Day in and day out, The WorldPost chronicles two competing futures: a world coming together and a world falling apart. The year gone by has turned out to be decidedly mixed. The times ahead could unfold in either direction. Here are just a few of the many posts we published in 2015 that, taken together, illustrate how we remain poised on the cusp of an epochal tipping point.
Aware that no accomplishment ever completely meets its aims, let’s start with a review of the good news. The leaders of the most conscious species on planet Earth — Homo sapiens — embraced what Norwegian philosopher Jostein Gaarder calls “the ethics of the future” by agreeing in Paris to cut carbon emissions that in the coming decades would ruin the fragile ecology that has enabled all life forms to flourish. Climate scientist Johan Rockström lauded this leap as tipping the scale from impending calamity toward sustainability. Above all, the two largest economies most responsible for carbon emissions, the United States and China, agreed to act together. And, as California Governor Jerry Brown points out, mayors and provincial leaders from around the world have pledged joint efforts to meet climate goals below the nation-state level. The moral authority of our time, Pope Francis, weighed in with his encyclical, “Laudato Si,'” as our Vatican correspondent Sébastien Maillard reported from Rome. There is a long way to go, but as of 2015, there is consensus on the path forward and a new momentum behind collective action.
For the time being, the most worrisome prospect of nuclear conflict since the Cold War has been defused through bold diplomacy led by U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Significantly, the accord that prevents Iran from weaponizing its nuclear capacity is also guaranteed by Russia and China, as American strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, despite other geopolitical strains that mar their relations with America.
In an interview, Peter Diamandis extolled the cumulative impact of exponential technologies from 3-D manufacturing to synthetic biology, robotics, the “Internet of Things” and renewable energy in fostering a world coming together amid abundance. As part of our series on this topic, Singularity theorist Ray Kurzweil invited us to contemplate a future where the potential of human consciousness is vastly enhanced by connecting to the cloud. Genome pioneer Craig Venter discussed the promise and perils of gene editing and his plans to grow pig organs for human transplant.
While Ian Goldin counseled that around 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk from automation and Guy Standing warned that a new “precariat” class of part-time workers without rights or benefits is arising due to the new sharing economy, futurist Jeremy Rifkin laid out the promise of the Third Industrial Revolution in creating more humane and ecologically balanced societies. Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders told The WorldPost and members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council in Beijing in November that the country has officially embraced the vision of an innovation-driven economy where information technologies are applied to industry as the best path to “a moderately prosperous society” for its 1.4 billion people. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s founding, Kishore Mahbubani boldly asserted that the tropical city-state is the most successful society in the world, boosting its GDP by an astonishing 3,700 percent in those few decades while peacefully embracing cultural and ethnic diversity that elsewhere has led to conflict and war.
The blackest and, at the same time brightest, mark on 2015 is the refugee crisis that has enveloped Europe, mostly a result of the brutal carnage in Syria’s civil war and, as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres wrote, a general global disorder in which no one power or group of powers has the capacity to impose stability. In a gesture of historical redemption, German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the welcoming committee for refugees fleeing conflict. Yet this humanitarian tribute to the victims of intolerance in the 20th century was soon overwhelmed by the mounting scale of the crisis. Compassion has given way to a new round of bitter intra-European squabbling that, coming on the heels of the Greek debt debacle could, as Nicolas Berggruen pointed out, be the last act of the failing effort to build a common Europe.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State and ISIS-inspired terrorism extended its gruesome reach this year from Syria and Iraq to the streets of Paris and onto the far latitudes of southern California. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre at the start of the year, Danish editor Flemming Rose defended the right to satirize religion. Moisés Naím wrote after the November attacks on the soft targets of a theater and cafes in Paris that, “war is not what it used to be” when small cells of determined fanatics can breach the state’s monopoly over violence. Comparing the conflict within Islam to the history of battling Christian sects in Europe, Alex Gorlach wrote of a new “30 Years’ War” for global tolerance in the decades ahead.
Writing from Beirut, former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke saw signs of a key shift in U.S. policy on Syria late in the year that would see America partner with Russia to fight ISIS and likely leave President Bashar al-Assad in power during a transition period.
In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, sociologist Charles Kurzman posited that America is holding itself hostage through an exaggerated fear of terrorism that poses a comparably minor threat.
In a widespread reaction that conjoins terrorism, the refugee crisis and mass migration, nativist anti-immigrant political parties rose to the top of the polls even in liberal Sweden and Denmark. From Stockholm, Göran Rosenberg examined Sweden’s generous, but fraying, asylum policy. Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy warned that Marine Le Pen’s surging National Front is a threat to the very fabric of the French republic. The candid xenophobia and neo-fascist sentiments of Donald Trump, echoed in barely softer tones by the other Republican candidates for the American presidency, continue to gain disturbing traction in a nation that derives its greatest strength from its racial, cultural and religious pluralism. Akbar Ahmed sees a parallel in all the heated rhetoric to the months leading up to the anti-Jewish Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938.
Intolerance this year was not just the province of the West. “The behavior of the Hindutva extremists has opened the door to critics to suggest that it is safer in India to be a cow than a Muslim,” Shashi Tharoor wrote from New Delhi.
2015 saw a further splintering of the Internet as a global thinking circuit. The WorldPost/GDI Global Thought Leaders Index for the first time sought to accurately map the global conversation by including the Chinese and Spanish language areas, as well as the English-dominated infosphere, discovering that cyberspace with Chinese characteristics is a universe unto itself. In China, Internet czar Lu Wei insisted again this year on a new “Internet sovereignty” policy for global governance of the Net. That has coincided in China with a general crackdown on bloggers and the conviction of a top human rights lawyer for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” with his posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like micro-blogging platform.
Peter Dombrowski observed that it is not just China, but nation-states everywhere that are reasserting borders in cyberspace both out of security concerns as well as to advance their own libertarian or authoritarian models of governance. Facebook’s algorithms, as Zeynep Tufekci wrote, also serve to further fragment the Web into an echo chamber and silo of similarity among friends.
In a wide-ranging conversation, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk discussed how the steady disruptions of hypermodernity have outstripped any narrative of origins and continuity that can tie our globally synchronized world together, leading to a perpetual sense of unease and uncertainty.
History has never moved in a straight line, going forward, backward and sideways at the same time. The WorldPost will continue to follow that indeterminate course in 2016 to sort out for ourselves and our readers where we might all be headed.
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