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The uncanny allure of the past

Written by Sabina Kadić-Mackenzie, partner
19 December 2020

The last few months have without a doubt changed the way we live our lives – the way we work, the way we shop and the way we interact with family, friends and colleagues.
 
Whilst unquestionably challenging for most, and of little consolation while we are still in the thick of it, the choices and changes we have all made, and even those forced upon us, have prompted new perspectives.
 
But what if we had chosen differently at the start of all of this? What would our world look like today? Who would we be? Should we care?
 
As we approach the end of the year, it’s only natural to reflect on what once was (even if some of us would wish to erase it from memory). But as we enter the annual ‘nostalgia frenzy’, it’s vital to keep one eye on the effect of focusing on the past during an uncertain present, not least on our mental wellbeing.
 
For the last nine months it seems we have been living in a permanent state of wistfulness. From knitting, to crochet, to the millions of loaves of bread from novice bakers, we have reverted to the safety of the ‘known’.
 
But it may be time to snap out of it.
 
As we near the end of 2020, we can and must, take lessons forward. But it’s time to put the endless contemplation about ‘before’ to bed and start focusing on what comes ‘after’.
 
This week we have compiled a great selection of reads that consider some of these themes. From the ghosts of inflations past to the lifting of the Brexit fog, we hope you enjoy the team’s choices this week.
 
Have a lovely weekend.

1. What if you could do it all over again?

What if you could do it all again? Would you? What would you change? In this piece, Joshua Rothman asks: what would have become of us if we had chosen different paths? While he acknowledges that most of us aren’t haunted so acutely by the people we might have been, perhaps for a morning or a month, our lives can still thrum with the knowledge that it could have been otherwise.
 
Read in The New Yorker.

2. Back to the future

Lockdowns are stressful because they create uncertainty, fear and social isolation, according to Professor Jane Ogden and Amelia Dennis. This piece explores why living in the future, rather than the past, is key to coping through difficult times, and ultimately surviving lockdown.
 
Read in The Conversation.

3. The ghosts of inflation past

What will come after? After the pandemic? After the vaccine? After we are all liberated from the tyranny of Zoom?  One suggestion is that exuberant, vaccinated consumers will go on a spending leading to shortage of supply and price increases. The Economist looks at inflations past to seek clues of what is to come…after.
 
Read in The Economist.

4. The Brexit tug-of-war

Brexit. We now face a rupture with our closest neighbours that only a small minority of a small majority would have supported back in 2016. So concludes former chancellor George Osborne on the prospects for a hard Brexit whatever the outcome of current deal negotiations. But in this short piece, his perspective on a whole lot more is laid bare and well worth considering. We regard him as one of the cleverest political strategists of his generation.
 
Read in Evening Standard.

5. How civilisation broke our brains

If we imagine that the 21st-century worker swings between two major modes of thinking – productivity mind and leisure mind – then more moments of ease must be what most of us want? This is far from the truth. In his review of Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, Derek Thompson delves into anthropology and modern psychology to trace the history of our modern productivity-driven mindset, ultimately concluding that “safeguarding leisure is work.” 

Read in The Atlantic.

And finally… It appears that some things never change

As a growing number of Covid-19 vaccines advance through clinical trials, wealthy countries are acting as they have always done, fuelling an extraordinary gap in access around the world. With little guarantee that any particular vaccine will come through, these countries are hedging their bets on a number of candidates and reserving enough doses to immunise their own populations multiple times over.
 
As a result, the outlook for most of the developing world is dire, with less wealthy nations facing severe shortages due to manufacturing limits.
 
Read in The New York Times.

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