Interview with Humanist Social Reformer Tony Robinson
Our humanity is facing one of the most profound challenges we have ever faced. We find ourselves in uncharted territory, as COVID-19 has put in question everything that we currently know and believe. In a few months the world has changed like never before and will continue to change drastically but in what direction?
Many people right now are working to push our societies forward and to drastically challenge “current neoliberal values.” Today we are speaking with humanist social reformer Tony Robinson who published, not long ago, an op-ed on Pressenza titled “Coronavirus: a doorway to the rebirth of human civilisation” How can you be so optimistic in front of this tragic situation?
I think the point is that we have a choice, we can be pessimistic or we can be optimistic. Being optimistic means that we have to see the positive things that are emerging and not worry about the old things that are dying. We are in a moment like at the end of the Second World War when it was evident that an entire system had collapsed and that it was not possible to go back to the old normal because it was precisely that old normal that was the problem. A huge re-distribution of wealth from rich to poor took place, a new central role for the state (in the west) emerged with the creation of healthcare services, education for all and financial security in old age. A new union of peoples from all over Europe emerged with the intention to eradicate war forever from our lands and this happened.
It is true that that redistribution of the 1940s has been rolled back since the 1980s with unbridled neo-liberal policies creating a pre-Second World War climate once more. Now covid-19 is making it clear once again that it is not possible to build a sustainable economy on the basis of money, profit and usury. So from the ashes of the devastated global economy if you look for the good things that can grow in the future, like the disarmament movements, the universal basic income networks, the #MeToo movements, and many more, you will see that there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.
In past few weeks you have worked, together with friends on 4 continents, on a letter urging the UN to change its direction and work following a “new paradigm” for the future of humanity. Could you tell us more about this new paradigm that you envision?
This paradigm can be simply stated as “human life as the central value of our society, in harmony with the environment and all other forms of life”. Our current paradigm is “money at all costs”. So we’re talking about a revolution of values. We are so conditioned by our culture and education systems to accept that usury, profit and speculation are all healthy activities, it’s like saying the sky is blue. It goes unquestioned. And our whole consciousness is clouded by that belief, by that myth. So this new paradigm, this new myth, if you like, has to be one that is sustainable for millions of generations of life on the planet. We’re not talking about policies for the next 5 year election cycle, we’re talking about building the foundations of a society that will last until we no longer have need for this planet. We will only make a society fit for ALL human beings to have a dignified life if we make that our paradigm. No other paradigm will work.
Here is a short paragraph from the letter: “We are writing to you encouraged by your welcome declarations regarding the establishment of a Universal Basic Income, a global ceasefire, Universal Health Coverage and the socio-economic effects of Covid-19 and believing that you could promote and drive forward global efforts to reshape the world we live in”. What should the UN be doing to respond to your request?
There are very few people in the world who have the political weight and authority to be able to start a discussion about redesigning the foundations of our society, the UN Secretary General is possibly the only one. The president of the United States would be another possibility, but that country has destroyed its standing in the international community to the point that everyone can now see that the USA is the most dangerous threat to our planet’s survival.
Antonio Gutteres has the ability to convene a new Bretton Woods Conference, let’s call it a Conference of the Peoples. But this time the conference isn’t a meeting of victors of war, it’s the representatives of the people, it’s academics, it’s representatives of social movements, of youth movements, of women’s movements, etc, etc. We need to give them all a place at the table in order to design the constitution for a new system of social organisation. The UNSG has the power to start this process, even though many countries will be resistant, but if the Secretary General can issue the call, the progressive forces of the planet will follow him, I’m sure.
You are looking for people to sign, support the letter, and build a campaign around these issues: A new economic system; Universal Unconditional Basic Income; Real Democracy; the elimination of nuclear weapons; the elimination of all polluting forms of energy; policies that favour the development of the world’s poorest regions; technological advances being made available to the whole world; independence and sovereignty for all non-autonomous territories; the full implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and a re-foundation of the United Nations. What do all these issues have in common?
All of this is simply the expression of the paradigm expressed above translated into the different areas of social activism. The list isn’t exhaustive either, and the call should not be seen as exclusive to those themes.
If we have to sit down together in one year, what will be the situation?
Honestly, I can imagine many scenarios. We are going into a critical moment. We think that covid-19 has affected us hard already? Wait until violence starts to be unleashed on the streets of Brazil, the USA, Russia, India the UK and other places because those governments haven’t been able to face the fact that the old world has died. We are going to be shocked by what we see. But, this shock will wake up the people of the world, just as the Second World War allowed people to wake up from the horrors they were experiencing and choose a different path. By necessity there will be peace and we will see that the outline of Universal Human Nation will start to take shape. The defenders of old system won’t like it, but when all belief in the old system has gone, it will be simple to build the foundations of the new system.
That’s what the situation will be like! Ask me again in one year!