How will we be living in 2041? In a series of six articles, we are painting a picture of the Netherlands of the future. How wealthy will we be then? How will we be living? How will we be working? How will we be consuming? How will we be spending our leisure time? In this episode we are wondering: How social will we still be by then?
How social will we be in 2041? Will we still have any consideration for each other? Or will individualization have progressed to the point that we have nothing left for a neighbor? Will there be such a thing as solidarity between rich and poor, old and young, fat and skinny, sick and healthy, man and woman, Dutch person and newcomer? In the media we read about a growing lack of understanding. About groups that are in stronger opposition against each other. Will it soon be every man for himself and shouters before all of us? Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, and especially in times of lockdown, according to the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP), we sometimes find it difficult to look beyond the boundaries of self-interest. Take volunteering at the community center or at the sports club. In Europe, we were ahead for a long time, with thirty percent of the Dutch being active as volunteers. In the midst of the lockdown, half of them indicate that they have less time for this. The number of people participating in demonstrations or joining movements has increased. The question is whether we are doing this out of solidarity with those in need or for own interests.
Is our willingness to selflessly do something for others diminishing? According to the SCP (Social and Cultural Planning Office) we are experiencing more hardening in society, but as yet no significant decline in solidarity.
And Trudie Knijn, emeritus professor of social sciences, does not see things in such a gloomy light either. “There are some things we currently can’t do as well for others, but we still seem to be aware of people with needs. Lonely elderly people, undocumented people, vulnerable young people. A charity like the Food Bank has been running at full capacity throughout the crisis.”
Solidarity with whom?
To reassure you in advance: no matter how self-centered we might be in 2041, there will always be such a thing as "passive solidarity”. We all pay taxes. With taxes, the government can put together support packages again during a new pandemic and enforce solidarity with lockdowns. And even if new plagues do not occur, the state will continue to redistribute wealth. The only question is: who gets what? “In a rich country like the Netherlands, the population has traditionally been in favor of social protection for the elderly, more so than for the sick and people with disabilities,” Professor of Social Policy at the University of Leuven Wim van Oorschot tells us. He is working on the question: who is entitled to what, in our eyes? According to him, our feelings of solidarity are even lower for the unemployed than for the sick and disabled. For the poor even lower and for immigrants even lower. Van Oorschot wants to say: not every needy person can count on the same degree of solidarity. In the eyes of the law, everyone is equal, but when it comes to the claim one makes on subsidies or the support people get from institutions or society, some are more equal than others. Widows more equal than divorced women, divorced mothers more equal than divorced fathers, workers with a permanent contract more than flex workers, families more than singles. “Our willingness to help others depends a lot on how we see that other person. And whether we can identify with that person’s needs.”
We judge a needy person's "worthiness to receive help” on five criteria. Control, attitude, reciprocity, identity and need. 'CARIN,' Van Oorschot's own term. We are more willing to help a needy person if we feel that he does not have himself to blame for being in needy circumstances, if the needy person is grateful instead of demanding, if the needy person gives something in return for the help received, if we can identify with the needy person ourselves, and if we think we can estimate the degree of need. “We are conditional cooperators,” van Oorschot says. “We contribute our fair share when we see that the other person is doing the same.”
Worthy of help
Conditional cooperators: I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine. How enduring is this conditional solidarity? Because lately even our solidarity with the elderly has been under pressure. If the elderly make demands on Old Age Security and pension or occupy a large house at the expense of young families, we see them less as "worthy of help". Young people think: those old people don’t have it so bad. They are squandering our money, eroding the foundation of the pension system. The "paradox of redistribution" is what the American sociologist Richard Coughlin calls this. Will solidarity as the basis for the pension system still be strong enough in 2041? And if we are already beginning to feel less solidarity for the elderly, what will be left for migrants? Is the welfare state only “for us”?
These are all difficult questions. This is another reason why we will gladly entrust solidarity to the government in 2041. It does regulate the supervision of the rights of vulnerable fellow citizens. It redistributes wealth. But we must be careful, warns Van Oorschot, that in doing so we also transfer solidarity “as a value” to anonymous institutions. To governments that stand between “donor” and “recipient”. Because as the feeling of gratitude disappears for the “recipient”, the sense of purpose disappears for the “donor”. Solidarity from communal pots can eventually undermine the legitimacy of the welfare state.”
Back to the original question: what will solidarity look like in 2041? More visibly socially engaged pension funds and other, previously anonymous institutions? A social service obligation for young people? Will the government hand out credit points and deductions to volunteers? Or will the business community lead the way? Or social enterprises that combine ideal and profit? Or will it come from within ourselves as the volunteer base ages and there is less volunteering action from young people? Are we going to rate and like each other at socials? In 2041, will we monitor each other's efforts? Will this move towards social control or coercion?
Trudie Knijn conducted European comparative research into people's motivation to join a solidarity initiative and already saw that we are not doing so badly in the Netherlands. Take the Food Bank. Both the volunteer and the end user are interested in the contact, in the exchange. The feeling of belonging to something. It is therefore important that we appreciate an initiator or volunteer and involve them in activities. Many charities date back to the 1990s, when the government left many gaps. They had to make do without support for a long time. Now they get subsidies, but in return they have to comply with procedures. Top down organized organizations. Demarcated tasks, red tape. Government organizations in disguise. That can repel people.
Can we learn anything from the social movements that the SCP thinks we want so badly? We have seen many examples of this on TV recently. Virus madness, farmers on tractors. Angry people standing up for themselves - but also cheerfully dressed climate protesters, Black Lives Matter and moving solidarity actions for nurses. Will we organize solidarity more like a movement on the way to 2041? It could well be, Knijn believes. “Movements strive for impact; their goal is a quick, lasting influence on society. Unlike charities, they are organized flat, from grass roots. There is more democracy and more freedom. Everyone has a say, and every contribution is valued. It gets to the heart of the social beings we will always be: we want to belong somewhere.”