Mother Earth and the future happiness of your fellow human beings depend on all you little cells of sustainable cultural transformation
Just to be clear: In this text, I am not suggesting that we do not need technology, tech innovation and global health aides traveling the world. However, it is the time for concerted action. It is not enough to support people in need but it is necessary to destroy those systemic, culturally rooted sources that allow for human misconduct, global poverty and inequities to thrive.
Please, consider this emotional plea for a truly holistic approach to further the state of global wellbeing.
1) Cultural transformation is the number one cure to achieve global equity, responsibility and cooperation
Working within the sphere of Global Health offers great prospects: You get to help others, those who just happened to be born into unbearably desperate situations. I deeply feel it: It is tough to grow up in such an inequitable world, and it is marvellous if this drives you to really DO something. If you can combine this with the need to travel (FUN!) and the reward of being involved in something that yields authority and societal prestige (what an identity!), even better. BUT: Observing the afro-, asia- and technocentric angle from which Global Health is being taught in university and the far-off jobs that Global Health students aspire to work in tells us that we run the risk of overlooking something: Our world is interconnected – to an unimaginable degree and detail – and most, if not all, Global Health challenges are affected by outgrowths of westernised culture (if you need a reminder what these might be, glance at text part 4). Thus, the amount of justice and bliss that could be generated by removing the “developed” world’s cultural legitimation for the world’s grievances is enormous. Even though Western culture (or any “developed” culture, really) is not easy to fix – after all it is being reproduced daily – a cultural transformation is the one truly sustainable, and therefore highly rewarding, solution to our global problems! Resultingly, it is our imperative to influence our own cultural circles – in a dedicated, but sensitive and always optimistic manner.
Uhffff, the responsibility! We certainly need some elite degrees and long-way-off tools to bring about such an extensive cultural transformation, you wonder? Not really:
2) You were already socialised to be implicit Global Health experts!
We are quick to forget that in all of us rests the knowledge for a potent cure to alleviate suffering and achieve global well-being. In fact, all Westerners are suitable Global Health specialists before even studying it! How so? You know the culture; in fact, you are the culture with its intricacies and pitfalls! This is a grand plus on your portfolio if you aim for lasting impact. Who but you should know how to leverage change from within westernised culture! Where but within your cultural circle would you have the full culturally and morally sensitive legitimation to intervene and influence the cultural value system? The lifelong socialisation and commercialised education you “enjoyed” in a westernised society is something you cannot achieve through any degree. Why not make it your key asset? To use the words of Chairman Mao (and no, I am not a Maoist): The revolutionary must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea. Owing to your socialisation network, usually, you “swim” the smoothest back home. Here the cultural prime qualities you incorporate will enable you to revolutionise – to network, to spread ideas and leverage a sustainable paradigm shift – most effectively. If particularly those humans with an interest in Global Health, a sense for cultural sensitivity and an understanding of the global issues that are fuelled by Global North culture and politics are most likely to leave their home countries, which powerful leverage points and effects will we lose to enforce a cultural transformation from within? It takes some time of observing, reading, traveling, some other perspectives – the time to develop a culturally sensitive understanding – but eventually everyone will be exposed to the omnipresent, voiceless scream: Room for sustainably optimised growth is all around us! If you will, the blaring deficiencies of our time and within our cultures mirror the dimensions of a huuuuuge market to innovate, to be democratic, to engage, to be an idol and peacefully but persistently influence the everyday life’s in your community that will eventually influence the remotest, global incidents. Therefore, this is my sincerest plea:
3) Be a multi-functional tool that transforms culture!
And be realistic: How we go about our everyday lives matters, a lot. Over a life time any person that is engaging, cooperative, optimistic/hopeful and open-hearted has a colossal capacity to positively influence the lives of uncountable persons and, taken together, the world’s fate. The problem is: How many people have lost this belief? As pessimists we do limit the potential for well-being, whereas as optimists day by day we realise the potential for happiness in incremental steps. We can be the agents bringing back productive creativity and hope into our communities, thereby, even producing synergistic effects of cultural transformation.
Luckily, there exists a whole spectrum of ways to increase the impact of social movements beyond the conduct of everyday life:
To paraphrase Stephané Hessel: It is time for outrage! Resistance is expressed by creating something new, by supporting healthy concepts of society! Be visible. Demonstrate, write and publish, discuss and use tools of mass communication for the better, to raise awareness. Be aware that consumerism is not our identity but has replaced our identities. Reduce your levels of consumption. Be political, but do not rely on industry and its political representation of interests, but claim your authority and help others to rediscover theirs through bottom-up approaches. I am sure you can find an option to start a social business, start-up! Be a trojan horse and speak the system’s (economic) language, thereby, infiltrating and slowly replacing our technocratic, profit-driven values with community- and human-centred ones. Be rather human and friend, than a gear in the capitalist system. Any business could exist for the common good by re-investing profits into the community. Ultimately, there is no need for you to become a highly technologized venture that aims to be globally profitable. Cultural innovation might well be non- or even anti-technological innovation. If it works locally, in your community (and often enough it will), it will create globe-spanning, sustainable effects. Just as community work is the way to go in resource-depleted settings, community work is the way to go in culture-depleted settings. Create centres for encounter, democratic spaces, where all people(s) and classes will meet leaving prejudice behind and incentivising communication, exchange and the existence of interested, veritably productive human beings. You will find many starting points to intervene. In the end, all is one, a different aspect of the same unsustainable culture, anyway. Along the way, be secure in which are your ideals, stay in deep touch, but stow them safely away. Don’t allow for the status quo’s agents to compromise them away. If you feel the system should change, the problem is not you, even if people will try and convince you into your craziness.
“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths and that millions share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” Erich Fromm, The Sane Society
These millions of people are your fellow humans – your markets to innovate if you want – who need to be addressed. I am certain that millions of people on this planet within “developed” cultural circles are searching for community, identity and chances to get involved to overcome their feelings of impotence and powerlessness. They crave a real human alternative to the barren jobs (“bullshit jobs” as David Graeber put it) in a hamster wheel manner drowning in a sea of meaningless information and entertainment. By offering ways out of the ubiquitous existential crises you do not even have to convince people with words (which proves to be impossible many times anyway). You will profit from an irresistible drag that accompanies the quest for meaning. Many cannot do it without your help. This means that nothing is lost, instead, there are chances for sustainable growth and fellow humans that will help you with it everywhere! The amount of individual human fates you can make a difference for, the impact you can generate, if you try to quantify it, is mindboggling. Now think about how disruptive it would be if many, many more of us would cooperate to create something sustainable from the bottom up.
4) Technological and logistical fixes for health problems may be treating symptoms instead of causes
The “developed world’s” belief system revolving around consumerism (the freedom to externalise cost), a general fixation on growth and profit (personal expansive egos (!) and beyond), presumptuous ethnocentrism or a totalitarian belief in numbers and objectivity; hate, blame, fault, a denial of errors and unwillingness to learn from them, you name it – it is an inexhaustible list – is reflected in a cacophony of global health emergencies: Climate change, crippling trade treaties detrimental to the health of whole nations, multinational corporations that fill our supermarkets and closets with products that cost little money but uncountable tears and blood, our irresponsible perception of migrants that finds its superficial symptom, e.g., in misanthropic EU refugee “deals” with Turkey or Lybia or, to come to an end, the obesity and drug abuse epidemics – including the socially acceptable alcoholism – with its nexus of millions of deeply traumatic wounds. Unfortunately, again, this in an inexhaustible list. But behind that, to say it mildly, there lies something profoundly positive: these sorrowful, ever-reproducing tumours of our cultural circle reveal the full potential for true sustainable growth – all the things we can do better are in itself an inexhaustible list. Great!
Self-evidently, technology can aid us in tackling the contemporary challenges. One might even argue that the most acute disgraces can, realistically, only be alleviated in an instant by technological remedies. Unfortunately, though, we run the risk of cementing grievances if we rely too heavily on technological, rather cosmetic, short-term solutions. Instead, they can become a convenient excuse to stop working on ourselves, individually and as a species. For instance, unhealthy eating habits including drug abuses, which are usually a symptom in themselves, support the pathogenesis of a host of diseases. If we solely rely on molecular medicine to cure these diseases, we are too casual about the underlying, causative pathologies. These, then remain untouched, creating immeasurable but persistent suffering all along and long before the physical, easy-to-measure pathologies manifest. In this case, what we ignore, superficially speaking might be something like a lacking educational system and an economic system that is likely to neglect the basic needs of the human condition and drafted to leave people behind. Tragically, this is not the only symptom we treat while root causes fade out of the spotlight:
What worth is it if we find technological cures for the health challenges in the world, if we, simultaneously, allow for climate change to accelerate and to render vast strips of this earth barren and uninhabitable? Dead future humans will not get sick anymore. What will be the value of medically and financially intervening in the “global south”, if significant parts of its people are about to become refugees that might die at real borders erected by the cultures of xenophobia in the fortresses Europe and USA? What is it worth to sustain a never-ending, two-faced stream of global aid, if concomitantly developed countries exploit neo-colonialist measures of economic coercion (e.g. debt) for their own benefit? To help those who we continually mistreat might offer attractive business options but what is the scope for the human species if the health gains are not sustainable? It is great that many people overcome the ridiculously low threshold of extreme poverty, but will this still be relevant when we find out that this short-term achievement was on loan and its interest has to be paid in long-term human suffering? And last of all, what will it mean for our kids and the future’s heritage, if we implicitly or explicitly allow inequities to subside? Will we and they be able to stand the truth?
All the help in the world combined will only continue to evaporate if we do not destroy the conditions that cement suffrage day after day. Following the reasoning of Thomas Pogge: We need to be aware of our negative duties – to prevent conditions that enable exploitation/global poverty and hinder the human right of subsistence – while it is barely enough to offer help. To this very day, the West is benefitting from its colonialist history and the contemporary global hegemonial architecture. It is time to accept and share the exploitive benefits of this heritage by responsible action.
We inherited this planet in its state and this is no one’s fault, but likewise we inherited the responsibility to be productive and work towards the happiness of all creatures. Luckily, the good thing is that, paradoxically, the constants of any culture are change and value systems in flux – just look back 100 years to appreciate how cultural values have changed, even multiple times, e.g. in Europe. The contemporary technocratic culture of the “developed nations” is not “bad”, but it is terribly unsustainable. For what it’s worth, given its historical context the status quo makes total sense. Contemplating this uncovers a powerful revelation: We will be the future’s past. It is our duty to make it a historical path of alternatives and infinitely many, little by little more sustainable stepping stones. Over time, by steadily incentivising culturally sustainable interactions and concepts – starting chains of positivity over and over – we will arrive in a better place. By being peaceful communicators, enforcing the good, empowering people and aiding the development of societal maturity, we will have a timeless impact on the state of the world – promise!
Contact: If you hate or love this, want to comment or discuss, please, get back to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A helpful summary of Erich Fromm’s “The sane society”:
A summary of some of Thomas Pogge’s ideas:
A blog post on “bullshit jobs” by David Graeber:
Two recent articles on studies I came across that painfully and tangibly highlight the “developed” world’s responsibilities:
An inspiring essay on why it is important how we go about our daily lives: