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."