 'radical' ;)
  • The Revolt of the Public by Martin Gurri (Book Review) - "So the crisis of authority is one of a narrative that’s been shown to be wrong on many occasions and is no longer controlled the way it used to be in the age of mass media. The net result is an all time low trust in existing institutions across the board, including not just government but also mass media and academia. That leads to an important question: how can society function when its institutions are moribund?"
  • Missing the forest - "'[T]hey would prefer plunging the economy into a deeper recession and the misery of millions of people on the off chance people might realize government is actually capable of doing things for them.'"
  • Social democracy or feudalism - "The choice before us, then, is not capitalism or socialism, not socialism or barbarism, but social democracy or feudalism. (Or perhaps there are syntheses there, too. Perhaps China is an emerging example of a country neither modern nor feudal, but a hybrid...)"
  • Merge the court - "If the Democrats win the Presidency and the Senate, and if they are not inclined to betray the country to plutocratic interests (who would be glad to compensate them for the electoral cost of doing so), they will reform the Federal judiciary in some manner next year... The Federal judiciary is currently a three-level hierarchy, with district courts, appeals (or 'circuit') courts, and the Supreme Court. It should be collapsed into a two-level hierarchy. All of the members of the current appeals court would become Supreme Court justices. Cases would still be heard by nine-member panels, but each panel would be randomly selected from the full body of the Court. 'Certiorari' petitions would be voted up or down by a majority vote of the full body. Ordinary appeals would be heard as they are now, within still extant circuits of the now merged Court. These could then be appealed to the plenary Supreme Court."
  • Fix the Senate I: Scrap the filibuster - "We are, as Lee Drutman puts it, caught in a “doom loop” that is entirely an artifact of a bad political system, not the existential struggle between distinct peoples too many of us are lazily permitting themselves to conceive... There is a case to be made for a supermajority legislative threshold. But an effective 75% threshold in terms of population represented (ignoring incomplete support among voters) is a prescription for paralysis. Worse, the threshold is asymmetric. While Democrats face that 75% threshold, Republican-backed initiatives pass with assent of representatives of only 54% of citizens. This is an institutional embodiment of 'my way or the highway' for the Republican Party. Both parties can force inaction, only one can enable it, despite approximately balanced support within the population."
  • Fix the Senate II: Integrate - "[I]n the spirit of lemons to lemonade, let’s suppose there could be some virtue in the arrangement. What might it be? Well, the disproportionality of representation is only harmful to the degree that smaller states as a group have interests at variance with larger states... there are policies, including place-based economic development, support for midsize cities and small-towns, and expansion of community education, that might be welcomed in states large and small, while reducing the divergences that threaten the democratic character of our union."
  • Fix the Senate III: Stochastic Gong Show - "We would be better governed if Congresspeople had a stronger stake in the success of their legislative bodies as a whole than they had in their personal popularity with constituents. But we have no institutions that rewards elected officials for the collective successes, or punishes for the collective failures, of the bodies they constitute. We should create such institutions... If Congress had a 100% approval rating, then senators could be as secure in their jobs as they are today. If Congress has only a 33% approval rating, however, then two-thirds of incumbent senators who might have looked forward to four or six years of job security would find themselves thrown untimely before the tribunal of the people. This would create a strong incentive for Senators to govern in ways that not only endear them to their own constituents, but also persuades the national public that Congress as a whole is discharging its duty of representation and governance well."
  • Paraparty cooperatives - "Ryan Cooper had a great piece on a 'paraparty cooperative' in Rhode Island that sat both on the inside and the outside of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, and worked to reform and substantially replace it."
posted by kliuless at 1:49 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


Architecture Magazine also has a series envisioning post-vaccine architecture

Here's a starting point: Return to closed offices with sterilized and filtered air.


I read years ago that the German office culture is almost precisely the opposite of the American "open door" policy. They were more likely to have their doors shut to give them the quiet they needed to do their work without incessant interruptions. But if, anything, the pandemic might teach us that it's not such a bad thing to have some of what Tom Sachs calls "Sacred Space" in our environment.
posted by drstrangelove at 5:48 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, windows. Which we've forgotten about since the last pandemic.

This x 10000000.

I've followed Dr. John Campbell on youtube since the start of the pandemic and one thing he talked about from the outset was the importance of ventilation. He said when he was a young nurse in an English hospital many years ago every day they'd open the windows in the wards-- regardless of the outside temperature-- to ventilate the unit. Doing so resulted in fewer infections overall.

Imagine that--- fresh air actually is good for you.
posted by drstrangelove at 5:53 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


I really, really miss futurism.

(raises hand) A bunch of us are doing this work right now. Including professional futurists and/or science fiction writers.
posted by doctornemo at 9:18 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


I really, really miss futurism.

(raises hand) A bunch of us are doing this work right now. Including professional futurists and/or science fiction writers.


Yeah, I guess I should have said something more like, I miss when futurism was more of a presence in mainstream Western culture.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:22 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


Also qualifying, I’d say, are E. Holthaus’ thoughts on Future Earth (book here, interview here).
posted by progosk at 3:20 PM on February 24


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