The Beginning of the End of the World
Now and Tomorrow
I’ve been thinking hard about where we are. Here’s where I am.
We’re at the beginning of the end of the world. I don’t mean that in the way that, for example, Paul Mason does – that a glorious age of abundance is about to be ushered in. You can’t eat information or live on likes. Nor do I mean it in the Marxian sense. That there’s a fixed path history takes, and we’re on the cusp of an inevitable grand socialist revolution. Hey presto – problem solved!
I mean it in a much simpler way. The end of things doesn’t always create, lead to, end up in…anything. Usually, it just leaves a void. Think of your last bad relationship. And in the darkness of that void, monsters may howl and slither.
The beginning of the end of the world means that yesterday’s model of prosperity – let’s call it capitalist liberal democracy – has reached its limits. It is like an aging machine that shudders and backfires more violently and regularly, because it is broken. And yet, we are unsure, as a world, where to go next.
Let’s take it in four levels.
At the macro level, liberal capitalism’s a set of agreements and institutions. These agreements are being torn up, rejected, abandoned. Witness Brexit. The world is left in a state of void, just as the UK is now.
Let me try to translate that: there is not a single leader in the world today who appears to have a vision for a stagnant global economy. The kind of great and radical vision that Keynes, Marshall, JFK had. Maybe we don’t agree with the vision – but what is important is that are visions to discuss, debate, inspire, cohere, lead.
That level of vision is missing when it is most badly needed. Without such a vision, what happens?
A void of vision, leadership, direction to fix any of the existential threats of inequality, fragility, insecurity, at the global level inevitably means social discontent, decay, decline. Why be a part of societies and unions that step on your future?
The beginning of the end of the world at the social level means: entire societies are beginning to fracture. As they fracture, so there is a return to tribalism, dynasty, feudal and authoritarian ways of ordering society. You don’t have to look much further than the US election to see it. In the void of democracy, feudalism is the darkness, and fascism is midnight.
What happens when societies begin to splinter and fracture, regress and decline?
At the institutional level, the level of corporations and organisations, the end of the world means that there is now an even more severe power imbalance. Institutions hold far more power than relatively powerless, ossified, fractured states. And they exercise it. They set the terms and define the rules of trade, freedom, work, reward.
What does that mean for people?
At the personal level, the end of the world is already here. This is the first generation in modern history that’s going to suffer worse living standards than their parents.
The question is: how much worse? Very badly worse. With stagnant incomes, no savings, this generation will never retire, vacation, advance, enjoy, or own. Their relationships, health, and productivity will suffer as a result. The quality of their lives is going to be long, bleak, and pointless. Worked to the grave to make a dwindling number of dynasties wealthy, largely by serving them hand and foot, not really enhancing human life.
That’s not healthy, because it’s neither freedom, possibility, nor prosperity. It is a bad trade for humanity. And in that sense the end of the world of liberal capitalism, followed by the void of institutional chaos and disorder, is likely to be an ugly and grim time.
Unless. You and I make it a better one. Now you know the problems. The path. The story of the future. And because you know it, you can change it.
The question for each and every one of us is: in our own lives, even in tiny ways, are we falling eagerly into the void at the end of the world – or are we charting a path to brighter shores?
Only one of those choices is properly called leadership.