Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies

Searching for Ways to Cope with Dizzying Change

Flora Lewis

PARIS - A growing number of people are coming to recognize the enormity of change overtaking the world.

Some preach resistance, using words like "globalization" and "dislocation" to identify trends that they want to stop so as to preserve existing benefits achieved with great struggle. Others, aware that change is upon us willy-nilly and can only be endured or managed, bemoan the lack of vision and grand theories to address it.

Even people who aren't in the habit of thinking historically or abstractly are keenly aware of the growing gap between familiar assumptions and what really happens, between the same old discourse of politics and what they see every day. The leaders of every industrialized country face disillusion and distrust from their voters. The old ideas of what democracy should deliver aren't working.

Every country has its own vocabulary and its own obsessions, but the feeling of uncertainty, the loss of confidence in the future and, too often,the search for scapegoats is widespread. The problems are basically in common, stemming, I believe, from the same origins.

I compare the current era to the industrial revolution. Over a few generations, unevenly but still irresistibly and with great pain, the technological leap from traditional agricultural society brought profound transformations in every aspect of life, not only economic and political but social, cultural and moral.

The extent was not foreseen, it was vast and pervasive, and removed from previous experience. We cannot expect to foresee all the ramifications of the new leap, but the lack of guidelines, or reassuring principles, to chart the new course is already deeply troubling.

Marc Luyckx, who heads a small, special group at the European Union Commission to peer into the misty future while others deal with the issues of today and tomorrow, speaks of "disenchantment." It is a loss of faith, of belief that anybody secular or religious knows the right answers.

Material advance isn't enough; there isn't a strong enough base for ethics. André Malraux said, "The 21st century will be spiritual, or it will not be," but he offered no useful prescriptions.

The sense of awe at man's conquest of some of the oldest natural obstacles - promenading through space, replacing vital organs, conception in a test tube, instant global communication - has given way to frustration because there is no more sense of purpose.

The 19th century, which celebrated materialism, maintained a certain "enchantment" nonetheless, transferring it from the divine to science. The Eiffel Tower in Paris is a monument to the "miracles" that could be worked in the age of iron and steel. Now nobody thinks of the computer as a "miracle," just as a fascinating technique, and "progress" is not a hallowed word but a question, often written off as an illusion in the absence of an answer.

There is an increasing understanding of linkages, that the big problems of population, environment, poverty, unemployment, crime, security are all connected and no one will be solved by ignoring the others.

But the simple formula for facing them all at once cannot be found, which provokes despair, anger or irrationality. Maybe the search is in the wrong direction, trying to think too big for a new dogma when a massive variety of little answers are at hand that could add up.

Huge cities have become a stifling burden, but here and there smaller ones have found innovative but simple ways to deal with concrete troubles, as Vancouver, in Canada, and Curitiba, in Brazil have with garbage collection. Others have new approaches to mass transportation.

Sweden has good results with a modest shift to environmental-based taxes. Small-scale but remarkably effective antidotes to unemployment have been found with credits to establish mini-enterprise and new ways of defining and rewarding socially useful work.

These are models. They can be adapted and copied and spread in the information age. None is a panacea, but they show that big results can be gained from a lot of small steps.

The inspiration must essentially be ecology as ethic, as a spiritual value. It is neither pagan nor monotheistic, but thought out to fundamentals it does offer a sense of the unity of man with man and man with nature, or mutual dependence and common purpose in supporting life and this Earth that sustains it. It can be expressed in religious or humanistic terms.

It is a way to surmount the paralyzing void of guidance and to direct energies to doing what can be done. Many, many, many small moves of many kinds can bring a way to manage change. The theory can come later.

© Flora Lewis

pijltje_links.gif (122 bytes)Flora Lewis
pijltje_links.gif (122 bytes) Speakers

General Introduction
pijltje_beneden.gif (179 bytes) Speakers
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Lourdez Arizpe
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Adriaan van Dis
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Josette Feral
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Riffat Hassan
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Dragan Klaic
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Hans Küng
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Flora Lewis
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Madala Mphahlele
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Bert Mulder
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) David Nostbakken
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Herman Philpse
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Anil Ramdas
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Allister Sparks
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Horst Stipp
kruisje.gif (919 bytes) Nasr Zaid
our creative diversity