Declan Kiberd, ‘Renaissance of past values key to better future’, in The Irish Times (21 Aug. 2010) [column].

[ Source: Scrapbook BS. ]

Things can only get better. The future is exhilarating to precisely the extent that it is unknowable. The way forward may be the way back.
 Who, 15 years ago, would have predicted that the DUP and Sinn Féin would be sharing power? Who, five years ago, would have foreseen the crisis in global banking?
 Sometimes, it’s good to bury the past so that a breakthrough is possible. On other occasions, it can be bad.
 If bankers had recalled the history of previous bubbles, we might not all feel currently so deprived of any sense of a future.
 Yet the present moment is the only proof we have that a future did once exist.
 The prophets in the Bible were neither historians nor foretellers - simply wise ones who saw so deeply into the realities of the present that the shape of the future became discernible.
 Some leaders of the Irish revival 100 years ago also saw themselves as prophets.
 They held that cultural and political change could lead to economic success. Their idea was good but the three elements were never synchronised.
 For many decades, lack of ready cash prevented citizens from making good ideas incarnate.
 By the time there was loads of money, circa 2000, most people had forgotten the values of the cultural and political revival which might have acted as an ethical brake.
 Young men made and dissolved fortunes at keyboards. However, they worked not in tandem with culture or politics but quite independently of them. They lived in an economy rather than a country. The Tiger years saw the collapse of a common culture.
 Fifty years earlier, secondary school leavers were formed individuals who would write commentaries on Hamlet, explain electricity and physics and communicate something in a second language. Pride in work was an extension of self-reliance. People made their own music. They provided, and expected children to provide, much of their own entertainment.
 Afterwards came a huge cultural shift as ideas of character were replaced by notions of personality. In the new economy, it was considered better if workers were tractable and loyalty to family or colleagues not too deep. Mobility from place to place was deemed preferable to stability and stillness. College courses began,to emphasise “transferable skills”.
 It became difficult for people to believe in lasting commitment because the economy which they confronted put such a premium on adaptability. beneath all the Tiger affluence was an
 undeclared insecurity. Few workers expected long-term contracts and many changedjobs almost yearly. Their risk-taking was not that of the classic entrepreneur but that of the fretful clerk; and they were, in consequence, all too easily laid off when the crunch came.
 In our maimed economy, employees (a little like Government Ministers) want only to “move on” in time to avoid the consequences of their own workplace decisions.
 If people lack cultural values in whose name to organise against recession, oppression or sheer bad luck, they feel without hope. At present, society seems leaderless. It may be, however, that we’re living through a transitional phase of bafflement, which will in time give way to analysis and resolute action.
 Every new technology - from railway to phone, steam engine to internet - has challenged social relations.
 In the early decades after each invention became current, predators amassed huge personal profits before governments learned how to regulate such businesses, bringing them into harmony with cultural and ethical goals.
 In the past, as the regulators gained control, they challenged the robber barons’ notions of unlimited economic growth with more social models of development.
 If institutions are to remake themselves, they must reverse the mistakes of recent decades. They must avoid top-down managing or the endless resort to hired consultants and listen instead to the experience of their own employees.
 If those employees stay longer with an organisation, their wisdom is increased. If their jobs are seen as part of their full identity as individuals, friends and members of a community, they are more likely to feel a sense of self-worth. And to be wholly accountable for the work that they do.
 That would, however, require a return to the values of craftsmanship, community and creativity which existed in the recent past. We should reimagine that past, if only so that we can remember a future.
 Sometimes, the next big thing is the world we have almost, but not quite, lost.

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