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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How Society Falls Apart

The rapper KRS-ONE's name stands for "knowledge reigns supreme over nearly everyone". It is one of the tenets of the enlightenment that knowledge will win out in the end, that people will discuss the issues of the world and agree on the best path to take. But the enlightenment is breaking down.

Consider the biggest challenges of our day and age:
1. Climate Change
2. Economic Inequality
3. Rise of the Machines
4. Political deadlock
5. Withering away of liberal democracy
6. Fragmentation of society into tribes squabbling with each other / tribalism disguised as identity politics.

None of these problems can be phrased in black and white terms. None of these problems have the same moral clarity as what we had in the Great Depression or WW2 ("Hitler is Evil, Imperial Japan is evil, end of story").

For every one of those problems I've listed above, there are sufficient people out there who deny that this is a problem. There used to be gatekeepers of information who ensured that the general public were fed real facts. These institutions are crumbling. Even the Singapore govt who used to exercise such tight control over print media has decided to downsize.

People are fed lies and smears on a regular basis. We saw voters go to the polls to dismantle the EU. We saw how Hillary was maligned to the extent that a business-as-usual the-devil-you-know candidate lost to an orange freak show. Old systems that are tried and tested are dismantled rapidly and replaced with Frankenstein entities. There is a consensus emerging that destruction is almost always better than preserving that which is flawed and imperfect.

Trump is polarising debate within America to an unprecedented degree. He'll do something stupid or crazy in the press. Then obviously his detractors will say that some old norm has been breached. And his defenders will come out in droves and get even more convinced that there is a vast conspiracy that is rigged against them. Both sides increasingly see each other as a foe to be vanquished by fair means or foul.

People think that they are engaging in passionate debate, but what's going on is a gladiatorial hate fest, something akin to a football match, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. People turning up for entertainment, turning up to vent their emotions, but almost never getting anything done. Fan clubs for the young and energetic to spin their wheels until they become old and spent, all the while preserving the incumbent power structures.

We used to have institutions. Even as we reviled the Big Evil Behemoths of the Fortune 500, they were in a way a reassuring presence. If only due to their longevity, they made the world we lived in predictable and manageable. Now, they're being disrupted left, right and center. Now, they're gone. Hanjin is gone. Toshiba is gone. Sharp is gone. Sony is gone. Olympus is gone. The Big Three automobiles will still be around, but it's hard to see how they're going to survive if and when the self-driving car gets onto the road. Coca Cola and McDonald's are no longer the movers and shakers of the corporate world that they used to be. They're stagnant. They could go the way of Sears and Toys r Us.

Interesting times.


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