The world has become a rather uncertain place in the past few decades and has left those of us who are tagged as the “baby boom” generation wondering what the hell happened.
We grew up in a world of opportunity, hope and optimism, confident that civilization was moving forward on all fronts. When we finished school at whatever level, we did not have to worry about finding a job. The economies of the western world were booming. The social and political activism of the sixties and seventies resulted in broad advances in social justice, human rights and citizen engagement. On the political front, the cold war ended in the spectacular disintegration of the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. Advances in science and technology resulted in quantum leaps in productivity, communications and quality of life. They also brought the world closer together as distance was no longer a significant factor in either business, travel or international relations. As the twentieth century came to a close, I and most of my peers had every reason to believe that the world had become a better place and that the future held great promise.
That optimism was naively premature. The past two decades have hit us with a cold shower of reality. Most of the world’s economies have plateaued out and have been stuck in neutral for quite some time now. The younger generations coming out of high school and university are having a really tough time finding any kind of job, never mind one that could be considered a career.
The Soviet empire may have disappeared, but the world has entered a new period of conflict, characterized by radical Islamic terrorism and resurgent Russian imperial adventurism. The old somewhat abstract fear of the nuclear bomb falling on our heads has been replaced by the more visceral and real fear of being the victim of a terrorist attack regardless of where one may be. At the same time, the long historical trend towards liberal democracy has been placed on hold, as an increasing number of countries revert towards authoritarian forms of government. The further progressive evolution of democracy and civil society is becoming increasingly threatened by the concentration of political power in the hands of a small oligarchic elite, the rampant growth of corruption and the spread of reactionary political populism.
Technology continues to advance by quantum leaps and bounds, but it is now creating as many problems as it solves. Our addiction to unchecked growth and consumerism, has led to serious pollution and climate change issues. While medical science has succeeded in eliminating or checking many diseases, new and ever more lethal and drug resistant viruses like Ebola, avian flu and Zika seem to spring out of nowhere and spread with epidemic intensity. In addition, we seem to be less healthy than ever, as sedentary life styles, lack of exercise and artificial fast foods erode our physical well-being. Further, the wired world has spawned a generation addicted to smartphones, computers and electronic gaming, creating a host of social and psychological problems.
All this is creating a palpable sense of unease and uncertainty throughout all layers of our society. We no longer seem to understand how the world works or what is happening around us. The world has become seemingly too complicated to be understood by the average person. To make things worse, many in our society no longer trust the leaders and the experts that used to manage that world that we live in.
The economists, the bankers and the financial gurus that used to run the economic engines that powered our societies have created a system that is no longer manageable, and has been taken over and corrupted by a self-serving and greedy elite. Our governments and political systems no longer serve the social needs of the average citizen, but have instead become bloated and inefficient bureaucracies that are controlled by vested interests and power blocs. Science and technology has become so complicated that the average person no longer understands how things work, or the implications and consequences of new developments. Because we have lost touch with understanding how things work and no longer trust those that do, we have become much more vulnerable to the scammers and hucksters, be they of the marketing, the scientific or the political variety.
This is why we see people like Trump being elected, voters in Britain choosing to leave the EU, seemingly intelligent people denying climate change, confused parents opting not to vaccinate their kids, seriously ill patients resorting to quack cures, countless millions being spent on “miracle” foods, and many other examples of irrational behavior. The more complicated life gets, the more people are inclined to seek simple solutions and simple answers.
That, emphatically, is not the way forward. Yes, things have gotten very complicated. The answer to that is not to seek simple solutions. There aren’t any. The answer is to buckle down and do the hard work of learning and understanding the facts and the processes of how things really work, and then doing something constructive about it. As always, properly educating oneself is the best strategy towards coping with a world that keeps getting more and more complicated.