We live in interesting times, as the apocryphal proverb has it. Or to clumsily paraphrase Hegel - periods of collective happiness are blank pages in the history books. I think we can wager that the ‘would-be-farcical-if-not-so-dangerous’ turns of the Trumpxit years will warrant a few pages in the early C21st chronicles.
Over the many years curating the RSA’s events programme, my colleagues and I have seen the world’s greatest thinkers and doers sketch a complex picture of humanity today. At times those thought leaders have provided real fodder for hope and change– at others they have issued dire warnings that feel alarminglyprophetic.
Optimistic writers like Steven Pinker analyse larger trends and point to undeniable human progress on a variety of different measures. We’ve never been healthier, wealthier or safer, and liberal doom-mongers are simply failing to attend to the data.
But within those large, reassuring trends are little blips, shudders and backward steps. Reasons not to be cheerful. Political analysts like YaschaMounk and David Runciman, and novelists like ElifSafak warn of the rise of populism and the perilously tenuous nature of democracy; politicians likeCaroline Lucas reminds us that climate change is not being addressed hard or fast enough; geographers like Danny Dorling and social epidemiologists likeKate Wilkinson and Richard Pickettshow how UK is one of the most unequal large countries in the western world;and campaigners likeLaura Bates like show how gender inequality persists and damages us all.
And as Rutger Bregman so persuasively outlined in our RSA Short, even if we accept the argument that we’ve ticked all the major boxes to secure fundamental human needs (and of course there are many – even in the most affluent cities in the western world – for whom life is still a struggle for basic survival); there is still space for radical ideas that could go beyond and guarantee our flourishing. Things can always be better. Imaginative, once-fringe concepts like a Universal Basic Income are increasingly entering the mainstream, and Obama’s recent seal of approval cements it even farther as a feasible way to reimagine our society’s principles. George Monbiot mentioned UBI, alongside many other fresh, innovative suggestions in his rousing talk a few weeks ago.
We need spaces and institutions where ideas like this can circulate and seed – now more than ever. The RSA’s free public events programme aims to do just that. And we need them in packages that are not alienating, or couched in impenetrable language, or indigestible to the people who really need them. And we need to be realistic and acknowledge the time people have spare in their hectic lives.
To that end, we’ve been working with our old friends at Cognitive on an exciting new animation project. Today we launch the first of a new, shorter series of whiteboard animations for busy people with a taste for world-changing ideas: RSA Minimates!
This inauguralRSA Minimate looks at an issue that truly unites us all – the value of sleep. In a society characterised by rapidly changing pace, rising pressures and shifting priorities, with public services increasingly under strain and mental health problems set to overtake ‘physical’ ones as the greatest disease burden of our times, attending to the quantity and quality of our sleep is more than just an individual concern. Who knows what solutions to global challenges we could conjure up if we only had some decent rest!
As my colleague Phoebe put it – if you could solve one of the greatest public health crises of our day without getting out of your pyjamas, would you do it?
Do take a minute and a half out of your day and watch (and share!) our very first RSA Minimate. Against the backdrop of our current political maelstrom it may seem too small to make a mark. But think of the mouse and the elephant, or the acorn, or the oft-quoted beating of a butterfly’s wings. From small things, big things grow….