Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


“We have a problem” by an eternal optimist

I don’t like where the world is going right now, and as an eternal optimist, this is hard for me to say.

For a long time, I’ve been thinking that we are in the midst of a generational war, and the most recent Brexit voting data clearly shows the generational divide that is happening.

Brexit Age Data

This is not an isolated incident. In Japan last year, there was a major referendum to combine the city and prefecture of Osaka in order to reduce the waste from duplicated services provided by each government. Spearheading the initiative was a young politician by the name of Hashimoto, a brass but charismatic lawyer who put his political life on the referendum. When the referendum didn’t pass, he put an end to his political career as promised.

tokousou(Blue is for, red is against, age in the middle, men on the left, women on the right)

While the generational split wasn’t as pronounced, the effect was very much there. The older generation did not resonate with the young leader and did not want the status quo changed. Twitterverse attributed the loss as another case of the social phenomenon that has come to be known as rougai (老害) which can be best translated as harm brought forth by the elderly.

Japan is the oldest society in the world, with more than third of people over 60. They represent a huge voting block and wield a large amount of influence. In a span of two days in December last year, the government both cut child benefits and approved an one time benefit payment to the elderly. The benefits that the boomer generation will reap from the national pension system versus Gen Y has been discussed, but the notion of generational war hasn’t entered the mainstream media here.

nenkinHow much each generation will benefit or lose through the pension system in Japan, measured in ten thousand yen units (~100USD)

I’m sure similar phenomena are happening around the world in advanced societies, places like Spain where the youth unemployment rate is well over 40%.

It’s easy to take an us versus them attitude, to blame the other side for their ignorance, complacency, and/or malice. However, this will never be constructive.

What distraught me about the entire Brexit conversation was how irrational it was. To say that Europe is in an economic rut would be an understatement, and in such times, people want to find something to blame that’s not themselves. In the case of this campaign, it became the EU and their regulations and immigrants. It became so bad that the UK stat office had called out Leave Campaign’s use of facts and figures. Some people are starting to call this the post-factual democracy.

Americans are now seeing their own version with Donald Trump, a presidential candidate who caters to people’s emotions rather than facts and truths. This may not be surprising to many countries in Europe where right wing nationalist parties have risen in the last decade.

Many believe and worry that such rise of irrational nationalism, especially in Europe will lead to another world war, although I don’t think (and hope) it will go that far. We are too capable of destruction to actually cause it.

I do worry that we are becoming more polarized however.

While mostly ignored by the mainstream media and general public, Pew Research Center has done fantastic research to show that the American public is becoming more polarized in their political beliefs.


Polarization is bad. Polarization ultimately leads to violence, to revolutions. Many of the social institutions that we’ve created were in response to the inequalities. Democracy replaced monarchy, aristocracy, and dictatorships, sometimes in violent overthrow. Many of the social safety nets, regulations, and redistribution of wealth was in response to the collection of wealth (and dissatisfactions) that resulted from the industrial revolution and the first phase of capitalism. Neither of the institutions are doing enough in this day and age.

What’s ironic about the Internet is that while it’s polarizing the world, it’s also making the world a smaller place and the inequality more apparent. One could argue that the Arab Spring would not have started without the internet, without pirated videos of Hollywood lives and mundane Facebook posts of Western youths that highlighted how antiquated the Arab society was. The arrival of Perry’s Black Ships and the subsequent opening of then isolationist Japan to the global market showed how far behind Japan was and caused the rapid modernization of the country as well as the overthrow of many existing institutions.

We are at a turning point in our history. I don’t want a generational war. It’s too easy to blame them and not us, but it’s not us versus them, we are in this together. Our technologies are separating us further and further, both economically and socially, but the solution is not to rid them like a Luddite. Instead, we need to create a new system that will bring us closer, put us on the same page, have us walking the same path again.

I don’t know what that will look like, but we invented democracy, social security, international commerce, (ironically) the Nobel Peace Prize winning EU, and more. I’m sure that we will find something, but first we need to recognize that WE have a problem.


One Response to ““We have a problem” by an eternal optimist”

  1. August 10th, 2016 at 3:44 am

    martin says:

    KEK, I had no idea about Perry’s Black Ships and what a hermitage Japan was. How convenient that they didn’t need to build a wall. That would be irrational, right? But than, what’s “rationality” anyway?
    Peter Kruse helped me with rationalizing the Brexit. He basically maps everything with neural networks. Today, our networks are getting more dense, leading to more information (complexity). He posits that we deal with that by inefficient trial-and-error, filtering, or rationalizing. Obviously filtering is the most prevalent and well established approach as it doesn’t require a change in your pattern or ‘map’. Those who are bold follow Aristotle and try to penetrate the complexity to order it rationally.

    I implore you, try to buy a cell-phone and try to understand everything in detail before you make a decision. Did you buy your iPhone rationally? You know that you can’t approach that rationally, so you trivialize the problem, you buy the cheapest, or, if money doesn’t matter whatever apple offers.
    At it’s core, you can close in on a ‘complicated’ problem with reduction. However, Kruse says a complex(!) problem is ‘destroyed’ with this method. What’s left? You can interact intuitively (emotional evaluation). Essentially: pattern recognition.
    What happens if you learned the intuition in a different world? What if your map does not match the territory anymore? Imagine an old person with a smart phone.

    People are rational, and if somebody appears irrational to you, chances are you don’t know enough of what is true to them, what informed their pattern recognition.

    Also, I am not sure why you worry about sympathies that much. Let’s look at the “we” as well.

    Who are you? I speak a language my parents don’t understand (English), politically, I am member of a party that was founded in the vicinity of a BitTorrent Tracker (Pirate Party), I spend all day with a device my parents mistake for a better typewriter (computer), while interacting with people across the world more than with people across the street, settling my dues with a system they mistake for a currency (Bitcoin) and on top I eat raw fish with cold rice wrapped in algae.

    We are vastly disparate people. And I am not even gay or converted to Hinduism.
    If you, Grace, my gf from BR and I get together we can certainly agree on the the trouble that is the Donald, despite spanning 4 continents. Yet, did you check the Micky Mouse club card our parents consider the basis of their entitlement? Have you checked on the absurd interest rates they peddle JGBs for these days to guarantee their benefits?

    We don’t have a problem unless we buy into their ponzi scheme. For the first time, technologies affords us to stay out of their Sakoku.
    Come over to Rio, bring popcorn and leave the pessimism to the cognitive dissonant.

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