In a talk delivered at the Poetry Center, New York, on February 16, 1970, Noam Chomsky opined, “We have today the technical and material resources to meet man’s animal needs. We have not developed the cultural and moral resources or the democratic forms of social organization that make possible the humane and rational use of our material wealth and power.”
Boy, did he get that right! And that was 1970. What would Chomsky say today? We now have amazing technologies in medicine and health, information and communications, engineering and technology etc, yet as a species we have utterly failed to address gross levels of inequality in health and wealth within societies and between developed and developing nations, continuing and quite unnecessary wars and conflicts, and last and not least the protection of the ecosystem that is Planet Earth. I have commented previously that, a visitor from outer space from an advanced civilization would surely assess us as a primitive species.
There is much literature around the subject of forms of government such as socialism, communism, liberalism etc. But economics is about just one dimension of a governing model. I suggest we have two primary problems today in many countries around the world – representation and competence. Representation is about allowing ordinary people to have a voice and to be heard. Competence is about good people with skills and expertise that understand how to deliver solutions by policy formation, budgeting, legislation and communications.
Let’s be blunt – politics has become one of the least trusted professions. A survey taken by CV-Library in the UK in 2019 asked 1200 working people which profession they considered the least trustworthy:
At the core of both problems is the question of competence. While we have all watched the descent into chaos and farce in the USA and the UK, these two countries are merely leaders in the race to the bottom. Most (western) countries have similar problems including:
- Domination of the political gene pool by media (journalists), third rate lawyers, populists and small businessmen, and political families.
- Short termism based on media impact of any decision or announcement.
- Corruption, whilst it would be entirely wrong to say all politicians are corrupt, it’s evident that many are swayed by self-interest.
- Individuals with no or low real world experience. Current trend is to take political courses at university and then follow a career path of research assistant to elected politician.
It’s self-evident that the most capable, highly qualified young people will not consider politics as a career. They prefer medicine, humanities, teaching, law etc. There was an excellent article the other day in the Irish Independent by Sophie White with the headline, “Nobody tells you that you will get to the point when you realise that you are legitimately smarter than the majority of people in power”. And she’s not talking about the outliers such as George W. Bush, but the majority of public elected officials. We have to conclude that politics is a power game, and that anyone attracted to politics should be denied entry until they have demonstrated qualifications, skills, competence and integrity in a significant profession prior to even being allowed to run for public office. But you may say, dream on!
But can we allow this current situation to persist? We have an existential climate crisis looming; we (the politicians) have ignored all the warnings for 30 or more years, and are still most likely to listen to the powerful lobby groups rather than the public and scientists. Of course the politicians will say they are setting new targets. They will “claim” their new targets will save the world. But we know they are only short term focused. And they will be diverted by the next local problem, lobby group, fossil fuel industry story, and change focus and priority back to business as usual.
I suggest we need to turn to the next generation NOW.
With notable exceptions, young people have never been really interested in politics. However this has changed. We know the younger generation are energised by the climate crisis. They have been involved in school protests around the world. And young people are in most families and they can exert influence that spans political parties, countries, religion and race. They also have some thought leaders and embryonic organization. Importantly they are all very good at communicating on social media, and can form groups and organize in a heart-beat.
I would never try to tell the younger generation what to do. But just imagine for a moment how a worldwide organization could emerge, almost overnight. And imagine if that organization provided high profile communications on how individual countries are performing (or not) against climate and sustainability targets, and supply the media with material (ammunition) to challenge the existing political hierarchy. And imagine how such an organization might develop virtual, worldwide expertise groups around policy formation, pro forma legislation, apps to track individual commercial and government organizations’ performance against target etc etc. And how such an organization might develop as a worldwide virtual organization with country chapters that, as natural demographic change happens (young people get older) they form dominant political forces that encourage highly skilled individuals to get involved and take charge.
Maybe that’s just my dream. Maybe it will happen over time; but if we seed that thought into a few young heads, perhaps we can encourage the acceleration of this process. God knows, we need it now!