In a world where black and white gives way to grey and complex, the simplest scenarios tend to play out. Warning: This is a non-academic, non-conclusive article. It’s a Gonzo piece that contains inconvenient truths about human nature, sustainability and the global economy …
Good evening! This is your Random Truth (RANT) bulletin with your random food for thought.
Today’s topic: cause and effect. Protracted, indirect, roundabout C&E. Or, as its fad name goes, the Butterfly Effect.
And war. World war and confrontation.
See, the Economist posted on the web a sneak preview of its coming issue today [Thursday, 24 April].
It features an old couple sitting on a bench by the sea, looking out at the open water. The title reads, A Billion Shades Of Grey. Two captions below say, Thanks to us oldies, the world economy is threatened with secular stagnation, China’s prospects are deteriorating and inequality is rising, and (the response), That’s nice, dear.
Without having read the article I’m willing to bet that it’s talking about the Chinese baby boomers. The term ‘baby boomers’ is, of course, meaningless Americana in terms of Chinese reality, but you know what I mean: a billion ageing Chinese citizens creating an enormous demographic-economic problem for China, which will last for decades.
Wait, wasn’t China the place where the economy was hot, keeping the global economy going? Is it slowing down? Why? Has China overheated? Does it have to deal with an unsustainable welfare system, just like the EU, the USA, and other parts of the world do? Does it run the risk of its pension plans going bust? Does it face future rising costs in healthcare, future loss of business opportunity, a future recession, a coming brain drain and a looming political crisis?
All the above are realistic eventualities, but we, optimists, don’t care about realism, and rightly so. Realism, no matter how delightfully grounding it can frequently be, is also a drag. It’s good to toss it to the side as often as possible, looking for ways to break out of the limits it imposes on us.
One, the problem magically disappears involving wishful thinking
China’s billion shades of grey, along with all other socioeconomic problems the world is currently faced with, involve three solution-oriented scenarios: one, the problem magically disappears involving wishful thinking and a surprising change of heart by the world’s politicians, who will change the way they conduct politics on the local and international scale overnight. It will also involve the transformation of businesspeople, who will change the way they do business overnight, and the metamorphosis of people round the world, who will change the way they go about their lives: their eating habits, their work habits, their cultural and religious beliefs, their consumer mentality and travel preferences, and all other practices which, in their totality, drive the dysfunctional, unsustainable, socioeconomic matrix we call the Globe.
Two, we go about our business looking for ways to change and improve said dysfunctional, unsustainable matrix from the inside, expecting that the miracles of new technology and immigration will save the day. New technology, of course, involves applying cheaper and cleaner solutions to our food, health and energy sectors, an approach that requires businesspeople and politicians to change their overall patterns re the development and application of said technologies in various markets and economies, despite the massive inertia against it (see point above) not to mention the resistance involved when these technologies threaten vested interest in older paradigms. And immigration as a solution to the ageing- population issue in China is nothing but the recycling of the same old unsustainable economic patterns of today, which lead either to booms that turn into bubbles that burst, or to populism, xenophobia and political instability.
Three, a world war breaks out (either all out, or in a series of escalating confrontations round the world), in which the powers that be fight over the earth’s limited resources. What happens in the process is that people vent their rage, economies are reconfigured around armed conflict, people’s psychology changes, festering wounds resurface, old disputes are settled, many people die, victors prevail, debts are erased, new rules are devised, new alliances are consolidated, a new system is propped up and the world marches on, warts and all, just as it did after the Napoleonic Wars and WWII.
All three solutions above are optimistic in that they offer a decisive way out of the unsustainability behind humanity’s current way of going about its business. Two of them are fairytales with nothing to envy from religious wish-wash, and one is very plausible, natural, and more than likely to happen.
Two, we go about our business looking for ways to change and improve said dysfunctional, unsustainable matrix
Three, a world war breaks out… in which the powers that be fight over the earth’s limited resources
The reason why a world war is the more probable and conducive
The reason why a world war is the most probable and conducive-to-change option is because of Occam’s Razor. The simplest option tends to prevail in all complex setups involving a number of variables, including human affairs. The magical transformation of humanity via wishful thinking or peaceful reform is a rather complex option, especially in times of crisis and shortage, whereas violent confrontation is a simpler one to activate.
War will, thus, occur because that is how humanity acts and reacts to crisis and shortage on the whole: by fighting it out. The optimistic thing to do is figure out a way to come out the other side of the confrontation with something to show for ourselves, something that will set the tone for a sounder future.
It won’t be easy. Promoting a result that works according to the world’s needs and which is in line with the conflicting paradigms of environmental responsibility and technological advancement is quite the conundrum.
Because I can hear many spines crawling, let me rephrase option number three using more playful, butterfly-effect language.
Could it then be that a world war would solve the world’s problems, whether it came consciously and deliberately, or as a result of a string of events leading toward a release from the looming depression?
There we go!
See, God may not move in mysterious ways but conscious organization does, and sometimes what transpires, sooner or later, is the product of a series of seemingly disconnected, random events, strung together over long periods of time to result in eventualities like the Tulip bubble, the Puritan-Pilgrim waves that led to the conquest of the West, the French Revolution, World War II, or — you got it — a massive post-modern conflict that will address many of the world’s pending problems.
Yes, life is a random game of craps with odds that become slightly more predictable after a certain series of plays.
Call it a giant game of butterfly effects. From the RANT headquarters, Have a nice evening!
From the collection of writings EON: THE ANGRY COMING OF AGE
PS – here is a video clip from the documentary Powaqqatsi, revealing the iconic but insectoid- parasitic nature of humanity, reminding us that optimism is not just smiles and feel-good emotions, but the ability to strive for the best possible outcome even in the wake of adversity. Especially in the wake of adversity. In spite of all the hardships and in response to the trials that lie ahead.
For The Economist front cover, click here.