What is Happening in the World?
Here is what I believe is happening in the world.
Accelerating technological change has unleashed an era of unprecedented prosperity, freedom, and opportunity. The necessity of extreme poverty is vanishing in the rear view mirror, the incidence of global violence is declining precipitously.
But like bookstore chains disappearing with the rise of digital literature, progress often unleashes chaos.
After all, prosperity drives—and is driven by—rapid disruptive change. It disrupts the ways communities function, it changes the ways societies operate, it distributes resources differently, it creates new questions, and poses new challenges. It forces us to ask what we care about, and provokes us to wonder what is worth fighting for.
And in human societies, it radically empowers extremisms of all kinds—from ISIS to white supremacy. Mainstream visions cannot keep up with the anxiety and fear unleashed by rapid change, nor can they offer a challenge compelling enough to help us overcome it. And so the most extreme visions available begin to seem compelling, and rush in to fill center stage.
This starts at the edges and works its way in—until even middle American teenagers are abandoning the mall, and joining terrorist organizations.
Of course, extremism fuels extremism. And so terror from all sides begins to escalate. Fear empowers violence, which inspires fear, which empowers violence.
There will be no end to this until we have blown ourselves up, or reached a new equilibrium in a world with more potential and technological capability than we have ever seen before.
This means that we are now in an arms-race between fear and hope. Fear inspiring violence on the one hand, and hope empowering compassion on the other.
If fear wins, we will become radicalized ourselves, and burn our world to the ground.
But if hope prevails, we will stare overwhelming fear in the face, and choose to be compassionate anyway. And then, we will discover that we have won.