That was so 20th century. We're viewing the dynamic forces underway today in Europe as aberrant when, in fact, they may just be the latest manifestation of what will be, for much of this century, something far closer to normal.
We like order in our lives and, because most of us were born post-1950 we have an utterly false sense that order is somehow normal. That delusion is made far easier to swallow because we had no experience of the incredibly turbulent first half of the 20th century that saw two enormously destructive world wars, the Great Depression, and the death throes of global colonialism. The experience of the second half of the 20th Century was entirely alien to that of the first half.
I'm no historian, political scientist or anthropologist, yet I'm pretty sure that I lived the first six decades of my life in a period of abnormal peace, prosperity and progress if only in my small corner of the world. It looks "normal" to us largely because we had no direct experience of what preceded it nor preparation for what would inevitably follow.
Yet never in my lifetime, nor yours, was the world actually stable. That was all an illusion. Here's one example. When I was born the world's population hit a record of about 2.5-billion. There had never been anywhere near as many humans on Earth. And in the span of just one lifetime we have broken through 7-billion, headed to 9-billion. What could conceivably be taken as normal in that? That's much more akin to malignancy than normalcy. It took mankind tens of thousands of years to grow to a billion strong, less than a century and a half to double that, and a single lifetime to more than treble that yet again.
Let's remember that we only reached 7-billion thanks to some powerful conjuring acts, civilizational sleight of hand. The Green Revolution was perhaps our ultimate trick. We discovered that with sufficient fertilizer and massive irrigation we could produce bumper crops from otherwise marginal farmland. That led us to empty aquifers and use so many chemicals that we began to exhaust vital farmland, transforming it into desert. It was the Third World equivalent of defying gravity.
And look what it has brought down upon the world, a civilization dependent on more than they can have and yet demanding ever more. It's not hard to figure out when you've passed that threshold. In short order it manifests itself in desertification, deforestation, and species extinction such as the global fisheries collapse. A recent corporate think tank (KPMG) study found that, over the decades ahead, as the world's population burgeons, we'll actually have about 13% less arable farmland. That's burning the candle fiercely at both ends.
Our ability to always come up with the "next thing" to allow us to continue taking more than the Earth can provide has helped buffer the illusion of sufficiency and stability. It has bought us a great deal of time. Yet, instead of using that breathing room as a precious opportunity to curb our excesses, right our wrongs, and prepare ourselves to live a productive, peaceful future, we squandered that gift and used it to deceive ourselves that we had achieved prosperity, peace and stability.
It's hard to know whether the shifts over the past two decades that witnessed the triumph of corporatism, globalism, authoritarianism were causes or effects of our civilizational decline. Perhaps it doesn't matter. That they're linked is apparent and that they have played a powerful role in destabilizing our world is what should concern us. The way ahead probably means undoing a lot of the damage they have inflicted even if we don't as yet grasp the scope of it.
The recent national elections in France and Greece and the portentious local elections in Germany and Britain have shown the Right is losing its grip. Were the Brits able to have a national election today, Labour would sweep the Conservatives out of power.
Our thoroughly corporate media has responded predictably, depicting the European tide change as the onset of radicalism and anarchy. Sticking to the script of their corporate ideology, they bemoan the demise of what Krugman mockingly calls the "confidence fairy" that austerity budgets promise but consistently fail to deliver. Contrast Paul Krugman's latest column with Andrew Coyne's. They're writing of different planets. Krugman's is grounded in fact, Coyne's in ideology. Then again Krugman works for a genuine newspaper, is an Ivy League professor and holds a Nobel Prize in Economics while Coyne has an i-Pad.
Upheaval of some sort in varying degrees is probably going to spread to most parts of the world by 2050. Global warming is a big part of what's driving disruptions. An article in Scientific American, "Where It Rains, It Will Pour - Otherwise, Tough Luck" details research that finds we have seriously underestimated the impacts of global warming on the hydrological cycle. In simple terms, already dry regions are apt to become 24% drier while wet regions will get wetter by a similar factor. That is going to impact in many ways ranging from food insecurity to entire regions turning uninhabitable. Those impacts will, in turn, destabilize countries great and small, poor and wealthy, and lead to upheaval.
Now is the time to come to grips with the reality of upheaval and how we will choose to respond to it. It's sort of like experiencing a rocking ship from the comfort and safety of a deck chair or having to stand up and walk the heaving deck. Our chair time may be over.
A visitor, Richard, gave me a link below that led to this youtube lecture. I strongly urge you to watch it and decide for yourself if we can still tolerate a political class that acts as though we were still in the 80s?