FRI 19 - 10 - 2018
Date: Nov 8, 2017
Source: The Daily Star
Reaching sustainability under volatility
Dima El-Hassan

We are living in surprising and increasingly unpredictable times. As the world develops, unexpected challenges keep emerging, impeding the ordinary flow of life. Climate change, poverty, crises, wars, terrorism, injustice are all signs of failures and/or defiance to human sustainability.

Humanity has been evolving since its inception toward reaching sustainability. In this regard, sustainability is for the human rather than for development. Development is just a cure, which means it should only be a temporary phase to reach human sustainability. Its goal is rather to ensure a good ecosystem that creates the adequate environment for human sustainability.

What we are doing today is sustaining development rather than humanity that is the original purpose of sustainability. We are creating systems and organs that keep us ill, in continuous need for development, unable to move toward prosperity and sustainability. And here social sustainability is more challenging and complex than environmental and economic sustainability, which usually have a predictable flow of causes and effects. Social sustainability, which comprises all human activities that help create healthy and livable communities, ones that are “equitable, diverse, connected and democratic,” seems hard to reach in the present time given the surprisingly unpredictable flow of events and obstacles.

To reach sustainability we have to have a certain stability, or at least a consistent flow of evolution in our life. However, amid the ambiguity and uncertainty in today’s world, especially in the last decade, no one can predict the consequences of events nor their impact on societies and states. Consequently, we cannot secure our sustainability in a structured, “planned way” as our ancestors may have done. This leads us to question which nations or systems are able to survive the chaos and effectively handle disorder, i.e. which nations are fragile and which are not. And here I recall the triad of the famous author Nassim Taleb in his book “Antifragile,” in which nations are categorized as fragile, robust or “antifragile.”

The difference between each occurs when exposed to volatility, our present life challenge. “Fragile things are exposed to volatility, robust things resist it, antifragile benefit from it.” This is very true in today’s world. And here if we want to reach sustainability, we need to become antifragile, since antifragile systems “get stronger when unexpected, volatile events happen.” And the first step to do so is to decrease the downside of things rather than to increase the upside, decrease the mistakes and losses before increasing the gains.

Taleb links fragility to five indicators: a concentrated decision-making system, an absence of economic diversity, a high level of debt and leverage, a lack of political variability and/or, finally, a lack of record of surviving big shocks.

These markers measure the level of fragility a certain state has and ultimately predict, in a way, how unpredictable events will affect or shake a certain nation.

Given this, Lebanon seems to be in a deeply critical situation, and collaboration is needed more than ever. As Taleb has said: “The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations. Remember that food would not have a taste if it weren’t for hunger; results are meaningless without effort, joy without sadness, convictions without uncertainty, and an ethical life isn’t so when stripped of personal risks.”

I finally say Lebanon is and will always be alive, given all the shocks and the aftershocks it has being going through.

Dima El-Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 08, 2017, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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