Thursday, December 01, 2016

An Impassioned Plea to Tear Down the Walls of Inequality from Stephen Hawking.

The neoliberals who have driven the western world into the ditch over the past three decades need to decide whether to rehabilitate liberal democracy or allow themselves to be erased from memory by generations of strongman rule.

Yeah, Justin - you too.

First up, theoretical physicist extraordinaire, Stephen Hawking. In an opinion piece in The Guardian, "This Is the Most Dangerous Time for our planet," Hawking warns, "We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it."

Referring to Brexit and the Trump victory, he writes it was, "the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere."

The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

...We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

...It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past. For me, the ability to use technology to communicate has been a liberating and positive experience. Without it, I would not have been able to continue working these many years past.

But it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

...For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

Be honest. Does it sound to you as though your government was on this course, resolved to save liberal democracy, humanity and the environment, or on another course fretting about spreading as much bitumen as conceivably possible to every Third World-grade power generation technology that demonstrates how completely oblivious they are to the reality setting in today, now.

And we and our governments should wake up to the decline of liberal democracy and what that may hold in store for us. Former London mayor and now the UK's foreign minister, Boris Johnson, writes of the defeat of democracy.

There is no doubt that the neoliberal order still fervently perpetuated by our "new" prime minister has driven a wedge between the populace and those they choose to govern on their behalf. It fails to adequately defend state sovereignty and, in the process, leaves the working classes, blue and white collar, in a state of precarity.  Until we do what the political caste will not - until we even the keel again - this will only worsen and become more intractable.


Danneau said...

Chat on the phone with loving son last eve, talked about Guy McPherson, sort of an extension of the Paul Beckwith material posted on this blog, but intimating consequences even more immediate and dire. Perhaps Guy and Paul and others are reading the tea leaves a little harshly, but the whole idea that we can just bluff our way through these crises is the modus of mental midgets, blinded by selfishness and protection of privilege. Oddly, just read a blurb about Michael Lewis' latest book about how people trust their own intuition in the face of all manner of aligned factual data, generally with poor outcomes. It would appear that we've got a bunch of people enacting the same folly in the corridors of power all over the world.

The Mound of Sound said...

I steer clear of Guy McPherson as much as possible. The first page of his website has a link to some suicide prevention site. It really is that depressing.

Jared Diamond discusses the mental game that occurs in crises in his book, "Collapse: how societies choose to succeed or fail." In most cases, he argues, failed societies have chosen their fate aware of what awaits. They either learn to live with their affliction or resort to psychological sleight of hand to put it out of their consciousness. I suspect our approach to carbon energy may fall into this pattern. We are choosing our fate.

All sorts of climate scientists have declared an "emergency" in the Arctic due to two consecutive years of dark winter heatwaves and yet that sort of thing never surfaces in our government's deliberations and planning.

Owen Gray said...

Despite his affliction, he is clear eyed, Mound. And the so called unafflicted are profoundly blind.

The Mound of Sound said...

And we ignore their blindness, Owen, when we elect them to high office.