A commentary by Rafaela Mae David (YGC, 2019)
Contributions: Ana Alexieva, Rafaela David, Priyanka Kapar, Han Htoo Khant Paing, Alice Sparks (YGCs, 2019)
The failure of societies to build narratives of trust among and within people is at the center of social and economic exclusions. At the Global Solutions Summit 2019 in Berlin, much time was given to addressing the topic of narratives, and moreover, the urgent need for new ones.
Without trustworthy narratives, one can argue that social and economic exclusion will allow current regimes of power to thrive. Elites, both in the public and private sphere, partly derive their legitimacy from the maintenance, and sometimes in the manufacturing, of narratives reliant on segmentation and extreme competition. People are pit against one another based on race, class, religion, age, gender or even belief systems. Socio-cultural and economic differences are deliberately exploited to widen gaps and sow discord among different peoples and communities.
Narratives shape economic injustice
“Extreme inequality didn’t happen by accident. It happened by design,” said Ignacio Saiz from the Center for Economic and Social Rights in the recently concluded summit. “They happen because of deliberate policies, from regressive tax policies, to erosion of labor rights and suppression of work.”
Governed by narratives of extreme competition, globalization has only intensified divisions among workers who vie for limited jobs, while capital is increasingly mobile, influencing political and social outcomes, at both global and local levels, in favor of profit-generation and the creation of monopolies.
“People know how to fish. But they do not have access to tools for fishing. The rules of the game do not allow them the means to fish,” explained Chidi King of the Equality Department of International Trade Union Confederation.
The rise of nationalism and populism
These economic rules heighten a sense of insecurity that serves as fertile ground for ‘us’-and- ‘them’ narratives – narratives that more often than not lead to and reinforce other forms of exclusion.
The rise of nationalism and populism becomes the logical conclusion. As economic power is concentrated among a select few, so is political and social power. Political elites are diverting attention from existing economic exclusions, by fanning social exclusions, thereby creating social enemies from neighbors and fellow citizens, instead of arresting the unhampered access to wealth of their economic counterparts.
The social and cultural ‘other’ takes on various faces: Muslims, homeless people, women, migrants, people of color, among others. The ‘other’ is blamed for taking our jobs, and for corrupting the traditional values we hold dear. The economic and political elite become exempt from blame.
Establishing new narratives
The task ahead is to build counter narratives that prioritize human needs and put faith in people’s capacity for empathy.
We have institutionalized fear and greed in our systems, which are indeed very human things. But so are compassion and care, said Colm Kelly, Global Tax and Legal Services at consultancy PWC.
Dennis Snower, President of the Global Solutions Initiative, further highlighted that we must create “moral narratives supported by multi-level institutions of governance” that repurpose businesses and state institutions in service of social progress.
It is through such narratives of trust that we must weave new institutions, new realities and new rules of the game that foster solidarity and social justice. We need to design systems and spaces for cooperation and understanding, where civil society can thrive, and citizens are empowered to co-create local and global solutions for and with one another.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.