Posted by: bluesyemre | September 9, 2022

Bring back the power of imagination and invest in ‘future time’

De Volkskrant, 07.09.2022 – When dealing with the crises that are facing the Netherlands today, we shouldn’t aim for recovery, but for transition. Meta Knol argues that every citizen needs to invest time to awake the sleeping activist inside them.

Translated by Boet de Willigen & Angel Perazzetta

This summer, during our holidays in France, the smell of burnt wood delighted our senses. In the darkness, far away, red fires raced along barren hills. What a sight. While hiking I saw shriveled blackberries hanging from bare branches. That hurt – those dried-up berries should have been juicy flavor bombs.

In the newspaper I read that, in more than a hundred French municipalities, faucets were running dry. And that rising energy costs mean that, in 2023, one in ten Dutch children risk growing up in poverty. On the radio I heard Werner Schouten talk about the ‘climate splits’: while market forces strive to induce young people to consume more and more, to travel far and to have fun, these young people also have to shape a sustainable future. No surprise that a quarter of our youth is experiencing psychological distress.

Actually, aren’t we all a bit tired? Do we suffer from some kind of collective burnout? Could it be that our system is broken?

This much is clear: we jump from crisis to crisis – covid, the climate, excessive nitrogen in the soil, mismanagement of refugees in Ter Apel, increasing gas costs, social disruption. We are too fat, we consume too much, our lives are too expensive, the planet is a mess.

We were going to talk about the future, right? Something needs to change. Right?

Welfare state

What I see us doing, in the cultural sector as well, and definitely in politics, is striving for recovery, for repair. We fight the crisis with the tools that caused it in the first place. How can we possibly be so oblivious, I ask myself. The welfare state is dead; long live the welfare state!

 What we need is real, fundamental change. Systemic change. Not trying to recover, but trying to transition. That can happen only if we keep our values very clearly in sight. Then we can make daring choices; then we can look at the future with openness, creativity and imagination, developing new collaborations built on trust, prioritizing the collective dimension over individual interests, and preserving the lives of future generations.

 But how can we make it happen?

 Feelings over rationality

Imagination sets a society in motion. It teaches you how to deal with change, it challenges you to look at reality with new eyes, it pushes you to put rationality aside and let your feelings speak, it makes it possible to feel what cannot be put into words, it encourages you to experiment. Art is the tuning-fork of the soul. Creativity opens up new perspectives.

 I have a proposal. We are all a bit tired, so we must cut down on the list of things we do anyway. Let us – both in the cultural sector and everywhere else – stop doing those things that sink us deeper in the systemic crisis: competition, control, rules, regulations, profit, growth and ambition. Let’s then convert all those hours that have been freed up into “imagination time”, into future-centric work, into research and development for the whole of society.

 We need to kiss awake the activist within us, because this is our chance to reinvent the wheel. What would happen if, from tomorrow, we all agreed to free up 5% of our time, attention and energy to invest in the future?

 A few dry calculations tell us what it would mean. Even just within the Dutch cultural-creative sector, we are talking about roughly 344.000 people. If they all invest 5% of their time – say, two hours a week – into the transition, that adds up to 36 million hours of “future time” per year. If you include the 550.000 cultural volunteers in the calculation, it turns out they can add a whopping 57 million hours.

 And the public? Just in the Netherlands, 175 million visits to museums and attendance to concerts, films and plays take place each year. Say they last 90 minutes on average, and that from now on 5% of that time is used differently. That would mean 13 million hours of future time.

 If our calculation extends to Dutch television audiences, things get really astonishing. The average Dutch eperson watches tv for three hours a day, approximately 20 hours a week. If they each spend one of those hours differently each week, we reach a total of over a billion hours of future time –, to be precise. That’s astronomical.

It’s not rocket science

A billion hours of future time. How can they be used? That’s not rocket science: instead of tossing things out, you can try to reuse those materials; you can arrange a vegetarian catering for your next event, or go out in nature with your colleagues, or stop flying; you can finally order those solar panels, or learn about sustainability; you can start a vegetable garden in your courtyard. You can try new things, think long-term – in short, you can put the future on your agenda in your daily life and at work. It can be that simple. What are we waiting for?

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