“Fools rush in”
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Rutger Bregman at the RSA. His topic was “Utopia for Realists”. The overall theme was for sweeping change to the accepted normality of society as it is today. He focused on the changes required to the working week and the welfare system and how they could come about. The general impression was that any political change would be slow and in some cases very slow. Not too surprising, as we have been talking about the likes of Universal Basic Income for hundreds of years. This got me thinking, not about the theme of the lecture, but about expectations and resolutions.
When I was a kid I had a denim jacket. In those days a new denim jacket was as stiff as cardboard. The choice of colours was limited to one. It was dark blue denim, take it or leave it. The first year was spent washing and wearing it, to break it in. The second year it was beginning to fade and you could bend your arms. By the third year it had earned pride of place in your wardrobe. It was so cool it could be worn anyplace anytime and was worn with pride. Today you can walk into a shop and buy a denim jacket in many colours and in various states of decay straight off the peg. It’s not as fulfilling (but I do own one).
It used to be that a movie got released and, after a few months or so, it would come ‘to a cinema near you’. The intervening time was a period of excitement and anticipation waiting to see the latest offering from Alfred Hitchcock or Francis Ford Coppola. The viewing was the culmination of the experience. These days I can sit on my sofa and ‘on demand’ fall asleep to thousands of movies at the click of a button.
Food used to be grown locally. Gardens and allotments produced home grown fruit and vegetables. Local shops had local produce. Meals took time to prepare and cook. Now we can pierce the plastic film and microwave the taste away in 4 minutes flat. Vegetables come peeled, chopped and packaged in wee boxes. We don’t need to grind coffee beans, we can have instant. We don’t need to make custard, we can have instant. Instant, on demand, pre-shrunk, pre-cooked, all the hard work done for you, prepared, packaged and tied up with a bow on it.
We have grown accustomed to an instant society. We want instant gratification and the consequences of not getting it, are often met with incredulity and frustration. I understand that procrastination can sometimes be seen as inactivity and that can fuel the belief that nothing is being done. I hear this all the time from political reviewers but big problems take a long time to resolve. The damage done by poor policy takes a long time to repair. Selling off social housing may have seemed like a good idea to some and no doubt many benefited from it. But nobody thought long term and realised we needed to build social housing too because the demand had not gone away.
As the process to leave the European Union progresses, the time scale will restrict the opportunity to produce anything meaningful and I fear we shall end up with mishmash of borrowed legislation, conflict and confusion. This should be a salutary lesson and one to be heeded prior to any change in Scotland’s relationship with the UK. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by engaging in wide reaching discussions to design and define the country we want to live in. And it should not be left solely to elected politicians to come up with the solutions. Citizen’s engagement is vital and civic society has a massive role to play but it must start now if we are to avoid the mistakes of Brexit. The change may not come around as quickly as we would like but sometimes the wait is worth it.