Despite leaving Europe, the ravages of Covid-19, and watching thousands of purple sprouting broccoli heads disintegrate after hard new year frosts, I feel a fragile but irrepressible hope rising in my heart.
An extra 20 minutes before sunset every day is already quickening my horticultural pulse, but my hope grows from a rising sense of collectivity; a sense that the 40-year curse of rampant, self-serving individualism, supported by market fundamentalism, may finally be passing.
Why now? A quieter, more modest and caring US president; Mark Carney’s (the former governor of the Bank of England) chillingly dull Reith Lectures decrying the failures of the market to value our values; the belated but rapidly rising acknowledgement from politicians and businesses of the need to act on climate; Greta Thunberg wanting a replacement light for her bicycle for her 18th birthday (of course, she also asked for action on climate catastrophe); but mostly, it is a sense that out of these crises, we are taking stock of what is truly important, and concluding that so much of it is what we share rather than what we can own individually.
The idea that we are all out for ourselves, and value our achievements solely through the accumulation of money, power or celebrity is being questioned, as is the unbridled mediation of the marketplace as the allocator of value.
A quiet rebellion is growing against the depressing assumption that we are as emotionally and morally stunted as so many business and political leaders; that we live to earn and consume; that our achievements can all be numerically measured and rewarded, and our behaviours manipulated by the crudest monetary levers.
Humanity is so much more complex than the economist Milton Friedman and his generation of acolytes would have us believe. We have evolved to compete at times, but much more frequently to cooperate and share. We are a social species, and so much of our success is collective.
My hope is that 2021 will mark the start of the decline of the cult of individual wealth and fame, along with all the waste and loneliness that go with it. Of course, there have always been many who had the confidence to happily live modest lives, guided by their own values without the approbation of others’ envy, but they have done it quietly; let this be the year that their voice instils some balance and humility in the dogmatic maniacs who lead us.