A year has passed since the pandemic entered our country. And although another wave of it is growing, the invention of the vaccine gives rise to hope. This, in turn, means that as a society we can already start thinking about what is after the pandemic.
This is important because the “after” world will not be the same as “before” for many reasons. The pandemic will leave a permanent mark on our psyche and our functioning, it has accelerated many important processes, and has exposed our weaknesses. When starting to rearrange our world, you have to start with a retrospective. In the next step, properly define the direction and goal; the slogans of catching up with the West, productivity and innovation fade in the context of the real threats that we realized in the last year. In the last one, we have to find out who can lead us towards this new one.
Technology deals the cards
Even if there is a bit of an exaggeration in the above statement, it is not much. Technology organizes our lives, determines the necessary competences, and, as a result, the professions we perform. It also determines the hierarchy of the greatest threats today. Although it has always been so, the point where we as a civilization are today is unique: the level of technical solutions has reached the critical mass needed to redefine the functioning of societies and economies in a very short time, and above all the place and role of man.
The latter is no longer able to compete with machines and algorithms. Automation and robotization, accelerated by the pandemic, will translate into erosion of competences, greater rotation of employment, and even stronger pressure on its flexible forms.
All this will lead to a greater confusion of man. The pace of changes taking place in the world is already a huge challenge for the average Kowalski. Something that once changed over the decades now changes over the years. Something that happens for years – for months, and for months – for days. This acceleration can be seen not only in the context of work, but also in social relations, purchasing patterns, functioning in the family, etc.
All this dynamics painfully collides today with the urge for constancy and predictability that characterizes most of us: elements that provide a sense of control over our own lives. With such shaped patterns – the effect of the current system of upbringing and education – of secondary importance is the fact that the changing world offers at the same time even unique opportunities. Most of us look at it mainly through the prism of risk and threats.
History teaches us that times of high volatility and related job and income concerns have translated into socio-political systems; confusion and fear paved the way for authoritarian rule. In an excellent essay “This is how the core of the soul is exchanged”, Jacek Dukaj wrote: “the foundation of the stability of democracy is the feeling of material independence in the core of the demos”. Only then can voters make sovereign decisions – neither the government nor employers (corporations) can blackmail them financially.
With the increasingly unstable labor market and, at the same time, rapidly increasing transfers from the state, it will be more and more difficult for us not to succumb to these blackmail. It will become more and more difficult to defend democracy. Or is that what it is all about?
The temptation of an alliance between power and technology seems particularly dangerous. Today, technology offers solutions that, especially in the hands of not only authoritarian leaders, may turn out to be a very valuable achievement, allowing the vision of full control over society to be realized.
This is a scenario that is being implemented step by step in many countries today. Everything under the guise of protecting citizens, but it is enough for all this infrastructure and data to fall into the wrong hands and it will turn against us, society. The vision of human masses reduced to the role of a herd of rams grazing in a meadow surrounded by an electronic shepherd has never been so close to materialization.
Variability can be tamed
As a society, we must accept that variability is and will remain part of our reality. This is the nature of the world. At the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to be persuaded that the only solution in this situation is the expanding state and assigning it responsibility for our own lives at the expense of individual freedom.
The alternative is to learn to function in a world of variability. It requires a completely different view of ourselves and a different organization of the world in which we live, different institutional solutions.
In the individual dimension, this means redirecting our attention from the environment (especially the media) to discovering ourselves and shaping self-awareness. Thanks to this, several important effects are achieved: it becomes possible to identify the real sources of fears, we realize that the world is not what it seems (we greatly exaggerate what is bad and we diminish what is good), we begin to notice the existing opportunities around us.
In terms of systemic and institutional solutions, we need solutions that will ensure that the world serves us, society, and not a narrow group of technology, data and robot factory owners and power-hungry leaders who distribute their own money as they see fit. Solutions that will properly position man – instead of forcing him to compete with machines, create opportunities for him to engage in areas where the machine cannot compete with him, in activities based on imagination and creativity as well as feelings, relationships and empathy.
The above requires not only appropriate regulations, including protection of people against the growing media technology, but also a profound reform of education, including the liquidation of unreformable schools and the establishment of a new type of educational institution.
It is necessary to change what and how is communicated in the education process, to focus more on the development of competences, not encyclopedic knowledge. This must be accompanied by raising the prestige of the teaching profession and introducing competition elements into the system.
With regard to the labor market, we need policies that ensure that the loss of a given job is not a problem. That the employee – regardless of age – has such competences that allow him to quickly find a new job.
It requires constant investment in human capital to keep it up to date with market needs. It cannot be only the responsibility of employees, they must have the support of the companies they work for and of professional institutions in this respect.
In a situation of accelerating machinery, capital inevitably continues to displace labor in income, therefore, to protect the “core of the demos”, we need changes in labor-capital relations and labor relations.
For this we need the dissemination of various forms of shareholding (employee, local, civic, etc.). We also need to shift the focus from the secondary redistribution of income – that through budgetary transfers, which increases the risk of financial blackmailing citizens – to the primary redistribution in the form of income from activities. The key here is to create favorable conditions for private investment – which has been very bad in recent years – especially in areas ensuring the creation of high-quality, well-paid jobs.
Finally, taking into account the nature of the threats, protecting the subjectivity of citizens requires strengthening the sector of non-governmental institutions and wider participation in it. Institutions of this type must be a key element of the control of respect for citizens’ rights alongside official structures.
Who do we trust our future to
Our main problem is a dysfunctional political system. In the long-lasting clinch in which we are held by the bipolar, post-Solidarity system, the good of the community is dying. The essence of this system is the constant game of social divisions, and the priorities in the field of politics are determined not by real needs, but by the voting ratios.
As a result, trust and social capital are low, we are unable to build consensus, so necessary for shaping long-term solutions in the health service, the area of energy transformation and many others. Terms such as social debate and dialogue have long since disappeared from the party vocabulary – politicians do not need them, and during the presidential elections they treated us with monologues unique on a global scale.
The common approach today: “who is not with us is against us” discourages those who could bring fresh blood, new ideas and solutions to the governing processes. As a consequence, the list of unresolved problems in Poland has remained constant for years, with this the difference is that in the world of the pandemic, they have become much more tangible to us, which is clearly demonstrated by the infamous place among European leaders in the 2020 mortality statistics.
According to the precursor of the sciences on the role of institutions for the development – D.C. North – where political mechanisms lead to shaping good governance and building bipartisan, long-term solutions, the functioning of institutions is better suited to reality. Meanwhile, today in many countries – including, unfortunately, in Poland – politics has often become a “negative choice”. It is full of those who do not treat it as a social service, but an opportunity to take care of the party and/or self-interest.
The future has many scenarios. To achieve this socially desirable, it must be actively shaped. Passivity is a straightforward path to being “set up” by others. If we want to avoid this, we need active participation, greater involvement, new political and social movements. We need to complete our transformation: abandoning clans to civil society.
It will not be possible without new leaders, ready to defend the interests of citizens, and not interested in power for power and benefits. This is the point from which, as a society, we must begin re-arranging Poland.
Published: Rzeczpospolita, 01.04.2021