Artistic Reflections on the Possibilities of 2021

An image of the India Gate War Memorial, with a line down he middle, showing the image in October 2019 on the left and April 2020 on the right

New Delhi’s India Gate war memorial on Oct. 17, 2019 and on April 8, 2020.

Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis/Adnan Abidi/Reuters, Source: The Guardian

What normal do we want this time? Some meditations on the creative possibilities for change

By Shokoufeh Sakhi (PhD)
Imagining Together/Acting Together Learning Exchange participant and summary team member

The happy new year did not easily roll off our tongues this year. People said good riddance to the old one, but that did not say it all either. We passed from one year to another like no other that most can remember.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, globalization reached new territories. Global awareness of our vulnerability, the closeness of death, the lameness of our protective defenses, both biologically and scientifically. Politically, socially and culturally however we showed signs of resilience, though not at the same level in all three plains. If in the year 2020, the "normal" died, 2021 began with a hope for its revival.

But hope is a tricky one.

As the spiral of vulnerability and political chaos swirls, news and political statements pivot around vaccination and a hope to return to "normal." Heads of states act and speak as the bearers of the gift of deliverance, and the populace tired and anxious long for the return of "normal." Normal, however, is that which does not return. With each crisis we create a new one. What normal do we want this time?

The globalization of fear and survival came with a twin. A global awareness also saw the light that we are never isolated as a species, a people or as individuals. We are connected no matter how adamantly we insist on our own exclusive existence. For our own survival, we need to accept to live with the others, all the others, animals, trees, earth, air, and water included.

What normal would it be if we reset the production of our livelihoods on a different model than continuous economic growth? What will happen if we let our imagination wander off the logic of the market?

What will happen if we slow down the cycle of destruction for production of ever-growing new commodities? What will happen if we shrink our consumption and profit accumulation? None are impossible. That, we discovered during the first wave lock down across the globe. Right under the global dominance of a neo-liberal ideology, the first world states began distributing some version of basic income, albeit, conditional, temporary and under so many names. A pause happened. A global pause happened. The slowed down production and transportation of goods and services across the world gave the other inhabitants of the planet, the planet itself, a chance to breathe.

Why do the wheels of factories have to keep turning; why do the prongs of machineries have to keep digging? Is it to keep us employed, to make an income? We produce to consume, we destroy to produce, and in between profit is being accumulated. Growth does not happen only in profit, production, and consumption, but also in destruction. When would be the time for revisiting this cycle if it is not now? Now that we still remember what a tiny virus has revealed to us, our universal vulnerability, our universal connectivity, and the fatal effects of the disappearing boundaries between the wild and the manufactured human worlds?

It is up to the profiteers of this world structure, the middle and upper classes, who are the loyal consumers with an insatiable appetite to accept the burden of changing the pattern. And that does not mean adding another recycle bin to our garbage cans. But instead of longing for "going back to normal," we need to start to dare to imagine another way of life, one that is not chained to the cruel monster of economic growth, but one that orients itself towards sustainability of life for all. This is our responsibility, and it is as good a time as ever to think big, to dream big and to expect big of ourselves.