Sunday, 19 December 2010

Windmills, guns and the chattering classes

Perhaps good news is never truly news-worthy (after all, when is the last time you read a story with no dramatic twist?) and I admit I expected nothing less of a sober (if grim) comment of current affairs from my daily intake of The Economist. But after reading through this season's "World in 2011" I'm seriously starting to consider giving up my Internet connection and moving to a windmill in the Netherlands where I can sit by the fire and eat cheese, reading stories by dead white European men and never use newspapers for anything other than drying wood ever again.

The range of subjects included the usual suspects: the economy, business and finance, climate change and politics across the board from peace talks in the Middle East through to population growth, social mobility and the role of the state. Now, I understand that these are all complicated issues with no easy answer or quick resolution, but at the end of 158 pages of moral-killing, heart-breaking scaremongering on all things that are yet to go wrong I'm seriously starting to ponder whether I might not be better off if I stopped reading this publication altogether.

Economical news looks bad: not only are rich countries slow to recover from their 2009 recession, but there seems to be a consensual pessimism with regard to what might be in line for them at the end of such a recovery. The western world has lost faith in the system which has earned it most of its current wealth and we are now called to reinvent the way we do business so that it is more sustainable, scalable and robust than ever before. It's all too bad in that case that great ideas don't just conjure themselves out of thin air whenever you happen to need them the most.

Environmental issues are grimmer still. This decade just ended has been the warmest one on record and carbon emissions from feeding, cladding and sheltering an ever-growing population (the 7th billion person is expected to be counted this year) is nowhere near stabilizing, let alone being reduced. Here too we need a bunch of great new ideas that will allow green energy to become, if not economically competitive, at least economically feasible. Here too we're still waiting for the trillion dollar scientific discovery to make itself known.

Politics tops the list of difficult things becoming ever more difficult. The financial storm that's swept over the entire world leaving most public balance-sheets worryingly, well, out of balance, has officially ended the political honey-moon of the new millennium buzz-word: globalization. And the crunch has sharpened animosities: the young spite the old for leading the kind of 'all gain no pain' lives which will soon become fairy-tale, the private sector workers spite the public sector workers for doing far too many jobs no one needs and too many people pay for and the poor spite the rich because, well, their (promised) turn to riches never came.

Politicians are having to try to please even more people in order to get anything done, yet as all aspects of life are becoming more and more sophisticated it is less and less likely that this public they are reaching out to can be expected to attain the kind of informed decision that would allow them to vote in any sensible way. Under the pressure of a growing population and an increasing body of knowledge in all fields - democracy is beginning to show its limitations.

Finally, on social issues of all sorts we are still struggling to learn how to live together. Turns out that better communication links and cheaper transport coupled with a more closely intertwined trade market for businesses of all kind are not enough to make us like each other any more than we did before. Furthermore, the economic belt-tightening seems likely to make nations across the world less open to each other and less willing to collaborate. People like sharing, but only when they have a lot of something.

Censuses show that, as urban centres become more crowded and social liberties allow relationships to be more volatile, people everywhere are becoming lonelier and more anonymous. In trying to cope with the fast pace of change, some turn to religion. Yet, despite the present surge in fundamentalism and intolerance, it seems that the old Gods might not succeed in comforting their people as well as they once did for very much longer.

All in all, as economies and politics wobble, temperatures and tempers are rising and life security is falling across the world. How can one not feel overwhelmed by a sense of impending doom as the opportunities of going in pursuit of happiness look to be slipping ever more further out of reach?

Yet, despite all the bad news, we are still the best-off generation of people that has ever lived: we are better fed, serviced and educated, enjoy more freedom and social mobility and have longer and more interesting lives than any of our ancestors ever before and as far back as we can (collectively) remember.

Well done us!




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1 comment:

  1. Don't stop reading the economist, but do start reading scientific journals which provide us with almost daily small, but significant altogether, discoveries. That way you'll start asking questions about what is economically potent and what is not, and is this potency worth the impending ecological doom. Capitalism has had its way with us, for the past couple of years we have seen and felt its "pimp slap" across our fat middle class dreaming faces. It is not democracy that is failing us, nor the fact that the average skin pigmentation has slipped well below the white line, hell, not even the gods have anything to do with it. The greed of global banks and corporations is the main cause coupled of course with our stubbornness to not start asking ourselves why the 2nd rule of thermodynamics doesn't also apply to the monetary system. After all no one can deny that matter of all shapes sizes and color has abided to this one rule even from the creation of the universe itself, it's only typically arrogant of humans to think of themselves as the creators of a system which gives you back more then it has.

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