Since there is a lot of (social network) turmoil, where the loudest shouters do create a distorted impression that a majority would be in a revolutionary mode;
here is what Yuval Noah Harari has to say in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”
The end of history has been postponed
Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group and nation has its own tales and myths. But during the twentieth century the global elites in New York, London, Berlin and Moscow formulated three grand stories that claimed to explain the whole past and to predict the future of the entire world: the fascist story, the communist story, and the liberal story. The Second World War knocked out the fascist story, and from the late 1940s to the late 1980s the world became a battleground between just two stories: communism and liberalism. Then the communist story collapsed, and the liberal story remained the dominant guide to the human past and the indispensable manual for the future of the world – or so it seemed to the global elite.
The liberal story celebrates the value and power of liberty. It says that for thousands of years humankind lived under oppressive regimes which allowed people few political rights, economic opportunities or personal liberties, and which heavily restricted the movements of individuals, ideas and goods. But people fought for their freedom, and step by step, liberty gained ground. Democratic regimes took the place of brutal dictatorships. Free enterprise overcame economic restrictions. People learned to think for themselves and follow their hearts, instead of blindly obeying bigoted priests and hidebound traditions. Open roads, stout bridges and bustling airports replaced walls, moats and barbed-wire fences.
The liberal story acknowledges that not all is well in the world, and that there are still many hurdles to overcome. Much of our planet is dominated by tyrants, and even in the most liberal countries many citizens suffer from poverty, violence and oppression. But at least we know what we need to do in order to overcome these problems: give people more liberty. We need to protect human rights, to grant everybody the vote, to establish free markets, and to let individuals, ideas and goods move throughout the world as easily as possible. According to this liberal panacea – accepted, in slight variations, by George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike – if we just continue to liberalise and globalise our political and economic systems, we will produce peace and prosperity for all.
Countries that join this unstoppable march of progress will be rewarded with peace and prosperity sooner. Countries that try to resist the inevitable will suffer the consequences, until they too see the light, open their borders and liberalise their societies, their politics and their markets. It may take time, but eventually even North Korea, Iraq and El Salvador will look like Denmark or Iowa.
In the 1990s and 2000s this story became a global mantra. Many governments from Brazil to India adopted liberal recipes in an attempt to join the inexorable march of history. Those failing to do so seemed like fossils from a bygone era. In 1997 the US president Bill Clinton confidently rebuked the Chinese government that its refusal to liberalise Chinese politics puts it ‘on the wrong side of history’.
However, since the global financial crisis of 2008 people all over the world have become increasingly disillusioned with the liberal story. Walls and firewalls are back in vogue. Resistance to immigration and to trade agreements is mounting. Ostensibly democratic governments undermine the independence of the judiciary system, restrict the freedom of the press, and portray any opposition as treason. Strongmen in countries such as Turkey and Russia experiment with new types of illiberal democracies and downright dictatorships. Today, few would confidently declare that the Chinese Communist Party is on the wrong side of history.
The year 2016 – marked by the Brexit vote in Britain and the rise of Donald Trump in the United States – signified the moment when this tidal wave of disillusionment reached the core liberal states of western Europe and North America. Whereas a few years ago Americans and Europeans were still trying to liberalise Iraq and Libya at the point of the gun, many people in Kentucky and Yorkshire have now come to see the liberal vision as either undesirable or unattainable. Some discovered a liking for the old hierarchical world, and they just don’t want to give up their racial, national or gendered privileges. Others have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that liberalisation and globalisation are a huge racket empowering a tiny elite at the expense of the masses.
In 1938 humans were offered three global stories to choose from, in 1968 just two, in 1998 a single story seemed to prevail; in 2018 we are down to zero. No wonder that the liberal elites, who dominated much of the world in recent decades, have entered a state of shock and disorientation. To have one story is the most reassuring situation of all. Everything is perfectly clear. To be suddenly left without any story is terrifying. Nothing makes any sense. A bit like the Soviet elite in the 1980s, liberals don’t understand how history deviated from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism to interpret reality. Disorientation causes them to think in apocalyptic terms, as if the failure of history to come to its envisioned happy ending can only mean that it is hurtling towards Armageddon. Unable to conduct a reality check, the mind latches on to catastrophic scenarios. Like a person imagining that a bad headache signifies a terminal brain tumor, many liberals fear that Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump portend the end of human civilisation.
Whereas the major movements of the twentieth century all had a vision for the entire human species – be it global domination, revolution or liberation – Donald Trump offers no such thing. Just the opposite. His main message is that it’s not America’s job to formulate and promote any global vision. Similarly, the British Brexiteers barely have a plan for the future of the Disunited Kingdom – the future of Europe and of the world is far beyond their horizon. Most people who voted for Trump and Brexit didn’t reject the liberal package in its entirety – they lost faith mainly in its globalising part. They still believe in democracy, free markets, human rights and social responsibility, but they think these fine ideas can stop at the border. Indeed, they believe that in order to preserve liberty and prosperity in Yorkshire or Kentucky, it is best to build a wall on the border, and adopt illiberal policies towards foreigners.
Donald Trump coupled his calls for American isolationism with a promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ – as if the USA of the 1980s or 1950s was a perfect society that Americans should somehow recreate in the twenty-first century. The Brexiteers dream of making Britain an independent power, as if they were still living in the days of Queen Victoria and as if ‘splendid isolation’ were a viable policy for the era of the Internet and global warming.
During the 2016 US presidential race, the main reference to disruptive technology concerned Hillary Clinton’s email debacle,3 and despite all the talk about job losses, neither candidate addressed the potential impact of automation. Donald Trump warned voters that the Mexicans and Chinese will take their jobs, and that they should therefore build a wall on the Mexican border.4 He never warned voters that the algorithms will take their jobs, nor did he suggest building a firewall on the border with California.
We have no idea what the job market will look like in 2050. It is generally agreed that machine learning and robotics will change almost every line of work – from producing yoghurt to teaching yoga. However, there are conflicting views about the nature of the change and its imminence. Some believe that within a mere decade or two, billions of people will become economically redundant. Others maintain that even in the long run automation will keep generating new jobs and greater prosperity for all.
In my view the lest constructive way is to resort to an emotional stubbernness.
This is the consciousness of antiquated religions who hope to convince others of their belief. Those are:
- Throwing billions into maintainance of our obsolete capitalism
- Reviving an antiquated nationalism
- looking for someone to blame for the coronavirus (that can be done later)
- to deny the existance of
- climate change
- the coronavirus
- or the “rise of the machines” which will take our work
Not only does that gridlock ones position; it also literally violates everyone by destroying other’s health, environment or happiness.
But the most constructive way seems to me to face the music and to look for constructive ways out of this mess one step at the time.
- We have to protect ourselves from the coronavirus
- We have to look for a changed capitalism (such as universal basic income which would kill
- the bird of forced labour, which soon will be automated away anyway,
- as well as corona-unemployment in one go)
- When rebuilding our world, the new normal should not simply to revert to destructive old norms, but an environmentally friendly one.
- This is the chance for politicians without attacking the elite to simply not rescue environmentally unfriendly technologies (such as fossil fuel energies) anymore.
Overall, instead of this being a worrisome time,
this could turn out to be a kick starter for a brighter future for all of us.