Thesis Number: #9 (Page 7 of 10)

Unfreezing our Minds

The evidence of 5,000 years of history leaves no room for doubt: civilisations are vulnerable to structural flaws that trigger their demise. A society that managed to combine complexity with sustainability would be something new. Ours must be the quest for a post-civilisation settlement. How do we initiate the changes that would empower us to evolve such a society?

To begin, we need something that the German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) would call the “unfreezing” stage. This would take the form of a compelling critique of the present system, one to which most people would subscribe, and which would animate them into action. Poverty is a practical problem that could provide such a focus. People are willing to work to alleviate current suffering, while simultaneously working for structural reform.

Poverty is a manufactured by-product of the culture of rent-seeking. That is why politicians and non-governmental activists are not able to exorcise this evil in the midst of plenty. The UK illuminates the futility of trying to negotiate freedom from destitution without confronting the social paradigm that causes poverty.

When Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in 1979, she quoted St. Francis of Assisi’s statement about bringing harmony in place of discord, truth in place of error, faith in place of doubt, and hope in place of despair. St Francis chose poverty as a lifestyle. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) was concerned with the plight of people who did not choose to exist at the material margins. And in their critique of Thatcherism, they also quoted the words of St. Francis to attack the politics of Margaret Thatcher. The poor in Britain, they declared, were becoming poorer (Bull and Wilding 1983).

Neither Thatcher nor the CPAG offered an effective critique of the systemic causes of poverty. Therefore, they could not define what it would take to eliminate poverty. Both were sincere in their aspirations. Neither was consciously malevolent in ignoring the root cause of poverty. Both were victims of induced ignorance. So they contributed to the perpetuation of poverty, by failing to pinpoint the mechanism that could permanently erase it. Outcome: in Britain, young people have endured a 19% fall in wages since 1997, while the older (home-owning) generation now earns 2.6 times more than workers aged 18-21. This compares with a difference of 1.7 times in 1997 (Intergenerational Foundation 2014). What would it take to unfreeze our minds?

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