Cutting Through the Chaos: The Hope for Our Future | A World on the Brink

Dee Smith: In the previous episodes of A World
On the Brink, we’ve looked at some of the dramatic changes taking place in our world,
we’ve examined the potential collapse of systems of world order, the wrenching transformations
of globalization, and the intense reactions against them. And we’ve looked at the rise of extremism,
populism, nativism, and nationalism. Considering the vast array of threats that
are quickly escalating, and our increasing vulnerability, it really does seem that we
are living in a world on the brink– but on the brink of what? That is the question I want to explore in
this final episode. To try to understand what’s happening, we
have to ask the question, what happens when life stops making sense? The anthropologist David Friedel has an intriguing
idea. Wherever you live, you will see national symbols,
institutions, large government buildings. You’ll hear histories and tales of the past. Together, all of these present a grand storyline
that explains why things are the way they are. Friedel believes the underlying purpose of
all this is to give us a way to organize our lives that can make sense. It can make sense because it gives us an explanation
that matches the circumstances we find ourselves in, and gives us a reason why we are living
life the way we are. But then, over time, conditions always change,
so the reality people experience drifts farther and farther away from the storyline. The more apparent this drift becomes, the
harder the storyline is to believe. And when the difference becomes big enough,
you have a crisis. Not only does life stop making sense, it stops
working– at least for some. And naturally, they lose faith in their system. But what happens when enough people lose faith
in the system? Friedel says there are three responses. A society can just collapse, as happened with
the fall of the Soviet Union. Or a society can transform– it can change
into something truly new, with new ideas and new rules. The Westphalian Order, the birth of the modern
nation state in the 17th century, is an example of successful transformation. Or it can try to turn the clock back. You could call it “snapback”– rewinding to
a previous period that makes more sense, one we have convinced ourselves was a happier
or better moment in our history. But the problem with taking a trip back in
time is that the past we think we remember is more often than not an allusion, and wrenching
the present back to the past is not really possible in any case, so snapback is never
successful for long. And yet, is this turning the clock back what
many societies are trying to do right now? One strong indicator of this would be social
de-cohesion. When a society is unable to find a shared
space of social beliefs and political discourse, and when people no longer believe the same
defining stories, societies split apart as people move towards the edges. Is this something we can see happening in
our world today? Mohamad Bazzi: I think we can see and argue
for a global trend of de-cohesion– both in the West and Western democracies in places
like the United States, and also in countries like Turkey and other parts of the Middle
East and other parts of the global South, where people are getting very hardened into
their political ideologies and into the systems and parties that emerge around these ideologies. And part of those movements have emerged as
a response to globalization, and as a response to some of the income inequity that has emerged
as a result of globalization, and the sense of being left behind, and the feeling of being
left behind in the grander global wealth that has emerged out of globalization. James Holifield: The anger that is pushing
societies apart, the centrifugal forces, that is always there. It’s always a tension in every society. And societies do go through cycles where they
have periods where you’ve got stability and the centripetal forces are stronger than the
centrifugal forces. So this is sort of a natural dynamic I think
you see in any society, in any economy. Robert Jordan: I think the anger comes from,
again, a sense of alienation, a sense of powerlessness. MB: I think this de-cohesion is more difficult
to deal with in countries and places that have weaker democratic and social institutions
that can be a counterweight to the populist movements that emerge. In places where you don’t how strong separate
institutions of law and separate institutions that enforce that kind of rule of law, autocratic
leaders– we’ve seen this in quite a few places– autocratic leaders can amass power much more
quickly and can weaken institutions in devastating ways. Part of the cause of this, I think, is the
popularity and emergence of quite strong populist movements. Scott Malcomson: In a lot of countries, you
do see a kind of centrifugal process where countries seem to be splitting apart. For example, France. The French electorate seemed, in the last
election– most recent election in 2017– seemed to be profoundly divided. And there were– some of whom felt very strongly
that France had to be in the European Union, that it needed the euro, and so on. And you had others who thought, no, we should
just abandon this entire thing, nobody outside France has our interests at heart, we need
to somehow separate and corral ourselves and defend our country. These are two very, very different views. I think the centrifugal part is that you have
a significant chunk of the population in developing, as well as developed, countries that sees
itself as depending for its prosperity and its social status on successful insertion
into a political economy that exists globally, that is beyond its boundaries. And that’s what we sometimes call globalization. You have another part of the population that
sees that whatever happens with globalization, it’s not likely to benefit them, that in fact,
their role in this world system that they see is one of essentially being abandoned
or being sort of continuing to not earn wages any higher than the wages they presently earn. And it’s a class split, but it’s not a class
split like any class split that we’ve seen before. I mean, globalization has some precedents,
but the degree to which the mobility of financial capital makes it possible and technology makes
it possible to divide up the supply chain for corporations– the implication of that
is that you can have an international class and, essentially, a kind of captive lower
class in the same country, whose relationship to the world and whose relationship to the
nation in which they both are, those relationships are completely different, and even at cross-purposes. And I think that’s the root of the kind of
centrifugal tendency that you see in poor and rich countries alike. DS: The idea of a social contract is key. “Social contract” is a term for the promises
that a state makes to individuals to justify its authority over them. It is what gives the state legitimacy in the
eyes of those it governs. And more than that, it is the acquiescence
to the social contract that makes a society governable. Without it, society breaks down into tribal,
combative groups, each out for their own interests. RJ: A sense of a social contract that has
not been kept by the figures in authority. And perhaps some of the anger also comes,
simply, from the increasingly fast-paced crowded nature of our societies. It’s difficult to manage in a densely-populated
area. It’s difficult when you have economic stresses,
when your job situation is, perhaps, being overtaken by technology. I think there are a lot of reasons why this
anger seems to be bubbling up. Stewart Patrick: So I think a lot of the sense
of frustration and anger that leads to populist reactions and just a sense of revolt around
the world is this belief that institutions simply aren’t delivering anymore, and that
there’s very little that you can count on to make sure that your life can be prosperous
enough and peaceful enough and that you’ll get a fair shake. And that’s something that has transcended
just one part of the world to basically encompass many parts of the world. Edward Alden: I actually don’t think that
everyone’s angry. I think that there are real divisions. I think there are people who see themselves,
maybe not fully consciously, as winners and a lot of people who see themselves as losers. DS: Wave upon wave of technological change
over the last half-century has transformed the human social environment beyond all recognition. But another change is at least as important,
the stunning growth of the human population. To really understand current events, we need
to look at the convergence between the growth in population and the growth of technology. Professor Lord Rober Mair: We have a major,
major population problem. We’re heading for probably about 9 billion
people by about 2050. This is a huge, huge increase in the last
100 years. And the most significant factor is that the
urbanization of our population has become really very acute. In 2050, it means about 6 billion people will
be living in cities, whereas in 1950, only about 1 billion people lived in cities. MB: Technology is playing some role in this
de-cohesion that we’re seeing across the world. Actually, it’s playing a detrimental role
in many societies because of the way that some institutions and some groups have been
able to leverage social media, both initially as a force for good in some ways– as a force
for social organization, as a way to get people out to protest– and we saw this a little
bit at the beginning of the Arab revolutions in late 2010 and early 2011. But then, over the last four or five years,
we’ve seen a much darker side to the strength of this technology, and certainly to the impact
of social media. Jeremi Suri: I think a lot of the de-cohesion
we’re seeing in the world is actually driven more by a revolt people are having against
the loss of control in their lives. And I think what we’re seeing with social
media and other forms of communication is that it’s accentuating that, and it’s crowding
out other voices. So one way of thinking about this is those
living in non-urban areas around the world are probably hearing and saying more that’s
about disintegration with the world today, but yet their lives are getting more integrated
everyday. There will soon be a point where people in
rural areas are not even eating the stuff they grow, right? So they’re becoming more integrated than they
ever have before, but the language– what they hear– is actually less integrated. And that’s where the communications media
runs against, perhaps, the reality of economic change. Christian Michel: I think people are angry
today because they feel, they perceive that there is a disconnection between where the
elite are trying to bring them to and where they are. Change is painful. The anger of people around the world is that
they feel that this change is going too fast, is uprooting them from their traditions and
with too many foreign influences that is changing their cultures, that is destroying their cultures. Virginia Gerrard: When you’re old community
is broken up by immigration, both internally and domestically, and by all kinds of changes. It’s a technological change, more than anything
else, and rise of globalization. By the same token, people don’t like it. And so they revert to old forms and old familiarities. JS: The miniaturization and increasing speed
of communication. In 1997, people were not carrying devices
in their pockets that exposed them to the kind of information with the rapidity with
which that happens today. And we live in a world of Twitter now. No one knew what Twitter was. JH: But these changes come very, very fast. So trying to help manage those kind of changes
very, very difficult to do. And you know the aftermath of the process
of industrialization in Europe, you could say, gave us two world wars– certainly the
first World War was a conseq– that’s a cautionary tale. When you have that kind of rapid change going
on in societies, if it is not managed well, it can lead to big instability. JS: The expression of local identities– this
is nationalism in some cases, religion, ethnic identities. It’s a more hyper-nationalist, hyper-populist
moment, even as it’s more global. Roderick Grierson: I think the complexity
of the modern world, coupled with the speed with which that complexity is becoming ever
more complex, is simply overwhelming. And I think there is a point at which the
speed simply becomes bewildering. Now, one could say, I suppose, quite reasonably
that it’s only those of a certain age who are finding it overwhelming. And surely the young must not be. But any conversation I have with anyone in
their 20s or 30s suggests that everyone is finding it bewildering, that it’s been great
to see technology move so quickly, but surely there begins to become a time at which it
seems so transformative, so disruptive that it’s threatening and it’s disturbing. And I think we’ve reached that point. DS: But there are groups who think that the
unmediated growth of technology is a good idea, and that even the political and social
upheaval this brings are valuable. They believe that digital technology will
unlock human potential, and even that humans and machines will merge in the future and
that any attempt to control technology should be resisted. To a large extent, we have followed their
lead. But why have we all been willing to embrace
the emergence of encroaching technology so uncritically and so enthusiastically? SM: In terms of the connectivity revolution,
as it’s sometimes called, there are a lot of things going on, but I would really single
out two. The first is that it becomes possible to have
a fairly fulfilling life online without meeting anyone you don’t want to meet. And so that aspect of life where you encounter
different views, even if you live in a big city, can be reduced technologically. I don’t think of that so much as communities
building through technology, I think of it more as people self-isolating through technology. The other big aspect, to me, of the connectivity
revolution is that you’re able to employ– even as an individual, but certainly as a
company– you’re able to employ people very far away whose lives you have no idea about
do something for you. There’s the disaggregation of capital and
labor, which is to say you can have a company based here that has back offices in Mumbai
and whatever else. The result of this is to feed, again, this
process of centrifugal splitting apart of countries, because if you’re an affluent person,
you’re kind of jacked in more or less successfully into a globalized economy. The relationship between what you have and
how you live and how other people live is broken, or it’s so attenuated and it’s so
multiple you don’t even know where the information comes from. You don’t know why the check clears. You don’t know any of it. You don’t know who does it. You don’t go to the bank. You don’t go to the teller. There’s no– the connection with your– the
physical connection and just pure connection with most of your community is just dissipated
and kind of floats away. DS: In today’s society, we are seeing a profound
change in behavior. As social media and other manifestations of
the hyper-connectivity revolution echo through society, human interaction– at least in the
real physical world- – is decreasing. Are we seeing the rise of a technological
alienation, which is profoundly affecting the way we think and feel, and which is driving
us further toward social de-cohesion? SP: One of the most surprising things about
the early 21st century is the re-emergence and resilience of tribalism, as well as nationalism. But if you look around the world, in a remarkable
number of places, these sort of atavistic, instinctual views of differentiation– in
other words, of the other– that we belong to this group, and that other group over there
is trying to get the best of us, or isn’t as good as we are, or deserves to be persecuted. One shouldn’t be surprised at this, perhaps,
because there are elements of human nature that allow you to actually psychologically
go down that route. But this isn’t deterministic. It’s happening, not for one reason, but for
different reasons in different places. So in some cases, it has to do with the division
of the spoils, or dealing with scarcity where there’s not enough room for all of us. And one can see the scarcity thing play out
when fisheries are depleted, for instance, off the East African coast. MB: Where you have news that’s often tailored
to reinforce your preconceived notions about the world, and you almost– the mechanisms
of social media will shut you out from seeing much else that would contradict to your world
view. And so on personal levels, it begins to have
a multiplying effect, as more and more people become hardened in their ideological view
of the world, because they’re also reading and seeing material that’s enforcing that
to a large extent. DS: The emergence of complex society and civilization
is a very recent development, and people forget that humans have been tribal for the vast
majority of our existence. But how innate is that tribalism? Is it, perhaps, simply part of human nature? Constructivists would disagree. SP: At the international level, what constructivists
argue is that we are not fated either to have conflict, as realists would say, or cooperation,
as a lot of liberals would say, but it depends on how countries engage with one another. You can build up international norms– that
is, ideas about what countries should do– and that those will, in fact, influence what
countries do do in the end. So that, from a constructivist point of view,
the idea of trying to dissociate a foreign policy based on interests, versus one based
on ideals and values, is something that isn’t really a smart thing to do, because that’s
not the way humans behave. Humans behave not only in terms of what the
consequences of their actions might be, they also behave according to what’s the appropriateness
of their actions. And both of those logics you have to take
into consideration in thinking, how is what I’m going to do to influence how others behave,
and what should the motivations that I have be? Constructivism is a term of art that political
scientists use to describe a view of the world and a view of foreign policy decisions. The idea behind constructivism is that it
countries don’t simply follow interests, they also follow rules and play roles. The idea here is that a country’s culture,
its historical heritage, its values are intrinsically important in the way that actually sees the
world and the way that it actually implements its policies. DS: Whether you use the term “human nature,”
it does seem that there are certain shared characteristics to about being human that
manifests across many societies. But the constructivist view, that societies
act in different ways based on their backgrounds, is also a key insight. For example, a concept like social equality
is a construct, and one that has become a paramount virtue due to the spread of liberal
values. Despite this, social equality does not exist
everywhere, and in fact, may not become more prevalent in the future. And these kinds of divisions create real problems. Godrie Greig: Some of the main difficulties
ahead are going to be the inequality of income, which has been a process of worry for many
of our readers of my newspaper. When you’ve got the head of a bank earning
20 to 30 million pounds, and the lowest employee is earning less than 20,000 GB, and the bank
then screws up, runs into debt, almost no one gets fired, there is an element where
people think, this is not just. Because if you were a small guy and you screw
up, guess what? You get fired. VG: Latin America has a lot to teach us about
inequality and social division, I believe. It’s an area of the world that has always
had serious fissures between the haves and the have-nots. The rich and powerful were supposed to govern. It’s that Thomistic idea of society that you
have the head of the body and everyone plays their role, and then the body of society is
well-served. But it means that some people have exalted
positions in society and other people do not. But everyone is part of this corpus of society. In the colonial system, there was, ideally,
a sense of responsibility on the part of the rich and powerful to look out for their vassals. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t,
but that was the premise behind it. And that way of thinking has never gone away
completely in Latin America. –the United States. We have tremendous divisions in society, but
we like to pretend that we don’t. I mean, increasingly, we do talk about the
top 2% or the top 1%. But we, historically, have thought of ourselves
as a middle class country, whether we were or whether we were not. That’s not, historically, a value in Latin
America. EA: If I had to point to one factor, though,
I would probably point to really rising inequality in the United States. I mean, the United States is a real paradox
today, because you’ve got by far the most successful companies in the world– Facebook,
and Google, and Amazon, Microsoft, Intel. I mean, the Europeans, the Asians, every part
of the world is jealous of the success of US corporate titans. You’ve got the best universities in the world,
by any considerable measure. You’ve got a United States that still attracts
the lion’s share of the best and brightest immigrants. And yet, if you look at the median wage in
the United States, or median family income over the last two decades, it’s barely budged
at all. And a lot of parts of the country, particularly
away from the coast, still really feel like they’ve never climbed out of the recession
that was triggered by the collapse of housing in 2008. So I think it’s this very deep inequality
growing division between the prosperous parts of the country and the less prosperous parts
of the country. I think that’s really what’s driving the loss
of American self-confidence. The US is not alone. You’ve seen it rise in other parts of the
world, the UK most particularly, but even in Europe. So I think some of it is just the nature of
a winner-take-all economy. DS: As a final set of indicators, we need
to look at the failures of leadership that are increasingly evident around the world. Democracy is in trouble. Even in the US and Europe, the birthplace
of modern democracy, it appears to have become rigid and unresponsive. The system we have seems unable to cope with
populations that are almost evenly divided on policy issues, but where a narrow majority
rules. This is called majoritarianism, and it seems
to be producing more, rather than less, social division. Andrew Solomon: I think there is a tendency,
some of the time, to think, if we could only get a majority to vote, justice would ensue. But often, a self-interested majority wants
to oppress the people who are not in that majority, and their wish to oppress those
people can be very dangerous and does not create a fair and just society. Democracy is complicated. I mean, we have the elaborate systems of government
we have, rather than, simply, a popular vote for a dictator, precisely because democracy
is so complicated. I don’t think people have yet worked out how
to ensure that democracy functions in this time. JS: So there is this myth, I think, that the
world once operated where power-seeking countries and entities and nothing else mattered. That’s imagined. I’m a historian. That world never existed. Ideas have always mattered. Visions of utopia have always mattered. Legitimacy– Henry Kissinger writes about
this in all his work– legitimacy has always been as important as power. Power and legitimacy go hand-in-hand. Ideas of democracy are becoming much less
simple than they might have been. So I think, around the world, you’re seeing
more participation, not less, in politics. But it’s not operating always in a liberal,
democratic way. What you see in Turkey, with Erdogan, is actually
participatory politics. It’s not a return to a non-participatory moment. And visions of Islam, visions of Turkey matter
enormously in that context. But they don’t always produce the liberal,
democratic outcomes that Americans thought they would. I think many are observing, correctly, that
we’re at a crossroads in democratic theory and democratic practice– which is to say,
many of the stabilities, many of the assumptions of how democracies operate don’t seem to be
working today. RJ: I think we’re seeing a sense of majoritarianism
in many parts of the world, including our own. We’re seeing a lack of respect for those on
the other side of the aisle. Some of it, I think, is old-fashioned tribalism. It’s sort of the shirts and the skins, or
the reds and the blues. And what you stand for doesn’t matter as much
as what you are against. And so if you are successful in an election,
for example, you give very little attention to the opinions or the rights of others. DS: Is it democracy itself that is failing,
or is it that the divisive tendencies in modern societies are creating conditions in which
it is impossible for democracy in its current forms to function, or is it that, for some
reason, we are now producing and electing very poor leaders? JS: I think we are doing a very poor job of
choosing leaders globally, for a variety of reasons. First of all, the nature of leadership has
changed. The world we’re operating in requires different
leadership skills, and we haven’t adjusted our thinking. In many countries, we’re looking for the leader
of yesterday to deal with the problems of tomorrow. SP: Democracy has gotten a bad name in recent
years. It’s been in retreat over the past decade. In fact, Freedom House recently said that
freedom in the world had declined for the 11th straight year, which is the most that
they had ever recorded. I think that the decline in democracy and
the growing skepticism of democracy reflects a number of things. One is a growing public dissatisfaction with
the ability of democracy to actually deliver– to deliver for people, particularly to deliver
a profound change at a time when people are feeling very dislocated, and there’s a sense
that even if you throw the bums out, you’re just going to get a new set of bums in. There are a number of different dynamics at
play, and they’re different in different countries. In some cases, there is a sense that the elected
representatives are quickly captured by vested interests. JS: Leaders don’t just come out of nowhere. We haven’t had a serious discussion about
how we create feeder systems for leaders, right? We built so many of our countries– particularly
in Northeast Asia, Europe, and the United States– have built on the accumulated capital
of a generation of leaders that were trained after World War II. And we haven’t replenished that capital. We have schools that talk about leadership,
but they’re really not creating that feeder capital. EA: I mean, I think the biggest governance
challenges are actually effectiveness. I mean, there are an enormous array of problems
that need, at least in part, government solutions. And governments, just for a variety of reasons,
I think are losing that confidence. I pay closer attention to the United States
and Europe, but here you really do see a protracted crisis of public confidence. People do not believe that governments are
able to deliver in responding to these challenges. And I think we’re growing more and more cynical
as a result. RJ: We’ve seen, particularly in modern history,
many policy decisions that have turned out to be just horrendously bad in hindsight. And I think part of it is governments and
administrations start believing their own publicity, and they start believing that they
are infallible, that they have superior knowledge, and they don’t really listen to contrarian
views. And so once a policy is adopted, it’s very
hard to turn it off at the last minute. We also have, I think, cultural biases. And so we have, I think, a tendency to believe
that the rest of the world is like us, is created in our image, and is simply waiting
for us to liberate them so that they can adopt our values. SP: In other places, there are demagogic,
manipulative leaders who have basically said to themselves that the easiest way to consolidate
their power is to demonize others around the world. This divisiveness has been exacerbated by
the reality that communities, often very close to each other and sometimes intermingled,
have different religions. JS: And then I think the most important thing,
and this is particularly true for the advanced democracies, we have not adjusted our institutions,
so we set up leaders to fail. We fetishize the old institutions, rather
than thinking about how they evolve. Political leadership is like business leadership,
it evolves with generations. And we haven’t had that discussion DS: History
has shown us time and time again that when people lose faith in their governments they
turn to strongman leaders. These leaders, like father figures, promise
to take care of us, to make us feel better, and to take the burden of improving things
onto themselves. But it is a Faustian bargain. Authoritarian leaders bring more extreme political
doctrine, and in most cases, rising corruption. VG: Latin America has a lot to teach us about
the rise of strongman. –general, in a lot of ways, are attracted
by the man on horseback, the strongman, because they feel like he– and it usually is a he,
occasionally there is a she, but generally it’s a man– can get things done, that they
can put crime down, that they can make order out of chaos. And one of the things that– that’s part of
what my own work is about, the rise of genocidal leaders and how that happens. And often, it isn’t out of a sense of fear
or coercion, that people typically vote in a powerful, domineering, authoritarian leader. But rather, they allow that to happen. They don’t just allow it to happen, they make
it happen by their vote, by their choices, because they believe that their personal good
will be served, that you’ll have a society that’s more orderly, the trains run on time,
you won’t have crime in the street, and that certain types of rights will be ceded in return
for that. People understand that certain rights will
have to be given up, but their hope and expectation is that they’ll be other people’s rights,
not their own. And as you read the history of this period,
you see that this is not unique to Latin America. SP: Particularly in a country like the United
States, which relies quite a bit on private giving for financing of campaigns, there is
a sense that the little guy is always going to be left out of that equation. In many other parts of the world, there’s
a sense that corruption is simply rife within the highest levels of bureaucracies, and within
democracies, and that leaders are simply on the take. And the hope is, of course, that if there
are high levels of corruption, that public outrage– and the public will have an opportunity
to express its outrage and to replace those individuals. VG: In terms of– let’s just call it the patronal
system in Latin America– when Latin America was established as a region by the Spaniards
during the colonial period, they came out of a completely hierarchical society. And so that’s the way it was set up. It was set up as, fundamentally, a two-tiered
society. Now, there were nuances within that, but it
was the elites and the non-elites, with variations within that. And that’s a system that stayed intact in
Latin America for a very long time. And I think that’s one of the reasons why
democracy had some trouble taking off in Latin America. It didn’t really mesh with the way people
understood how society worked. And so thinking in terms of networks is enormously
important. Who’s at the top of that network is also enormously
important. But I think that the networks have– if you
think of it in terms of a pyramid– the networks have sort of– it’s got a broader middle and
base than it used to be. But the idea of sort of knowing something,
knowing someone, to understand that they’re confiable– they’re someone you can trust–
particularly when you have states where violence and corruption and the typical difficulties
one might associate with many places, but with Latin America as well, are present, to
know that the network you’re involved with and the people you are involved with have
some personal affinity with you and that you can trust them, when you may not be sure you
can trust anybody else, that if you ask them for something, they ask you for something,
that’s something you can depend on. DS: But corruption may be another constructed
concept. What does the word “corruption” mean, exactly? Historian Bernard Lewis has analyzed societies
in the West and in the Middle East, and found them both to be corrupt, but in different
ways. RG: In the West, it’s often imagined that
Islamic societies are thoroughly corrupt. Lewis said they’re not. The problem is that they have the wrong kind
of corruption. And he said, in the Levant, you attempt to
take control of the government, and then use the government to make very large amounts
of money. In the West, you attempt to make very large
amounts of money, and then use that money to take control of government. And Lewis maintained that the problem was
not the Muslim world was corrupt, but was corrupt in the wrong way. We had the right form of corruption, and they
had the wrong form of corruption. Now, I’m not sure, amusing as this seems,
that it’s actually correct, because I think both societies are corrupt in more or less
the same sorts of ways. But I’m certainly not convinced that, however
corrupt as we would see it, the kind of patronal systems that have existed– in the Levant
in particular, in which the whole point of the political system is to install someone
who will dispense very large amounts of largess to particular elements within society– I’m
not sure that that’s necessarily any more corrupt than phenomena that we see within
our own society. VG: Something that I have come to conclude
in the last few months is that we are not as different from Latin America in the United
States as people always liked to think that we were. And probably, to a large extent, we have been. But we’re not so different anymore. But the idea of buying a lot of political
influence in Latin America to have an enormous lobbying effort on the part of, say, a pharmaceutical
company to lobby Congress for something would be a strange way– it would be a very indirect
way of doing it. The way you would do it is the company would
just give a lot of money to the government. So we see that as corruption– giving money
directly to the government is corruption, but lobbying is perfectly kosher to us. Is that really all that different? Not so sure. DS: It is, perhaps, obvious that the way we
think about the world governs the decisions we make. But the truths that people hold so tightly
can change dramatically from time to time. There are not really truths, of course, there
are sets of ideas that are emotionally resonant, and that help explain external situations
that are otherwise immensely disturbing to us. So we can and we do make rational decisions,
but far more often, we make emotional decisions that are not actually in our larger self-interest. James K. Glassman: Well, I think the most
important thing that we need to recognize about decision making is that it’s not a wholly
rational process. The most important thing to understand when
you’re trying to communicate with other people, when you’re trying to persuade other people,
is that emotions count. Helima Croft: I mean, again, I think that’s
the biggest danger of a lot of people is thinking that the belief in rationality, but, again,
thinking that everybody views the world or priorities the same way you do. And I think that’s how we miss certain key
events– like, I think Brexit was a big miss for financial markets. I mean, it was only a few that were really
saying this could really happen, because for a lot of market participants, they would say,
my god, look what the city of London is going to lose in a Brexit situation. Financial services are what is the driver
of the UK economy– or one of the key drivers of the UK economy– how could British voters
do anything that puts this economic growth engine at risk, potentially having firms move
away from the city of London to Frankfurt or Paris? No, the British public would never do something
like that. They would never put their economic future
at risk that way. DS: We forever think we can turn back the
clock on what we don’t like. We think we can focus on the short-term, and
the long-term will take care of itself. But the gains of the post-war period, and
social stability may be more fragile than people think. The long-term term may not just take care
of itself. Despite this, threatened and angered by change,
people still want things to be the way they were. But they fail to think through the real world
implications of this. Sadly, our imaginations and our great expectations
often fail us. EA: What I’m afraid a lot of people do not
understand is that globalization is not inevitable. It may be driven by technology, it may be
driven by improvements in shipping and everything else, but it depends on a supportive set of
government policies. The United States was a reasonably big trading
economy in the early part of the 20th century– not as big as it is today, but reasonably
big. And then we had World War I, we had protectionist
legislation in Congress in the 1920s, we had the Great Depression, we had World War II. By the end of the second World War, the United
States was no longer a big trading economy. Globalization can be turned off. It can be turned off by government policies
that significantly impede commerce. I don’t think that’s likely to happen, but
anyone who believes it’s impossible has not read their history. JS: Business leaders in the 1950s and ’60s
educated Americans on what it meant to be a post-war economy. They haven’t. They’ve been much more, in the last 10 to
20 years, focused– I think– on short-term stock gains and other short-term issues, which
in the long run hurt these entities. I think there’s an education that has to come
into play, which is that people have to recognize that you can’t have these short-term gains,
that we had this remarkable period in our society from around 1960 to around 1990, when
you had this extraordinary growth that really is unprecedented and unsustainable. And so those of us who are long-term investors,
we need to recognize that we’re investing for the long-term, and these sort of long-term
decisions we’re talking about here are in our interest best, rather than short-term
inflated gains that actually end up undermining value in the longterm. I think we’re going to have to learn to live
with lower average returns, and also live with more volatility. There’s an expectation, not just of higher
returns, but of smooth higher returns. That’s historically unprecedented. But we should not expect the kinds of returns
that investors have seen, perhaps, in the last generation. JH: Why do we have the tendency to go in the
opposite direction of where we should be going, when we have problems? I think that’s just part of the human condition,
that the desire to look for what you think might be the proximate causes of your difficulty. There are so many great spurious arguments
that can be put forward by politicians in a democracy that are great short-term ways
to get votes, but that have exactly the opposite effect in the medium- and long-term, that
they’re going to hurt people, they’re going to hurt the society. So my favorite quote in American political
history, really, is from Abraham Lincoln, who said, “We have to look to the better angels
of our nature.” So it’s really incumbent upon politicians,
the leaders in democracies, to look for the better angels, to look for solutions to policy
problems that will help us to grow and prosper in the longterm. Don’t just make the calculus for the short-term
electoral payoffs. It’s like going for the sugar high. But every democracy, you find these tendencies. Unfortunately, it’s one of the weaknesses
in democratic systems. DS: We are moving into a world that is much
more unpredictable. And the more complex it becomes, the less
we can know about the future. It is hard to face the fact that there is
no one in charge, and that there can be no one in charge. But, just as our conditions are becoming more
fluid and more unpredictable our attitudes are becoming more rigid and unyielding. Many nations, groups, and individuals are
consumed with ideology at the present time. Every ideology throws up a continuing stream
of leaders, each seeming more extreme than the last, all extorting their constituencies
not to engage with the other side. But how can this help us progress? VG: People want a sense of who they are. And I think that that comes at a certain price. People in the 19th century knew this. When they were in their state formation projects
in Europe and in Latin America, the idea that you give up a certain amount of your personal
identity as a member of a religious group or as an ethnic group or as a member of a
national group within a country in return for being a citizen and having a shared common
vision with everyone else in the country, that idea that you imagine yourself to be
part of a community of people that you have shared interests and shared hopes and shared
dreams– that there’s a common good, that that means everybody is a part of that common
good. And to me, that’s what’s happened, is we have
lost– somewhere along the way, we lost our appreciation for the idea of the common good. JH: I think that openness and diversity and
competition, these are the lifeblood. We’ve got to build a political consensus. We’ve got to take care of those people who
feel alienated and left behind. RM: And what’s changed the way in which politicians
think, in terms of the good of society. I go back in the UK to 100 years, and 100
years ago, there was a tremendous civic responsibility, but there was abject inequality in those days. And there was a lot of, I think, of a really
community spirit and a feeling in many politician’s minds that there was a need to address these
very, very burning issues in society– so providing housing for the poor, providing
public baths, providing all sorts of amenities. That’s all changed. I think it’s probably true to say that the
kind of public-minded, the sort of charitable thinking, has disappeared from the minds of
the political leadership in modern day. DS: Fortunately, it isn’t all bad news. There are reasons to believe that, under a
certain set of conditions, there could be a kind of Renaissance. Michah Zenko: I would say the rule of law
is increasing throughout the world. The number of behaviors, activities that are
under the scope of law enforcement, formal rules, obviously, formal laws only grows over
time. I think one of the things we forget is that,
in most of the world, there was no rule of law, there were no norms, there were no–
I would say– Western-accepted understandings of cooperation. And now, if you go into rural India, for example,
people are well aware about trade rules and regulations. Behaviors that used to be widely accepted,
both interpersonal– attacks on each other– people know that that is wrong, right? So if you look at the global numbers of homicides,
for example, proportionately they have just decreased over time, over time, over time,
even as a population has gone up, because it is not acceptable in most of the world
to kill each other. It used to be very acceptable. We used to kill each other at extremely, extremely
high rates, high proportions. And so, if you look at today, you don’t see
it quite as frequently. And that’s just one example of a norm that
used to be widely accepted and tolerated becoming less so. RJ: I think there may well be a yearning for
a centrist approach, and perhaps sometimes you have to go through periods of extreme
intolerance on one side or the other before the citizenry become sick of it and finally
rises up and says enough and let’s go back to the center. VG: I think that the idea that you don’t just
come here to enrich yourself, but your family and the broader community of where you’re
from, is very illustrative of that attitude– that it is, again, the idea of a common good-
– that you can take too far. I feel like I’m over-romanticizing this a
bit, but I think it is a fundamental difference. DS: It is a time of great danger, but also
great possibility. We have an opportunity to use the challenges
we face to create a new system. JS: I think we’re at a moment of transition
right now. And we’re in a moment of transition, not from
one order to another, but when there are multiple orders at work at the same time. And we’re figuring out what is going to be
the new synthesis of these orders. JH: If you simply fall back into a more balance
of power logic, where you’re going to have a number of powers competing for space in
the international system. And that in and of itself, it’s inherently
unstable because you’re always looking for an equilibrium. And a slight change in the balance of power
can shift things very dramatically, and clearly that’s what we saw at the beginning World
War I. The same thing happened in World War II. We have to really work hard not to go back
to a system where you’re always in a situation of a balance of power logic, where a slight
shift in the balance can destabilize the entire system. So you need powerful states that are willing
to pay the price and be leaders in the system. JS: I think there’s a generation, a younger
generation, waiting to get in. I spend a lot of my time with students, with
very talented young people. And one of the things that makes me most optimistic
is– especially because of what they see out in front of them today– they want to get
involved more than ever before. They’re waiting to get in. And the best thing we could do in our society
right now is open the doors and encourage young people to get involved– particularly
young women, by the way. If we’re smart, we’ll empower them at all
levels. The best companies are already doing that. DS: Across this series, we’ve seen that most
of our problems, whether through action or inaction, are of our own making. It’s not that we set out to create these problems,
perhaps it’s just that failure of imagination, lack of vision, and a short-term focus on
our immediate gratification keep us from seeing where we’re heading in the longer term and
from changing course in productive ways when we need to. Maybe it’s also that the tribal heritage ingrained
in our social DNA is in conflict with the astonishing capabilities that science and
technology have afforded us. And there is a huge conflict between our desire
for self-determination on a national or even an individual level and what is necessary
to make life in a world approaching 8 billion people possible. But perhaps these are all just different dimensions
of one overarching conflict between our primitive emotional needs and what is now required for
the survival of our species. Of course, no one in the past could have imagined
that what they were doing then would lead to what we are experiencing now. The inherent unpredictability of the world
is the wild card that, in our arrogance, we rarely consider. But we do now know that unpredictability is
a property of complex systems, and the more complex a system is, the more and unpredictable
and unforgiving it becomes. And of course, we’ve created the most complex
civilization that has ever existed on this planet. History is littered with civilizations that
died. And it’s entirely possible our global interlinked
civilization could destroy itself. So where do we go from here? Our species is so good at change. It’s how we’ve survived challenge after challenge. And yet, we resist it so much. Since we have created a world different from
any that has existed before, perhaps the answers cannot be found in the past. Maybe we need something new. It seems to me that to get through our current
troubles we have to play to our strengths, overcome our nostalgia and preconceptions,
and find ways to work together. And that means a lot more change. Even from the highest vantage point, the outcome
is far beyond the horizon. Perhaps the conflicts and crises we are seeing
around the world will come to a head and then slowly die down. In other words, perhaps we need to come to
the brink to then come to our senses. After all, as human beings, we often seem
to need to stare into the abyss before we can step back. But sometimes, we can’t step back. We go over the edge. And this is why the future is both uncertain
and precarious. But it’s also possible that we are on the
brink of a big transition, that we’re seeing the beginning of a truly transformational
change on the scale of the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance
in Western Europe or the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. And if that’s the case, then the final question
for our time is this– what can we do to ensure that what the world experiences next is a
Renaissance and not the end of a civilization? In the end, our sense of exploration and imagination
will be our greatest allies, or as TS Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place
for the first time.”

76 thoughts on “Cutting Through the Chaos: The Hope for Our Future | A World on the Brink

  1. Give the gift of Real Vision to yourself or someone you know for only $99 (regularly $180) from now until the end of the year:

  2. Too much entertainment and information due to unbridled expansion of reckless computer control as invading moguls. Houston, we have a problem. The information needs to be regulated and controlled to protect local communities from invasion. Disconnect from machines, reconnect with nature, with myself, with the seed wisdom and family. Machines are man made as robots to take over the world. Resist.

  3. Bunch of globalist pining for the easy times (90’s) of globalization. The globalist did not do what the masses wanted or expected them to do. So the masses are forcing a change. This is a video of them making excuses for their faults.

  4. We are on the brink of world peace. Take down all the criminals who have enslaved all humanity worldwide. The Globalist NWO destroys humanity.

  5. It's not the technology that is the issue. It's the management of money. Making houses expensive. Making the currency devalued. 16:18

  6. It is such a pleasure to listen to some who understand that the world is at the Brink, now, and who can elucidate the complexity, yet provide a
    path to optimistic correction.

  7. We had a very strong social contract in the UK, that social contract was undermined over the last 50 years. People who don’t have any interest in that social contract have now turned a high trust society into a low trust society.

  8. This is a poor globalist propaganda .

    They use terror to force your mind to believe that they have the solution to the problems they created.

    Leftist propaganda, with promotion of mixing and diversity, all that things that deserve your power and strength, all your health, physically and psychologically.

    You won't win.

    You are obsolete and your plan was a very very very bad plan. You will have to pay for all you have done in destruction of our nation, our living condition, our environment, our alienation.

    They are all guilty. They are all old. They don't have the right and the power now, to decide of OUR future.

    Please shut up old men, and stay with mummy at home or go to fish.

  9. Our founders hated democracy and that is why they established a Republic. Rule of law versus rule by majority. These experts see the world from just their own secular position which allows them to make it up as they go. Do they have any solutions? NO! Get back to the rule of law as in a true Republic and apply it equally and people and businesses will flourish.

  10. I very much doubt there is a way forward. Money is more important than life today – no species on earth servives extreme greed.
    The social contract in America is dead.

  11. Notice everyone talks democracy, democracy and democracy. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting about what to have for dinner. A terrible system that will fail, just as it continues to do, until the charismatic global strong man comes along and takes control in a friendly way at first but then becomes, like all strong men, totalitarian and corrupt. This can happen OR a well educated and armed populace with the principles of Republicanism and rule of law, can take it back. Your choice. Remember what Jefferson said about the blood of patriots “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”.  If this happens, we may be able to return to rule of law and a True Republic.  Apart from this happening, we ultimately fail.

  12. David Freidel is just repeating the Leo Straussian argument that people need national mythology aka the political theology of Carl Schmitt?

  13. I’m winning and have carved out for my family a nice lifestyle, community with likeminded people, challenging and rewarding work. This the result of very hard work, outside the box thinking, massive risks. But I see things crumbling all around me here in USA and am ready to purchase a home in another country. As it is now I’m living on acreage in the country to get away from all the madness.

  14. Hahahahaha hilarious how the people that make huge money trying to use big words while talking down to the population.
    All these people make money with either unjust laws, or just flat out ignoring all laws, creating thing out of thin air, yet still go broke!? Lol
    The reason none of this can be fixed, is because the rich don't want to abide by common laws, and the poor are done being robbed!!!

  15. The biggest problem is actually having a place to live. Limitless property ownership has allowed the rich to corner the housing market. If investors were forced to sell off their excess property, values would crash to a level of affordability. Advances in Home technology could help too. These people with their walls of books makes one wonder whether this is a necessary use of space in an age where everything can be digitized. Housing could be right sized to a person's actual needs, perhaps shared and personalized to the user as a car has personal seat, mirror and temperature profile. Digital walls could easily change accordingly.

  16. I have enjoyed your documentary somewhat, but it is full of misinformation. For instance at 11:54 he states in 2050 we will have a population of 9B. I believe that is false. While we are at 7.3B today, the population of the world is turning down and will decrease over the next 30 years to settle at a sustainable level of 4.5B, half of what he predicts. Perhaps you disagree, but the facts are already there. Japan has a replenishment rate of 1.3 today. The US has had its lowest birth rate this year since 1900. In fact the only continent that will have a growing population in 2050 is Africa and lets face it, progress in Africa has always been tenuous.

    I think this documentary is a mixed bag, some of it true, some of it hyperbole, some of it false. In the previous episode I gave thumbs down just as soon as it mentioned that what Kellyanne Conway said were alternative facts. I forgot what that kerfuffle was about so I looked it up. It was in an interview with Chuck Todd a known propagandist arguing with her about a statement Sean Spicier said in his first press conference. He said there were more people at Trumps inauguration than any other in history and that the media purposely slanted the cameras so as to diminish the size of the crowd. Seems pretty innocuous and petty to take that interview to illustrate how news is fake. Just who was being fake that day, Sean Spicer or the media?

    Had this knocked it out of the park I would have signed up for your paywall, but this documentary presents obfuscated material just like the MSM does and I detest that. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

  17. Democracy is an illusion as long as the workplace remains a tyranny. Elect another outsider no matter which side of the political spectrum he or she is from.

  18. Economic disenfranchisement in the west has been driven by Cantillon effects. Globalization and identity politics are red herrings. All of these analysts are part of large establishment institutions. They can't see the value of individualism and decentralization. Instead they view these forces as a threat. As a result they keep talking about 'big solutions' and top down management.

    The closing summary which denigrates the fall of the Roman empire as 'dark ages' says it all. Even Romans had lost interest in their mega-state financed by monetary debasement. The middle ages provided genuine competition between states and unprecedented freedom for technological and social development. The period set the stage and created the values which allowed the west to develop.

  19. The USA has to get out of The Middle East. It's over. The USA has created a complete disaster there. For everyone. And now the USA is bankrupt.

  20. doing what I can, growing food in rural America.  I am not hopeful for my farm, my community,  my country or this tiny planet in an insignificant galaxy of the universe.    I hope I am giving my life to the right end.    Thank you for your efforts to provide some perspective.

  21. War has always been about resources and the power to acquire them. Saying that industrialization brought us two world wars is ridiculous, war has been the natural state of Europe since the ancient Greek city state. These people are BS artist, that have created their own utopia, complete with the way people are supposed to act. Europe has only known peace when it was forced on them. Google conflicts of Europe. These "intellectuals" are speaking of pure fantasy, globalist utopia, that only exists in the institutions they're talking about. Institutions that will thankfully become irrelevant because they told too many lies. Non of the CFR goons here wanted to say anything about European multinationals exploiting Africa, we're just supposed to ignore that part of globalization. We're supposed to ignore all the old European colonies that are still being exploited by Europe, and believe in these intellectuals that are made relevant by who exactly ?

  22. Don’t waste your time on this. A bunch of egg heads that enjoy hearing themselves talk while saying nothing.

  23. All I see is a lot of symptoms that most countries need a real democratic system ( like the one Switzerland have) then political and administration are forces to follow and protect the individuals choises, rights and assets…instead of be a superior cancer on them

  24. Interesting video with equally interesting points/counter-points. Here's how this will likely break down over the next 10 years (max.) or so: countries are going to split up along ideological lines. These new countries will either gravitate to making things work across themselves/their neighboring countries/other countries, or constant war will ensue. During this phase some countries will opt to become isolationist entities, which will last for a period of time. To be successful as a full blown isolationist countries they would need all of the resources required for survival within their boundaries. There will be few long term isolationist states that survive. Neighboring countries will envy their resource base, and will take them over with unrelenting war/chaos. Larger nations that are already isolationist nations/states will see this constant wars between these lesser nations as a grand opportunity to annex, and or take over these smaller resource rich nations for their own benefit. Lots of words, eh? Now, think how China views current South American countries, Africa, and very very soon ….. the USA. China is a monolithic country/culture that sees the lands/resources as opportunities to be plundered. Act accordingly.

  25. What a funny video. I was not aware that SNL did these videos. It had people talking who were obviously elistist explaining something or other. Of course listening to liberals basically means "A whole lot of words that don't mean anything and being unwilling to explain the other side correctly. It would be helpful to get someone from the other perspective who could debate these people who are obviously "better people than us regular people.""

  26. Sorry, but this sounds like a bunch of globalist neo-liberals talking utter tripe, completely out of touch with the average person.

  27. These world on the brink series are extremely and unnecessarily alarmist and obviously Very agenda driven! 👎👎


  29. This anger they talk about, is it mostly american? I can’t say I see it in my european daily life. That or the nationalist tendencies. It all feels a bit over blown at the moment.

  30. What the he'll are they talking about? What democracy? the politicians are bought by the .01 %. Your economic system is predatory capitalism. We call ourselves the Beacon of democracy when we live in a oligorchy. Everything is a lie.

  31. Total nonsense. By almost every objective measure, life is getting better for humans on the planet. Not sure where this false narrative is coming form but I'm not buy it.

  32. on top of the inequality of wages, the same banks the are so badly managed that they need to get bailed out, it is the bottom 99% that bail out those banks, talk about paradox, very interesting, can't say I agree with your solution though

  33. What a joke they are talking about democracy there is no democracy it’s only corporations that rule over us with their powerful lobbying groups etc.

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