The time in between Godelieve Spaas, Week 5

Counterproposal 1: A Caring Economy

Increasingly, conversations with colleagues and discussions on talk shows and news programs all revolve around what the world look like after the lockdown. Where will we be when the dust has settled? Or, as Fiona Tan asks in her research on the Aftermath, what emerges at the end of an era? The term aftermath originates from agriculture and refers to the grass that is grown on the same land after the first crop is harvested.

We anticipate a severe economic crisis. Bigger than in 2008, possibly even bigger than any economic crisis post-1918. In 2013, Fiona Tan filmed how Detroit was slowly slipping into bankruptcy. In Ghost Dwellings II she sketches an image of a city without people and without a soul.

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I would hate to think that this is our foreland: with cities and landscapes decaying and people hard to find. I’m already finding it unreal to encounter so few people and such little life when I go out for groceries. What I miss most is the liveliness, the spontaneous encounters in the streets and parks. And the ordinary things in life, like having a coffee at the corner café and getting to listen in on casual conversations at the table next to mine.
Yet those people-free cities may not such a fanciful consequence of the corona virus and the resulting economic crisis. Despite the reassuring words of the Dutch prime minister that a 6-foot economy and society are the new normal, I am not reassured. I try to imagine what that non-normal-new-normal might look like. How do we reduce the number of people per square foot, for all time, in all places? I think we can shift between two extremes: we all retreat into our own domain and become more or less self-sufficient and free, or we imprison ourselves behind walls and other barriers, real or imaginary.

Settlement, Pieter Laurens Mol 1992

Settlement, Pieter Laurens Mol 1992

Autocrat, Atelier van Lieshout, 1997

Autocrat, Atelier van Lieshout, 1997

Even then, we can still go out of course. The Italian designers of Nuova Neon Group 2, have already produced designs for how we can go out to dinner together and to the beach without getting too close to one another.

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I can just imagine it.... people sitting in the burning sun divided by Plexiglas walls. Romantic dining out between softly swaying transparent screens. Never again eavesdropping on a conversation, chatting to the server, or even getting into a deep conversation about the food. All out of reach because of that distance. For me, these images are not much different from Fiona Tan’s Detroit. Of course at first glance it all looks friendlier. But the question is, do we want to live like this?

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How important is it to meet other people? Really meet?
I'm reminded of Sam's words in the monologue by Isil Vos:
“To see each other.
But REALLY to see.
To share
Your fears
your dreams
your search.
Because that gives
energy
connectedness.
Less alone, less scared.

Because in whatever organization or form we end up moving on in,
We are needed. All of us.
Because as long as there are people, people will be needed.”

I need people. I've figured that out recently. Not just remotely, but close by. Preferably in a friendly and open environment. That's why I have a counterproposal. Let's stop talking about the 6-foot economy. Before you know it, we’ll have convinced each other that it works and makes us happy. Let's start from what we want, not from what we can do. Personally, I want a caring economy. An economy that makes it possible to take care of each other, an economy that we can all be a part of in many more ways than just as consumers. An economy that fits our human nature and not the other way around. So not a 6-foot, hyper-capitalist economy that defines our humanity as caged, shielded consumers who use and eat stuff that robots make for them. By starting from what we want, we change our tone and our horizons for solutions and change. A caring economy invites solutions where technology serves people and helps us organize the good life together. It challenges us not to keep on doing what we did before, but to look for alternatives that make us feel good about ourselves as a society.

Of course, we have to ensure that we don't all get sick, that's part of a caring economy too. But there’s probably a way forward that’s a lot more inclusive and loving than the route now being taken with the mechanical 6-foot economy.

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