Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Paths from systems failure

I'm pleased to say I'm working on the Blueprint 2023. This will be the 14th annual edition. I wasn't sure what would happen this year, given how sick I've been. Thanks to a small group of critical collaborators, there will be a Blueprint dropping in December. 

As always you can find past versions here and here

I'm thinking about it because I just read this article in Alliance Magazine, reflecting on Indy Johar's words to the PEX network in Europe.  First, you should check out Dark Matters Lab, where Indy works. They do very cool thinking. 

Here's the key point he made: 

            "We are on the path to systems failure, he says, and the timescale is three to five years."                                                                                 (Alliance article is paywalled)

In some cases, I think his timeline is too generous. He's clear in the article that he's talking about global systems - food crises, inflation, and displacement. I've been thinking about the systems I deal with directly, here in the U.S.:

  • The healthcare system has failed and is failing. Children's hospitals across the country are overflowing, and many have been closed or converted to adult hospitals which make more money. So we're choosing for children to die. I have private insurance and access to best medical care - systems is barely able to meet my long Covid needs - can't be working for anyone.
  • Public education systems are failing. Underinvestment, teacher burnout, and direct attacks, sometimes violent, on school boards as part of a larger effort to break democracy - all out in the open, all visible. Particularly tied to demographic change and racism. 
  • Employment. We've seen the numbers of chronically ill and disabled people increase dramatically. How many of you work in a place that is actually proactively preparing for a workforce where 1 in 20 people need accommodations? It's easy to imagine a much better working life for everyone if all the systems were designed to help disabled people flourish, but the system doesn't and chances are your workplace doesn't either. 
  • Higher education. Here the national trend seems to be to double down on a handful of elite, private universities, sell of our public universities for parts (or outsource teaching to online platforms), and then decry the inequitable system. Don't overlook the billionaires who used the student loan industry to rip-off hundreds of thousands of people now working back rooms to protect their own golden geese. 
  • Electoral politics, campaign finance. If you have to ask....
  • Nonprofits as service providers. Outsourced, unaccountable public services being delivered at below market rates surrounded by dark money flooded social welfare organizations designed to launder money into political power. 
  • News and civic discourse. Seriously? Where - Twitter? Facebook? YouTube? Your local independent newspaper or the one that's a facade for one or the other political extremes?

In the Blueprint, I write about trying to write the future in the present tense. The best work in this regard was done by Octavia Butler. A good recent example is Bruce Holsinger's novel, The Displacements (highly recommend). Doing this for yourself is important - it's not if a natural disaster happens, it's what to do after it has happened. Not if a pandemic virus disables you, but afterward. Not if elections lead to violence, but after they've continued to do so for several cycles. Not if the population is being lead to radicalization and violence, but after this has taken leadership hold across several countries and being terrorized as a citizen is sanctioned state practice (again, familiar to many for centuries) within nominal democracies.

Basically, at the root of each of those failures above are deliberate, decades-long efforts to serve the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Private money speaks; public access, equitable service, equal rights before the law - nice concepts, not reality.  The future of systems failure is the present (and past, for many). 

The challenge, I think, is acknowledging this. It requires an inversion of time in which the worst case projection is marked down as status quo, and change begins from there.

It's a little like becoming chronically ill on a collective scale. As I've been sick for 10 months (the blink of an eye compared to many) I've noticed changes in my understanding of time. Am I sick now, trying to get better? Am I holding on, waiting for research, cures, or new treatment? Or do I live each day doing the most and best I can, because the future is only bleaker? Or can I do both, plus adapt to new abilities and pursue alternative dreams based on my new limits? Do I set my baseline to before I got sick, how I feel now, or how bad this might get? Am I recovering, waiting, or living?

I'll work the health part out for myself (with lots of community and professional support). But these questions apply to the systems noted above, about the world writ large, the people I care about and people I'll never meet. Our baselines were pretty bad and in many cases, the worst futures are very much the current present for so many people. It's not about future system collapse failure, but existing failures - and the hope and commitment to begin anew. 

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