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#26 Do everything
“There was a feeling—if you did everything, you would win.”
One of my three resolutions for 2020 was to read only thick books and, with War and Peace and The Mirror and the Light, Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson was on the top of my pile. I made it halfway through part 3. The quote at the top is one of Johnson’s leitmotifs. If you do everything, you will win.
2020 was an appropriate year to spend with LBJ. It was a year that forced many of us to do everything, to try everything. Medical workers did everything to keep us alive. Social justice activists did everything to right profound wrongs. The climate movement tried everything to keep climate action in focus.
In the closing days of the year, I am, however, not confident that we will win.
The vaccines that many people in rich countries will get in the coming months are not a full stop at the end of the story of Corona. They are a comma in the tremendous double challenge that lies ahead: worldwide human development and planetary wellbeing. It’s like a triathlon. We’re just out of the water, and instead of taking a rest, still wet we’re up for a hell of a bike ride and run.
My work is nowhere near as important as that of the people mentioned before. Nonetheless, I also tried to do everything in 2020. In between homeschooling and social distancing, I worked on some exciting projects and attempted to put Stichting 2030 on the map. The year very much went three steps forwards, two steps back. I’m a long way from winning. I also see now, very clearly, that the need to do everything and keep doing everything is the required operating mode for a considerable time.
Where I’m at in Caro’s pentalogy, Johnson just became Senate Majority Whip. That’s 1951. He had been doing everything since at least 1924. Decade after decade, he worked on his own power and position. We know where it brought him, ultimately. Don’t get me wrong, Johnson’s journey was destructive. I’ve hated him with all of my heart this year for what he did to his wife, to Coke Stevenson, to Leland Olds (especially). But Johnson also showed that if you do everything, you can win. If he can win for him, we can win for us.
My other two resolutions were to fly less and chat more.
I’ve flown precisely 0 times in 2020, down from way too many in 2019. I miss the travel, but I don’t miss the flights. In 2020, I’ve been to Germany a few times and to Belgium, all overland. In the new year, on top of CO2 compensation, if anyone wants to fly me over, they’ll need to donate to Rewilding Europe, MSF’s efforts in Moira, or a local charity.
Chatting more, obviously, was a disaster. My goal was to have more – many more –conversations with random strangers. People on the train, in shops, at events. I love these spontaneous interactions. January and February went quite well, and then, of course, it became much more problematic.
Not all the books I read this year were thick. Some were short. To improve my GoodReads book count, I quickly read through Roman Krznaric’s The Good Ancestor and a Dutch collection of 23 essays about identity, migration, and inclusion: De Goede Immigrant (The Good Immigrant).
I haven’t felt as white as when I read De Goede Immigrant in a long while. The 23 authors each bring a different perspective to the table on what it means to move to and live in the Netherlands. Most of them experience the country as unwelcoming, even when they were born here. Mojdeh Feili writes (my translation):
“I think there is no greater lie than that in the migration process. The idea that if you work hard enough, are successful enough and have a good enough command of the language, you can call yourself Dutch. Nobody tells you that no matter how hard you try, you can never be a white Dutch person and therefore you will never fully belong.”
It is worth noting that, like the UK, the Netherlands has had colonies in many parts of the world. Therefore, historically and presently, a considerable percentage of the population is black or colored. Also, other non-Western immigrants have often been living in the Netherlands for multiple generations. While I certainly hope that the next generation will find it easier to live in a super-diverse society, given the experiences shared in the book, I’m doubtful this will happen by default.
One of the more thought-provoking contributions to the book was Zouhair Hammana’s. He positions the migrant as a much-needed antidote to the ills of contemporary society. My translation, again:
“They say ‘they are taking our jobs’, they feel that their salary is at risk. And that salary is at risk. Not by me or by others who are not white. But by those who have the means of production. (...) We should therefore not strive to be good migrants. Because a migrant is already good for capital accumulation and for the politics of differentiation. In that sense, a bad migrant is always a good migrant.”
What I take from this is that when we’re doing everything to overcome the dual challenges ahead, we also need to understand this as a struggle for social justice. As there is no way to distinguish between climate action and social justice, there is no way to achieve human development within the planet’s boundaries without a strong focus on social equity.
Krznaric’s book is a lighter read, steeped in the TED-optimism of ideas that may take on the world. It’s a call for long-term thinking, and the argument is impossible to refute. As often in such books, it is not the central idea that is most meaningful, but the little anecdotes surrounding it. E.g., about the role of the arts:
“One of the [study of 64 influential science fiction films and novels] main conclusions was that speculative fiction and film don’t simply help us visualise and connect with the abstract notion of ‘the future’, but also operate as an early warning system that actively engages us with the risks of technology or resource exploitation far more effectively than the dispassionate analyses of scientists or long government reports.”
Or this observation on democracy:
“Analysis based on the Intergenerational Solidarity Index support this: the more decentralised a government is in its decision-making, the better it performs in terms of long-term public policy.”
It made me think of a quote I read recently that has been at the top of my mind: “There is no single formula for mass movements and uprising. Every uprising depends on local traditions, histories, and modes of organization.” — Tariq Ali.
While we do everything, we may actually have to do everything. It’s not enough to keep doing the same thing repeatedly, but we have to look for locally relevant, culturally diverse, and socially inclusive approaches to tackle the challenges ahead. In 2021 and beyond.
As this is the last newsletter of the year, I thought it would be nice to thank some people. The risk with such lists is that they are never comprehensive, and some of the best people are not on the list. Thank you for reading my updates this year. Whether you’ve been a subscriber from the beginning or only the last week, I really appreciate your attention. Thanks a lot.
Also, I’d like to extend my gratitude to the people that worked with me in this crazy year. My direct colleagues at VISSCH+STAM and the team at Stichting 2030, our partners, friends, suppliers, clients, and all the others that made our work possible. Erik, Robin, Anton, Mirjam, Ina, Han, Roy, Gijs, Annika, Anna, Nanda, Michael, Meta, Erik, Merlijn, and everyone else. Thanks a lot.
If you’re interested in what we’ve done in the past year with Stichting 2030, you can find some of the highlights here.
Finally, I hope you have a quiet and safe end of the year and a prosperous start to the new one. Thanks once again, and see you in the new year!