KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON: MAKING SENSE OF OUR CHANGING WORLD
Introduction by Dr. Pippa Malmgren, author of Signals: How Everyday Signs Can Help Us Navigate the World’s Turbulent Economy, former Presidential advisor and cofounder of H Robotics.
Usually summer reading is light. Not this year. Everywhere we look, the establishment and all its structures are falling apart all around us. At first this seems terrifying. But, the end of the old guard can also mean the start of a much better situation. The danger is that we suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. We fall in love with ways of doing things that are bad, not performing and need changing but familiarity causes us to love what keeps us captive. Or, worse, we make or support policies without considering that we might be protected from the consequences. It’s uncomfortable. It’s exciting.
In Europe we have Brexit to think about. But there’s much more rolling in behind it. The EU is now under firm pressures from “exit” movements well beyond Brexit: We’ll be hearing much more about Auxit (Austria) Swexit (Sweden), Frexit (France), Itaxit/Uscita (Italy) and Nexit (Norway). Every time the Europeans decide to give billions to a failed bank but can’t find any cash for the citizens, you can expect a backlash. Every time there is a terror attack or an immigration-related incident you’ll get the same outcome. But, is Europe functioning well? No. Anything that forces the EU to deal with the debt problem has to be better than sitting around hoping.
The trouble runs deep. It’s not just a matter of changing the leadership. The recent report from the IMF watchdog put it in stark terms. Put simply, they concluded that IMF orthodoxy is causing the suicide rate in Greece to rise. The IMF failed to see that the orthodox solutions would introduce inhuman outcomes and fail to solve the problem as well. Common sense tells us that you can’t fix a debt problem with more debt. As I write I am reaching from GK Chesterton’s book “Orthodoxy”. He reminds us that “Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.” In other words, the best way to keep the Establishment and the orthodoxy is by introducing the unorthodox. That is surely happening just about everywhere from the rise of the Far Right in Europe to the rise of the Revolutionary in the US.
America is protesting against the establishment by introducing the deeply unorthodox: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders alike represent the anti-establishment movement. Hilary Clinton’s biggest problem is that she smacks of being so establishment. This alone accounts for the fact that Donald Trump led in the polls every single day in July 2016 but one, even with the Democratic Convention. A Trump victory still seems impossible to many but it may prove to be America’s Brexit. I note that the famed screenwriter Aron Sorkin thinks Trump is a “Constitutional crisis that is waiting to happen”.
There are other forms of antidisestablishmentarianism about (gosh, I’ve always wanted to use that word!) Peter Thiel’s speech at the Republican National Convention, though short, was a huge swipe at the technology establishment. He challenged the Tech Community to consider that they might be confusing luck with skill. He said, “everything is a bubble now”. He suggests that the ridiculous valuations in the tech world might have more to do with highly expansionary monetary policy than with inherent genius.
So, what should we reading as this populist uprising unfolds before our eyes? John F Kennedy wisely recommended poetry. He said, “when power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations.”
Nothing reminds us of our limitations more than technology. So consider sitting down with a teenager to learn something about how modern technology works. This is the means by which this anti-establishment revolution is unfolding, so getting to grips with it is no longer optional. Saying “I don’t get Twitter” is the equivalent of saying “I am a moron”. Don’t be that person. By the way, only a teenager can show you how your smart devices really work; it is the only form of child labour that it is permitted. If you want to understand the younger generation, and the bigger changes in the world, I highly recommend an old book called The Fourth Turning. It was written in 1997 by Neil Howe and William Strauss, who first came up with the name, Millenials. I know of no other book that better describes how history unfolds and how each generation is shaped and shapes the future too.
Keep an eye on the escalating tensions between China and the US over the South China Sea. Both Xi Jinping and President Obama have prohibited their military pilots from “making obscene hand gestures at each other while flying”. How close do you have to be to see the other guy flipping the bird mid-air? 20 feet or so. All this makes the new geopolitical thriller Ghostfleet required reading.. It suggests that high tech does not make us safer. It makes us more vulnerable. The next war, it suggests, will commence with an EMP device that eliminates all electricity, Wi-Fi, SatNav and electronic capabilities; that the next conflict will be won by ingenuity rather than technology. Perhaps applying a little ingenuity now, in advance of a confrontation, would be a smarter way to go.
But that would require divorcing ourselves from the complacency of the past. It would require embracing new ideas and abandoning old ones. That means freeing up mental bandwidth. Most of us are operating at 100% of our capability most of the time. That leaves no room for the dramatic changes this period of history is ushering in. So, go read about race car driving. Better still, go try it yourself. In that field, they assume an accident is coming, so they plan to be fully operational at 80% of their mental bandwidth. What would you do with your life if you had 20% of your mental bandwidth free for all that is not essential? Love, read, sleep, play, eat an ice cream? These are all worthy causes given the gravity of change that confronts us.
Read on, 10 titles that shed light on turbulent times and productively use your spare bandwidth whilst on holiday
The Age of Discovery
by Goldin & Kutarna
This is not the first time globalisation has divided societies, nor is it the first time technological change has unleashed income inequality, social tension, xenophobia and ideological extremism. ‘A much-needed dose of perspective in our increasingly short-term-focused world’. (Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director, McKinsey & Co)
The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment
by Martin Ford
…about as scary as the title suggests. It’s not science fiction, but rather a vision (almost) of economic Armageddon.” (New York Times)
Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution
by Parag Khanna
‘For those who fear that the world is becoming too inward-looking, Connectography is a refreshing, optimistic vision’ (The Economist)
Ghostfleet: A Novel of the Next World War
by Singer & Cole
“Ghost Fleet is what Call of Duty would be like if it put on a tie and went to Capitol Hill.”(Playboy)
The Fourth Turning
by Howe & Strauss
Written in 1997 this is “A startling vision of what the cycles of history predict for the future generations.” (USA Weekend)
by GK Chesterton
“In a modern world where haste is only exceeded by shallowness, Orthodoxy still radiates an anchoring wisdom”. Timeless, witty, a work of genius.
by Pippa Malmgren
A thought-provoking account of the everyday signals that reveal the true story of the world economy. ‘A tour de force’ (Sir Stuart Rose)