New vulnerabilities

Il·lustració © Sonia Alins

We come from a time when we plausibly thought that, with preparation and effort, we could aspire to welfare without any upheaval. The 2008 crisis showed us that everything is much more fragile than we believed. It has dispelled the notion that progress is an upward curve, and many people who previously felt safe and with expectations for improvement now fear for their future. Nothing is certain. Added to the age-old social fissures are new vulnerability factors that are no longer relate to origin or social position, but to changing structural conditions that affect increasingly broader swathes of the population.

In his posthumous work, German sociologist Ulrich Beck argues that we are not only experiencing a period of change. The world is undergoing a true metamorphosis. The technology revolution and globalisation are bearing an impact across the board. Work is changing, as is the way we relate to one another, and the social contract that allowed the greatest leap in social welfare in history, is now in jeopardy. The outcome is that many more people feel vulnerable. The knowledge, individual effort and accomplishments we may have achieved do not protect us from certain global economic dynamics that tend to destroy social protection institutions.

As Remedios Zafra tells us, this new vulnerability even affects those that we could consider privileged, those that can demonstrate high standards of education and creativity. The impoverishment of the liberal professions, of artistic and cultural production and intellectual work breeds anguish and fear in many people, who no longer look to the future with confidence, but with fear, and who have to invest increasingly more time and energy in handling mere survival.

In the meantime, politics is backing down and is less and less able to influence factors that condition citizens’ lives. This triggers great frustration that, as Xavier Martínez Celorrio points out, can be harnessed by populisms to drive us, by politicians such as Donald Trump, into new recessions and a new world disorder. And they can do so through the deception and political manipulation they practise, but also through victims’ withdrawal. Because, as Quim Brugué explains, one of the effects of vulnerability is precisely less engagement and capacity to influence political decisions. The social ladder coming to a standstill affects us all, but it especially impacts those who, like young immigrants, accumulate various vulnerabilities. Under conditions of diminishing expectations and strong competition, it is more difficult to achieve inclusive societies that facilitate a sense of belonging and roots, as Mohamed El Amrani asserts.

Preparation and effort do not protect us either from new threats, like climate change, which have a global reach and affect the living conditions of millions and millions of people. As Yayo Herrero claims, the life of each one of us is unfeasible if we do not have a friendly environment in which to develop and a social network that welcomes us and protects us. If the balance with nature is disturbed and social contact is weakened, we are all more vulnerable. Even those who start out from conditions that, in principle, are favourable.

For social regression to be socially accepted, it needs to be presented as an unavoidable fact, like the logical consequence of dynamics and forces that cannot and should not be questioned. They are often concealed beneath cultural formulae that emphasise freedom over livelihood security and individualism over solidarity. The culture of entrepreneurship and extreme competitiveness is an example thereof. A society needs entrepreneurs, but not everyone can be or is in a position to become a leader, as María Palacín explains.

The changes are so fast and overwhelming that they negate the response capacity. As at so many other turning points in history, knowing where we are and where we are headed is the first requirement to be able to influence the course of events. This dossier seeks to contribute to this debate and deliberation.

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