The time in between Godelieve Spaas, Week 6

Because Neutrality Is Not an Option

The 4th and 5th of May in the Netherlands are a time of remembrance. This year there will not be massive memorial gatherings of people but quiet, personal moments of remembrance and reflection. Looking back on wars and other large crises, I realize how important it is to take a stance. With the knowledge I have now, I find it hard to understand that more people were not springing into action during, for example, the banking crisis of 2008. What if we had? Would things be any different now? Simultaneously, if I’m honest about it, I also find it really difficult to stare into the eye of the hurricane and know what the right course of action is.

The Impact of Corona

At this time, during the Corona crisis, it’s nigh impossible to understand the potential impact on nearly every domain. When you’re in the midst of something, it’s difficult to keep an overview, to be able weigh everything against each other and make connections that lead to understanding. /p>

What do I do with stories that contradict each other because of different worldviews, visions, disciplines, and sectors? How do I judge a situation in which propaganda, fake news, values, meaning, and facts are all mixed up? How do I position my own desires in relation to what is good for the whole? Believing in something or contributing to something is crucial, especially in times of great uncertainty or a huge crisis. I don’t want to remain neutral during this Corona crisis. There is too much at stake. I want to take a position on how we should move ahead, preferably in conjunction with other important themes of our day, like social and cultural inequality or the destruction of our ecosystem.

Barbara Baarsma, Chair of the Local Board of Directors at Rabobank Amsterdam, says we would do well to consider “triage criteria” that banks can apply after COVID-19. She suggests three possible criteria that businesses could need to meet in order to be eligible for financing:

  • Contributing to the energy transition
  • Working towards digitalization
  • Being open to learning

Brainwash Special van Human: Overleven Na Corona May 3, 2020.

A Different Economy

Luckily, I’m not the only one worrying about this. On May 3, the platform Brainwash (of Human and The School of Life network) broadcast a special show called: Post-Corona Survival. Philosophers, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs engaged in discussion and agreed about one thing: our economy needs to change. For one, the current crisis also has its origins in the way we currently conduct business: we no longer produce or use our products regionally. Everything ends up being cheaper one way or the other when we constantly send people, animals, resources, and products from one side of the world to the other.

Secondly, the economy itself is complicating the resolution of this crisis because it is the free market that ensures that facial coverings, ventilators, and medicines do not end up where they are most needed, but where people are prepared to pay the most for them. That’s a situation we should want to avoid. Economics and business require moral decision-making, not short-sighted faith in the invisible hand.

Barbara Baarsma in Brainwash Special van Human: Overleven Na Corona, May 3, from the 42nd minute.

“As a banker, I feel a responsibility to make sure that the scarce banking capital we have works in the right direction.

…………. [The implementation of government schemes] is being outsourced to the banks. The government did not formulate any criteria for the aid measures. The banks are doing that.

I do think we should have a broader social discussion about the standards and values and choices behind them.
Because I genuinely believe that the institutions we have, like banks, health care institutions or education,
we can all engage in dialog about what we want that society to look like.
And we are definitely ready to take steps now.”

Who Is at the Table?

Like the experts talking on Brainwash, I think this crisis (just like the 2008 financial crisis) has made it abundantly clear that things need to change and the current situation presents us an opportunity to reprogram the circuit board of our economy and revise the rules we play by. The question is who should do it.

Brainwash Announcement

Brainwash Announcement


The photograph Brainwash used to announce the broadcast reminds me of an image called Missing Person, a photograph by Ger van Elk. It depicts smartly dressed men at a table looking at a red plush chair that is empty. Their gaze makes the absence in the image more important than everything that is present. The men are talking about the person who is not there.

Rabo Art Collection: Missing Person by Ger van Elk

Rabo Art Collection: Missing Person by Ger van Elk


Most of the chairs were empty during the Brainwash broadcast too. The audience was missing. Which makes sense in these times, but it was also symbolic. At most of the debates and talks about the type of economy we want to create, only empty chairs represent the real focus: the earth and the people.

For me, economics is about how to organize the good life for everyone, together. How we can work together to arrange our household in harmony with the earth's. The way we do that is a choice. And we can review that choice if we think something else is better or necessary.

It is not enough for banks and social institutions to take the lead. Banks, like other businesses, are part of today's destructive economic system. Social institutions only represent fragments of society and not the unity of things. And there is the crux. It's time for the people who the economy concerns, the people who live and work in the Netherlands, Europe, and the world, to take a seat in one of those empty chairs and speak their minds. Neutrality is not going to help. Thinking that the established order will solve our problems is certainly not going to help either.

Pocket Mirror

So what do I do? How do I wade through this wash of facts, figures, interpretations, models, dreams, stories, suggestions, and lies to discover what type of economy I would like to live in? Perhaps a Claude glass could help. Also called a black mirror, a Claude glass comes in a case shaped like a powder compact. The mirror is slightly convex in shape and its surface is tinted black. To use it, one stands with their back to a landscape. In the glass one sees one’s own reflection as well as a wide panorama of wide lines and reduced detail.

Afbeelding 3 Godelieve Spaas_291076036


I imagine that I am sitting on one of the red chairs and get lost in a jungle of expert opinion. I take my black mirror from my bag, open it, and observe for a moment the larger whole before returning my attention to the discussion.
Maybe it could also help if you got lost in your own reasoning and fantasies. Or you could use it to drag yourself out of the swampy mess of the existing system by your own hair, like Baron Munchausen. It could help you to pull yourself out of the swamp and debris of the existing system by your own hair.

Whichever way you look at it, if we want the economy to care for us instead of needing to care for it, then neutrality is not an option.

In the Red Chair

I don't want to remain neutral because I cannot bear to think that people looking back at this period seventy-five years from now may remember it as a time when too few people were brave enough to push back against the ruling order.

From now on, I will sit in the red chair and make proposals for how things can be done differently. Preliminary proposals, which can change and improve as I learn more and do more research, listen to different opinions and ideas, and consult my Claude glass more frequently.

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