Political Catalysts

For the purposes of this introduction, we shall define ‘politics’ as a process by which some form of ‘governance’ is either agreed or imposed on a section of the global population, which we might broadly describe as being democratic or autocratic in nature. The nature of this political governance might also be aligned to some form of ideology, which may be rooted in philosophy, economics or religion, but where all now have to compete in an increasingly globalised world for finite resources. While there are some 196 nation-states in existence, global politics is now dominated by just a few nation-states that have both the economic or military power to protect and further their own national interests. However, economic power is now increasingly subject to global market forces such that national politics can often be manipulated by powerful multinational corporations and institutions, which may have their own agenda, priorities and self-interests. So, based on this somewhat harsh initial assessment, we might ask ourselves a question.

“In Geo-Politics, a nation has no permanent allies
or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.” 
George Friedman

Do we really expect national politics to provide solutions to global problems?

Of course, any answer to this question requires some further context of a specific problem. For example, we might perceive the issue of unemployment to be a problem, which has both economic and social ramifications that we might expect our national politicians to address. However, unemployment in any nation-state can be affected by shifts in the global economy, especially in sectors where manufacturing costs and technology adoption may play a key role, which are often outside of the direct control of national politics. We might also need to reflect on the ‘possibility’ that politicians are not necessarily problem solvers, but rather act as ‘managers’, who attempt to facilitate and mediate some form of compromise solution, which others may manipulate to best meet their own self-interests. We might also suspect that many politicians are often too focused on problems that immediately affect the stability and continuance of their own political careers, such that many proposed ‘solutions’ are both localised and short-term in scope. Again, while it is recognised that this is also a somewhat sceptical viewpoint, many people increasingly appear to perceive politicians as individuals with their own self-interests, human weaknesses and limitations, who operate within a system of ‘political machinations’ that always seem to surround the centres of power, irrespective of the nation-state in question.

But is this too sceptical and backward looking for the ‘brave new world’ that awaits?

If the problems now facing humanity are global in scope, we might reasonably assume that we need global solutions. However, it is unclear that powerful nation-states will ever support truly altruistic solutions, which while possibly being beneficial to the global population as a whole would be vetoed because they might adversely affect the interests of the powerful nation-state itself. For there is little evidence within the current system of limited global governance to suggest that economic wealth is being fairly distributed even within powerful nation-states, let alone amongst the weaker ones. We might also recognise a growing global complexity in what was once a conflict between just two super-powers, but now appears to be collapsing into an endless series of conflicts between numerous smaller states in differing alliances. However, such conflicts might also be seen as representing a growing war between the ‘haves and have-nots’ irrespective of any ideological differences that might be thrown into the mix. If this description is not so wide of the mark, we possibly need to table another question.

Will politics ever be a real catalyst of change?

The inference in this question is suggesting that while technology developments and economic prosperity ‘might’ act as positive catalysts of change, politicians will continue to simply react to events as they unfold. By way of an example, while we might recognise that technology may not be a panacea for all the world’s problems, the possibility of cheaper renewable energy through technology innovations may hold out hope if it allows the increased demands for water to be addressed by industrial scale desalination. For water shortages are now affecting both agricultural and industrial output in many regions around the world, which we might reasonably assume may only lead to increased instability of a society and its economy, which some political systems may only address using draconian security and military options. Of course, the proliferation of cheaper renewable energy in combination with innovations in bioengineering may also help revolutionise food production using large-scale hydroponic systems that minimise the need for soil by using mineral nutrients supplied in a water solution. However, while extending energy, water and food solutions to a larger percentage of the world’s population will undoubtedly help social stability; wealth and social inequality may still remain political problems for many other reasons.

So, is the role of politics simply to maintain order while others find solutions?

Many may reject such a suggestion on the grounds that the actions of the political system, irrespective of it being democratic or autocratic, will remain critical if it provides the necessary public funding for future technical developments. We might cite the space-race of the early 1960’s as a somewhat historical example of a technology solution that was initially driven by political support and public financing, although we might now question whether the future of space technology will be increasingly driven by economic needs and private funding. If we consider the wider spectrum of technology evolution under consideration in the context of politics and its apparent dependency on a growing national economy to provide its tax revenue, we might see a limitation in a government’s ability to fund future technology research. For we might realise that a government will not only have to fund an expanding educational system, if it expects its population to participate in leading-edge research, at the very time it might be facing increasing pressure from its welfare system due to unemployment.

Note: As outlined, the balance between education and employment might also be affected by both the access to and the imposition of AI and robotic automation. For example, people in developed nations may be replaced by the imposition of automation, while people in developing nations fail to compete within a global economy because they do not have access to the latest automation technology.

As such, we have possibly returned to the idea that politicians may only act as ‘managers’, who attempt to mediate solutions while being subject to many conflicting pressures over which they may have very little control.

Could the inability of any political system to control the global economy be a catalyst of change?

Globalisation might also be seen as a political catalyst that is already influencing the political decisions of even the most powerful nation-states. In this respect, technology has facilitated the spread of globalisation in its ability to extend communications, e.g. mobile phones and internet applications, across national boundaries. However, as new ideas flow across borders, even the most draconian political systems may find it increasingly difficult to maintain complete control over the aspirations of its population for a better life. Equally, there may be an increasing recognition that no nation-state can be the world-leader in every area of development, such that there may be an acceptance for an increasing need for international cooperation, although possibly still defined along the fault-lines of historical military alliances. As such, we might leave this initial outline on this note of possible optimism, although it is unclear that the idea of ‘Fortress World’ will not remain a real threat.

Fortress World acknowledges the possibility that the global problems may simply get worse, such that the powerful nation states enforce order in the form of authoritarian governance, both internally and externally, in an attempt to control the global economy for the benefit of some powerful minority. Of course, it might be argued that the world already operates in this mode given that the most affluent 20% consume 80% of the world resources.