One challenge

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. Forty-nine of openDemocracy’s distinguished contributors, from Mariano Aguirre to Slavoj Zizek, Neal Ascherson to Jonathan Zittrain – offer their predictions for the coming year. Since this is openDemocracy, we did not expect them to agree. We were not disappointed. (Part Two).
John Jackson
22 December 2005


My hope for the future is that humankind becomes wiser and achieves a better understanding of itself. We are all the prisoners of our genetic inheritance. At the instinctual level we behave as social animals but, beyond that, our brains have the capacity and configuration to give us prescience. We have knowledge of cause and effect and can see a future bounded only by the limits of our own imaginings. This is the origin of individualism. Conscious of our own identity, we seek to control our own selfish destiny, a destiny that extends, possibly, to an afterlife.

This internal conflict between socialisation and individualism demands definition and resolution in many spheres: without that life is intolerable. Politically, it has spawned the compromises found in systems of government. Representative democracy (the power to elect and hold to account those who govern us) allied with capitalism (encouraging wealth creation by the individual) is currently a successful and appealing compromise, not least because it brings with the rule of law and respect for human rights and freedoms.

Another compromise is to submit to the authority of God and find solutions to our inner conflicts in the divine word. Such a religious “God above man” system sits uneasily in the present world of politics and who knows what the divine word really is? But secular systems have their difficulties too and, given the extent to which they place man above God, appear blasphemous, even satanic, and cause deep offence.

The current and, if we are not careful, escalating clash between Islamic fundamentalism and representative democracy is potentially catastrophic. Perhaps the only answer is to recognise that they represent only two of a range of possible solutions to our uniquely human problem, and to find ways of respecting human dignity by bringing facts into the open and giving people choice.

My expectation is that this will not happen: it is far too challenging. We will muddle on, much as we do now, dealing unsuccessfully with the scourges of poverty and sickness, struggling to stop ourselves poisoning our environment and hoping that somehow we will find ways of keeping a sufficiency of uneasy peace.

There is an alternative nightmare. Our world’s tectonic plates, whether defined in terms of geo-politics, race, religion, economic power or systems of government, are shifting on a mantle of human aspiration, uncertainty and discontent. Knowledge, and access to knowledge, is growing. The magma is heating up. My fear is that, at some unsuspected hotspot or the junction of two grinding plates, magma on an overwhelming scale will break through. The cause? Some ghastly event - an attempt to eliminate Israel, the imposition of punitive sanctions on Iran, biotechnology gone ballistic? I worry about these.


Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData