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Smoldering Fires

January 2, 2020 by Twan van de Kerkhof

Western societies may prosper but they are threatened by fires that are smoldering below the surface. We need a more active and more integral way to govern our societies based on a strong vision, writes Kim Putters in his book Veenbrand. Putters is the director of the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Agency (SCP) and according to the newspaper De Volkskrant the most powerful man of the Netherlands. He calls for a more inclusive society.

Our ways of working, learning, caring and living together are changing fundamentally, Putters writes, but politicians are failing to provide a coherent response. Citizens cry out for a vision for the future. Putters says that Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, is wrong when he refers people asking for vision to an ophthalmologist.

Putters distinguishes four smoldering issues. The first is focusing too much on economic growth, neglecting social discomfort and inequality. The second is life-long learning, also on how to connect to society. The third is social inequality between people who can and cannot find their way in the systems. The fourth is the eroding social contract into which we are born and that defines our trust in the rule of law and our willingness to compromise and find shared values.

Putters provides an adequate analysis of the smoldering anger, friction and discomfort that is experienced by many citizens in affluent societies. The urgency of his call is somewhat diminished by the fact that the book is composed of columns published between 2015 and 2019, held together by a new introduction and epilogue. Readers need to draw their own conclusions because Putters is nuanced, sometimes implicit, sometimes asking more questions than providing answers. Nevertheless, this book helps to raise important questions about the societies in which we live.