What do you think will characterize our future?
It Didn’t Work Out As Hoped
Not long ago we had the Arab Spring and the hope that there wold be a graceful resolution for a troubled Middle East. There were other hopes and the world and America seemed to have drawn back from an abyss following the Great Recession.
Yes, the United States has made a good recovery but we seem to have unsettled footing which very much includes a rather surprising and frightening race for the presidency. There are multiple signs suggesting our country and the world is entering a very unstable period.
Present Reality Addressing the Future
And then I picked up a book called Postcapitalism – A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason. It is dense and fraught with discussions of failed economic theories and conflicts. It was so difficult I had to read it twice but I couldn’t put it away. He suggests that we are at the end of a long economic wave and that capitalism is collapsing. The book can be dismissed as both overly pessimistic and utopian all at the same time. I found it to be neither because in so many instances I could see what he was warning about was already occurring whether it is what happened to Greece, Brexit, a failing Italian banking system, American college debt, a stagnant American Middle Class etc.
Data at our Fingertips
He points out a series of endeavors and policies which could help us head off catastrophe in climate change, demographic devastation in elderly populations and the need for extensive financial system reforms. One thing he points out that is markedly different in this environment is the information revolution. Among other things there is an extraordinary pool of data out there. It could be employed to shape our future and to create new systems both economic and social. Part of the process is no cost systems such as Wikipedia. He points to such endeavors where costs are going to zero.
Fifty Years Too Soon
And then I was struck by something. I wrote a book entitled Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health. In the 1960s a public health model was applied to mental health services. It was supposed to bring affordable and effective services to all the people of our country. It failed. I wrote the book about my experiences in the movement because I thought our experiences were worth being in the record.
It occurred to me that in some ways the movement had been created fifty years too soon. At the time it failed because of lack of vision on the part of senior mental health professionals, a focus on status, interest only in grant money, failure to look beyond existing systems. In fact, if the young professionals had been in an era of information technology we could have documented the essence of an impoverished community, the flaws which caused such pain and suffering, the essential points of intervention and the planning needed to build ameliorative services. In fact, the nature of the communities was the major problem and we worked on economic and social issues rather than mental pathology. It all could have been documented, organized and systems designed. But narrow and selfish perceptions caused it to fail.
Mason’s Postcapitalism points the way to a promising kind of process and I could feel how what our young staff did in the 1960s could be used in the here and now in cost effective and productive ways to build diverse and social movements within such a community, through peer systems and economic system focus. Of course it would involve designing markedly more efficient physical health care systems as well. It was all there in the minds of young professionals but the time was wrong. This revelation alone told me that we have a huge opportunity as capitalism reaches its final wave. Will we have the wisdom or will we be inundated by climate failure, demographic chaos, economic mismanagement, Political naivete, and social failure? We will see.
What systems for the future would you design?