Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Is Tom Friedman Right? Is that a Tremor? Or Am I Imagining Things?

In his column "What If?", Tom Friedman contemplates a configuration of disconcerting events that could make life much more challenging (to put it mildly). The slowing or ending of Chinese growth (a main engine of world growth), low oil prices pressuring petro-regimes, Europe under pressure from migration based on Middle East turmoil, the U.S. caught in an increasingly polarizing politics that leads to further inaction, and so on. And while I don't see Bernie Sanders "socialism " (whatever that is) as an equivalent of the proto-fascism of Trump (Italian-style) or Cruz (McCarthy-style), I do think that Friedman's other points bear some scrutiny.

In fact, for some time now I've begun to wonder if there isn't something below our conscious awareness that's causing us humans some great unease. Perhaps we're like animals who can sense that an earthquake is about to happen. I don't know how true that is of animals, let alone humans, but I'm beginning to wonder. Are we getting too crowded? In large parts of the world (centered in Asia) we are too many for the environment, while some places, like Europe, seem to be imploding. We know that economic inequality is a big problem in the U.S., with many people feeling a deep economic angst that grows into resentment. Most people know that climate change is real and unavoidable now, the official ostrich position of the Republican Party notwithstanding. What upsets will that cause? And we have a tiny, tiny group of Moslems who have not hope of gaining true power, who are essentially reactionary nihilists, who are creating fear and even panic far beyond their power to cause serious harm. And in all likelihood, political extremism and religious millenarianism across religions will increase.

The mass of people who are expressing their unease don't go to Davos, don't read The Economist or the New York Times, and aren't guided by reading the official tea leaves, but they feel--and they feel fear. To paraphrase FDR, we should fear fear. It's a terrible guide to decision-making because it's intended by evolution to act as a warning and quick trigger. But we don't need a quick trigger, we need considered action, and politicians peddling that are in short supply.

Yea, I could ruin a dinner party, too.