Tim spent some time this week speaking to the Final Year class of Structural Engineering students at UCT ….. the Theme of my talk : “Toward a Multidisciplinary Approach to Design in the Built Environment.” – Perhaps you too may find this interesting.
This Piece first appeared in The Herald on 15 April 2020
I know that there are a great many people that are experiencing intense discomfort and suffering right now during this COVID 19 crisis. I, though, am in the very fortunate position to say that I am not one of them. I am not ill. My family and loved ones are all well. I am safe and I have enough bully beef and two-minute noodles in my kitchen cupboard to last me till the end of lockdown. (and probably a quite a little beyond) I have been very fortunate be able to continue working. You see, I was very lucky to be able to quickly relocate my little household to the flatlet at my sub-urban office. It’s actually very comfortable and it gives me the ability to be at “mission control” while my exceptional team have continued almost seamlessly to work from their rapidly established home offices via, VPN, Email and WhatsApp (and of course our new friend, Zoom)
Strangely though, I see that in spite of these longer working hours, (that “home office” arrangements tend to result in) I am finding much more time for reading, meditating and reflecting. I suppose it’s the simple nett effect of spending less time running up and down.
In fact, I was reflecting just this morning (over a luxuriously drawn out, yet mediocre, cup of coffee) how true it is that in times of crisis we come to see what is of value. To me it is clear as day that there is great value in remaining connected, in having loved ones to care for and to be cared for by and in having a curious mind. But there is also a whole list of things that I can now see that have no value and that I’ve been doing simply out of the force of habit and not because I’ve thought them through. In this list I include, meeting reps, commuting, mindless meetings, daily shopping and even my morning fix at Seattle Coffee shop! But in addition to the personal stuff, my mind begins to wonder about what it is that we have been doing habitually on political scale, that we can now begin to see makes no sense at all.
There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis is making it abundantly obvious that the world’s political systems are not designed (if they are designed at all) to be able to address any of the significant threats that face our species. As we speak, governments, presidents and sovereigns around the world are attempting to combat a global pandemic with political mechanisms and tools evolved to deal with the challenges and threats at a state level. This will simply not do!
From what I can gather, it seems that over the last 200 000 years or so, our species has formed itself into groups of varying size in order to deal with the prevailing threat of the time. In that way genes were passed down that gave the ability and inclination to function as a family unit where the duties of food gathering, child rearing and protection could be shared, thus warding of the ever present threat of starvation or attack. As time went on larger communities begun to make more sense. If the warlike clan across the river from you had 150 strong men, then you better be sure that you had 160 strong men in order not to be annihilated by them in times of scarcity. Historians tell us, that larger and larger competing political systems arose over the centuries so as to defend themselves against continually growing threats. This pattern has continued to the point where, by the time World War 2 came around, states had such large armies that they could (and did) cause the deaths of over 26 million people. It is the various parliaments, military councils and royal houses of the exact same type that engaged in World War 2, that, to this day, still take decisions that are meant guide our precious planet.
When I think of it, I struggle to find one single problem of any significance that our species is facing that is in fact not global in scale. Climate change is a global problem, nuclear proliferation is a global problem, human trafficking is a global problem, as are poverty, population, migration, water scarcity and habitat destruction.
The threats that we face as a species right now require that we take immediate action to move to the next logical step in political organisation. This is of course the incredibly complicated step of forming a new and overarching global government. This is where our energy should be focused. Debating and discussing what this kind of government should look like and what its powers should be. The discussion must start now, ahead of the next crisis, that we know will come and whose shape we know we are notoriously bad at predicting. We need to know that the conspiracy theorists, the flat earthers and the anti-vaxxer types will have a lot to say about a “return to colonialism” and the illuminati lizard people taking over. We will need to rationally and calmly weather this storm. Each of us will need to take to the streets (or to Twitter) and make our voices heard in what will surely be a brutal fight toward One World, with One Government.
We may, with time, come to see this pinnacle of all achievements as the lasting legacy of this terrible virus.
Facebook reminds me that I was in Korea two years ago today. (Thank you Mark). Sadly though we are no closer to building an International Convention Centre in PE today than we were then (nor sadly closer than we were in 2005 when the city first commissioned a business plan that gave the “green light” to build it.) Perhaps its time for the private sector to become more aggressive in insisting on this game changing project. Perhaps business leaders like Nomkhita Mona, Mkhuseli ‘Khusta’ Jack , Thembinkosi Matunda and Mandla Madwara will take the reins and bring our city to its rightful place in the world economy?