“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.
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.
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.
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.