Deep breath. Look around.
Famine is being eliminated. In 2014, 850 million suffered from malnutrition, the lowest figure on record. Meanwhile, 2.1 billion were overweight. In 1918, Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million in a year, compared to the 40 million who died in WWI. But in 2014, the Ebola outbreak – “the most severe public health emergency in modern times”, according to the World Health Organisation – was stopped at 11,000 deaths. In the 20th century, human violence accounted for 5% of all deaths. In the 21st century, it’s 1%. In 2012 56 million people died, but war caused only 120,000 of those deaths.
Those historical harbingers of the apocalypse, war, famine and pestilence, are still far too widespread, but every indicator is improving, and here in 2016, improving rapidly.
Some people out there see an advantage in proclaiming how terrible things are, that all around we have only decline and degradation and that things were always so much better in the past. Don’t listen to them.
We’re on the cusp of a golden age.
The innovations and advancements created by clever people – the ‘elite’, I suppose – are improving every aspect of our life. Two days ago, a team at MiT took us a step closer to unlimited clean energy. Breakthroughs in cancer treatment are coming so fast it’s hard to keep track of them. Advances in food production techniques, and in health, and the consistently falling global poverty levels will push those Four Horsemen to the fringes.
But the danger now is that we sit back and wait for this new dawn to arrive. That we foolishly think that everyone wants this better time that’s coming. It’s going to be great, why wouldn’t they?
No. Barriers lie everywhere. Malign forces are working hard to ensure this golden age never comes about, people, and ideologies, who will find no place for themselves in this better world.
Putin has spoken publicly about how his plans for Russia are centred around stopping liberal western values in their tracks – he wants his growing empire to be a bastion of conservatism – and we’ve already seen how the prospect of a third world war is looming. The global death cult ISIS may be suffering a set-back on its territory in Mosul, but it’s ideology won’t easily be destroyed and it’s committed to a medieval world-view.
And then there are the domestic forces that want to hold everything back – in the US and UK, in France, Germany and across the West, not just the people who are afraid of change, and they are many, but those whose power bases and belief systems are firmly rooted in the 20th century.
If you look at the electoral battles taking place, it’s easy to think this is politics as usual. Same old parties, same old faces. It’s not. What we are now living through is an epochal battle.
This was all predicted in one of my favourite books of the last decade, The Meaning of the 21st Century by James Martin. The former IBM staffer talked about the tech age back in 1978 in his book The Wired Society, and in this later work he looks at how the world will be changed by technology throughout this century. But he insisted that it wouldn’t be plain sailing. He described this process as a river, which plunges into a narrow ravine and becomes a hell of white water, before broadening out into a peaceful drift into a pleasant future.
We’re in that ravine now, and the turbulence is going to be great. But if we want to come out the other side, we all have to work together to oppose those who’d rather see the whole raft sink.
Left and Right was a good way of defining the political struggle of the last century. No longer. Now, all over the West, party barriers are being transcended.
The true political battle of the 21st century is the past versus the future. You have Left and Right on both sides, one tribe looking back to a perceived golden age, one looking forward, with vested interests everywhere tugging at sleeves.
There’s no room for sitting on the fence. Our choice now is to stand up, argue, vote for the person or party that’s at least vaguely heading for the destination you want, even if they’re not your perfect choice. (As an aside, there are no perfect choices in politics.)
I’m looking to the future – that’s where the world I want to live in exists. You?