While I’m a fan and admirer of the journalist responsible for the theme of this blog, I am not a practitioner of his self proclaimed ethos, “pessimistic realism.” When asked during an interview for our first ever pod cast to sum up what I thought the near future of global affairs entailed I answered “Unknown,” and asserted my sense of cautious optimism.
On any given day it’s easy to give over to the pessimistic vision of what’s going on around us. We are inundated by media reports rife with live reports depicting either the lowest points of humanity or the greatest suffering of humanity. In just the last few days news reports informed us of the fiery crash of an airliner out of Lebanon (breathlessly claiming that “sabotage,” despite the claims of the Lebanese government, was hardly off the table,) a synchronized series of explosions directed at hotels in Baghdad had killed at least twenty and of course the media’s darling of the year; Haiti’s being smashed from abjectly failed state to that of, well, no state.
Combine this with the likes of a decade long promise of apocalyptic climate change, the pervasive experts promising the next existential terrorist threat, the ever present promise of looming economic ruin and it’s no small reason that we look into our televisions, listen to our car radios and conclude that the near future of humanity is, as succinctly stated by my learned colleague; “fucked.”
So I read, with particular interest , this piece by Thomas Barnett titled “New Rules: The Fallacy of an Increasingly Dangerous World.”
The meat of the article expresses exactly what the title entails. As bad as things are we, as a planetary collective, are forging a legacy quite contrary to what pessimists might paint:
<blockquote>In 1950 the planet consisted of 2.5 billion souls, while today our global population approaches 7 billion. Likewise, the number of U.N. member states has roughly doubled to nearly 200, meaning a greater number of possible configurations for war. In short, despite far more bodies and far more states, wars have nonetheless become less frequent and less lethal, while we as a planet have grown stunningly more interconnected and thus interdependent. Even the three biggest conflicts of the last decade — Iraq, Sudan and Congo — involved, at most, 2 percent of the world’s population.
That amazing trajectory now places us far closer to Immanuel Kant’s vision of “perpetual peace” than to Thomas Hobbes’ “state of nature.”</blockquote>
As I stated above, I’m not a “pessimistic realist.” While I’m loath to accept being pigeon-holed into some neat category either politically or intellectually I could live with the label “pragmatic optimist.” I agree that we are “far closer” to Kant’s perpetual peace than Hobbes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” but would argue that we’re only beginning to move away from Hobbes’ “war of all against all” in too many areas of the world. That’s a beginning that I’m much more willing to embrace than the pessimist’s embrace of the “beginning of the end.” We’re a fallible species and guilty of our own self induced eras of violence and ignorance but on the whole we’ve maintained a remarkable ability to advance. And I believe we’ll continue that advance.
I’d be curious to see what our own readers think in terms of just how dangerous our world is and just what their positions are regarding the overarching progress (or regress as it may be) of humanity.