Looking forward from 2018, there are both great opportunities and serious challenges. Challenges may not even be the right word because, while there are obviously obstacles to overcome and problems in need of solutions, there are tragedies waiting in the future which are probably not avoidable anymore.
To move forward successfully, we are going to need to look at the world with a sense of rational detachment; with an understanding of history, science, and human behavior we have to decide what will happen (good and bad), what is likely to happen and what could happen. Next, with these realities and possibilities in mind, we have to set priorities and goals for ourselves and the planet.
So, for example, some amount of climate change is inevitable. This is no longer something that might happen in 50 years if we’re not careful. It is something that has already begun. That means that sea levels are going to rise, severe weather events are going to increase, some coastal areas will be permanently flooded, farmland in some places will be lost, some fisheries will lose their stocks and some places near the equator will become too hot for humans to live in. All of this will certainly mean that more humans and other species will be on the move, looking for more hospitable habitats.
It is also certain, unless they self-sabotage, that China will become the world’s dominant economic, political and military power. The US and Europe will still be significant but cannot match China’s population or rate of economic growth. This is especially true if China comes to dominate Asia and roughly one-third of the global population. It is possible that India could match them, but there are significant obstacles for them to overcome first including their vulnerability to climate change, their economic inequality and lack of a significant middle class.
Artificial intelligence, robotics and automation technology will significantly change every industry and will have a huge impact on the labor force. There will probably be fewer jobs overall. Lower skilled and/or repetitive jobs (even highly skilled white-collar repetitive jobs) are definitely on their way out.
Advances in medicine and technology could lead to a significant increase in life expectancy and an improvement in people’s quality of life. However, without reforms, these advances could only be available to the wealthy.
It is entirely possible that the shifting of power from east to west, the rise in displaced people due to climate change and resource shortages and the rise of populist nationalism/nativism will lead to more armed conflicts, including both international and civil wars. These, in turn, could lead to even more refugees and resource shortages.
These are things we can’t ignore. We can’t pretend that these challenges, and others, aren’t out there. There was a time when I considered myself a progressive in the Bernie Sanders vein. However, when I listen to the rhetoric on the left, I do not hear anything that indicates an awareness of the state of the world. There is a focus on some problems, like fighting climate change and income inequality but very little acknowledgment that time has moved on from the 1980s and 90s or that new challenges have emerged. I even hear tinges of the same kinds of isolationist nationalism that I hear on the right. The overall goals of the so-called ‘progressive movement’ are still valid, but some underlying assumptions and ideological tenets of the old movement need to change. We may get to the same place but via a different path.
As we move forward, we have to drop protectionism and isolation from our politics. Globalization isn’t a proposal being pushed by elites, it’s a reality. It already happened and attempting to undo it, if that is even possible, would be costly, dangerous and would risk even more geopolitical and economic chaos. In the future, it’s inevitably going to take far more international cooperation to address global problems.
Although the right has misused them to further ideological agenda, we have to take law enforcement, national security and terrorism seriously. There are dangerous people, ideologies, and weapons out there. They exist in every region of the world and among people of every religion and ethnicity.
Additionally, over the last generation or so, the world has become accustomed to the United States being the only power that intervened in other countries affairs, but that world is gone. Russia, China, and others may now act militarily if it serves their interests.
We also need to avoid allowing magical thinking, wishful thinking, propaganda, pseudo-science and fake news to lead us into pointless arguments and down false paths.
Finally, it is also going to take the creative application of technology and the best minds in the public and private sector to allow us to do more with less and make social, economic, scientific and technological progress in a time of global upheaval.
In short, it is good to have idealistic goals, but we have to approach them realistically and creatively. We have to do what is good for us but without losing site of the potential impact on the rest of the world. We have to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good. We must be patient, willing to compromise and even sacrifice in pursuit of the greater good. We have to keep in mind that people, especially older and less educated people, fear change and that the world can’t be turned around overnight.