About the Paradigm Shift Created by the COVID Pandemic

A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous teaching we have received. When physicist Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept in 1962 he wanted people to think of a paradigm shift as change in one way of thinking to another. It doesn’t just happen, its driven by agents of change. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”. Paradigms structure our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments. Instead, anomalies accumulate and eventually advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practitioners of a new paradigm shift. Addressing the disparities and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic must be central to any approach to incorporating changes to the system. Progressives must become the agents of change 0f a new paradigm to alter the present way of doing things – to replace a system of minimal government and regulations.

Kuhn denied that science is constantly approaching the truth. Kuhn observed, “each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent … no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines…” In the 1970s the monetarists sought to resurrect the pre-Keynesian view that market economies are inherently stable in the absence of major unexpected fluctuations in the money supply. Because of this belief in the stability of the free market economics, active demand management (by increasing government spending) was believed unnecessary and indeed likely to be harmful. This paradigm did not solve all the problems it defines, for example, the failure of a pure monetary policy to stimulate the economy in 2001-2003. Instead of recognizing that a paradigmatic change is necessary in mainstream economics, the economic profession stubbornly sticks to their existing mathematical models.

Know your place – poetry after the Black Death reflected fear of social change. Contemporary moralists complained about those who rose above their allotted station in life and so in 1363 a law was passed that specified the food and dress that were appropriate for each social class. In line with such attitudes, Langland railed against the presumption of laborers who disdained day-old vegetables, bacon and cheap ale and instead demanded fresh meat, fish and fine ale. The Black Death altered the fundamental paradigm of European life that included socio-economic and religious belief and practice, unleashing the forces that made the Renaissance possible. The Renaissance yielded scholars the ability to read the scriptures in their original languages, and this in part stimulated the Protestant Reformation. The 16th century reformers considered the root of corruptions to be doctrinal rather than simply a matter of moral weakness or lack of ecclesiastical discipline.

Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. Kierkegaard made a distinction between objective and subjective truth. For Kierkegaard objective truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, corresponding with an independent reality. On the other hand, subjective truth seeks the achievement of the right attitude; an appropriate relation between object and knower. For Kierkegaard it was subjective truth that counts in life: how we believe is more important than what we believe. It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believed that human reason is rationalization, and truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view. Whatever man can make work in order to achieve his purposes becomes the truth in the system. There is no objective reality behind truth – different perspectives produce different truths. Nietzsche believes that science at its best keeps us in a simplified suitably constructed and suitably falsified world, and that the artificial world that concerns us is a fiction. Instead of using truth as the highest standard of value, Nietzsche argues, individuals need to develop their own powers of judgment and to produce ideas and ethics that will strengthen them and help them to live. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself.

Nietzsche claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Subjective thinking can be the basis for a paradigm shift. Although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete attention. Pope Francis commented on the pursuit of money and criticized inequalities and the excesses of capitalism, based on his sincere belief of the gospels of Jesus of the New Testament. The Pope noted that once greed for money drives the economic system, it sets people against each other and harms the common home (ecosystem). The Pope seeks the truth through subjective thinking.

Bernie Sanders attracted attention during the US presidential campaign by proposing a paradigm shift. Saunders pursues subjective truths to support change. He claims, “our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount [of wealth] back from the top 1 percent… move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all our people.” Sanders notes that erosion of collective bargaining rights over the last 40 years have created an economy that delivers maximum profit to the corporations. Fox News labels Bernie Sanders “too extreme”, but that is the result of filtering Sanders’ public policy through the lens of objectivity which supports the profit paradigm. “A lot of what the Green New Deal is, is about shifting our political, economic and social paradigm on every issue,” claims Osteo-Cortez. “Because we don’t have time to wait …. the climate crisis along with economic and social inequality are far too serious to ignore.”

The failure of the existing consumerist institutions and supporting dogma has put the health and economic viability of citizens throughout the world in jeopardy. More and more individuals are ready to support a paradigm shift – that includes an effort to concentrate all practical efforts to bring the greatest good to the most people (and other species) over the longest time by rethinking and redesigning production and consumption patterns. John Kenneth Galbraith remained optimistic about the ability of government to improve the lot of the less fortunate. “Let there be a coalition of the concerned,” he urged. “The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system.” The violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis cries out for a new model of democratic governance. However, we must not let laissez-faire apologists explain away various failures during the pandemic by the (false) existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Through the COVID-19 window we recognize the importance of returning to laws based on equality of the person rather than laws of the market. All writing and all science are socially constructed and therefore subject to bias. It is important to first describe any bias that is inherent in the argument, and second to seek to determine whether political biases have influenced the selection and interpretation of evidence. We should accept there is no objective truth, only a variety of subjective views developed through dialogue with others. The principles for determining how evidence has been appraised must be explicit and transparent, the means of taking account of bias must be clear, and the thresholds of acceptability which have been used to accept or reject evidence should be open to external scrutiny. Once one controls for bias, it is possible to achieve a paradigm shift by changing from objective thinking to subjective thinking.

The COVID pandemic is forcing us to redefine what and who we value, how we govern, whose opinions we listen to, how we view facts and science, and even our relationships. Much of society used to focus on status, power, wealth and celebrity. As Thomas Kuhn defined it in his seminal 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.” Where do we turn? “There is enough.” As Buckminster Fuller, futurist, famed architect, and creator of the geodesic dome said, there is enough of every resource for everyone on the planet; it’s just a matter of distribution. The coronavirus has upended the American way of life, influencing how we think, how we relate to others and what we value. While this makes us feel uncomfortable, we must not fear change. We need a paradigm shift to create a fundamental change in the distribution of wealth to address inequalities.

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