A Lost Decade?

by on Monday, 21 December 2009 Comments

The Lost Decade” writes Der Spiegel. “The Decade from Hell” asserts Time Magazine. The second title might sound correct from an American viewpoint - the years 2000 to 2009 have definitely been most difficult for America - but the title used by the German weekly better captures what happened at the world level: the decade that started with the proclamation of the Millennium Objectives and hopeful expectations seems to be ending up in confusion.

Indeed, precious little has been achieved when it comes to the objectives proclaimed by the world community in 2000: access to water for all, universal primary education and the struggle against widespread poverty. Instead, terrorism, wars, epidemics and natural disasters have consistently featured on our daily news. The new century has seen more conflicts and traumatism than progress towards solidarity and reconciliation.

And yet, some paradoxical progresses may have been achieved after all. Despite the year certainly not being as “spectacular” as 2008, just consider what has happened in 2009. In January, Obama had already been elected and was entering office, the Beijing Olympics were over, the start of the financial crisis was the dominant news and Sichuan and Myanmar were still mourning their dead after natural disasters of astounding scale. In many respects, 2009 has been a year of evaluation and reaction, a year when the global community has realized even more deeply the scale of the challenges it confronts and has tried to find collective answers to them. Reactions to the financial and environmental crises have been somehow coordinated, and some progress has been made towards solidarity and sustainability. At the same time, old habits do not die (yes, extravagant bankers’ bonuses are back) and we have not yet entered the age of structural reform - we are still correcting, not redesigning, our economic and international system. The achievements and failures of the Obama administration are a good example of the times we are living in - lots of good intentions, real efforts at planning and then utmost difficulties when it comes to implementation.

Still, let us show some optimism when it comes to the decade we are entering. Civil societies are much more aware than before of the role they can play when it comes to innovative behaviors, accrued exchange of information and coordinated pressure towards change. The next ten years may well be the time when a new model of governance takes shape, not from top to bottom but through systemic interactions among societies, educational or international institutions, corporations and governments. The challenges of new sources of energy, micro-credit and alternative banking, female education and peace building are some of the fields in which it has already been shown that things can change from below, and that pilot projects can have a snowball effect when planned effectively and communicated widely. Let us hope that the next ten years will not be “spectacular” ones, but rather part of a period in which in-depth changes - not always immediately visible - will testify further to the new maturity of the international society. And let us do whatever what we can do towards reaching such an end, relying on our combined strength rather than on unreachable dreams.

(Photo by Flavie Kersante)







Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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