The Nature of Consensus

This discussion might initially be described as an extension of earlier discussions within website-2 related to politics, economics, population, climate change and human perspective. Further implications were then raised in another discussion entitled ‘Brave New Worlds’ that made reference to Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel. This discussion also produced the diagram right to represent a framework in which to discuss the complexity of issues affecting the modern world. However, it will now be argued that this diagram can also be used to reflect the scope of the problems of trying to forge any consensus on any of the issues raised. For in a wider context, Huxley’s original novel could be interpreted as either a futurist utopia or dystopian nightmare depending on your worldview and your position within such a society, i.e. whether you are a winner or loser in the current system. However, as indicated, it also raises the issue of whether there can be any real consensus of opinion by which society might choose a path into the future. As such, this discussion will attempt to consider the nature, and possibly limits, of any collective consensus.

How might this issue be reviewed?

Well, as a starting point, we may need to consider the conceptual idea of any consensus, which then raises the issue of the scope of any opinion within a broad framework of political and economic ideologies. However, while there may be an idealised perception of consensus, which collective society might used to guide its decisions; consideration is also required of the limits on any global consensus given the disparity of opinions that exists between the some 190+ national identities. Given this somewhat negative outline, we might table a question.

Will consensus shape the future?

For the purposes of this introduction, we might simply reference aspects of the previous Brave New Worlds discussion, which introduced a broad set of catalysts, centred on technology, but then constrained by economic, political, and social issues, as well as the human ecosystem as a whole. While the role of technology was limited in the past, it is clear that it may become a major catalyst of change in the future, although it is far from clear whether there is any broad consensus of the direction of developments, as expressed in the following quote:

Much of humanity now lives in man-made environments in which a technology-led ‘evolution’ is accelerating, but not necessarily being planned. For history suggests that humanity has rarely, if ever, been in complete control of its technology developments and, in many cases, did not foresee or concern itself with many of its negative consequences.

Of course, the development of technology will require financing by both the local and global economy. How different groups in society quantify success was characterised in the following quote:

It would take the world's richest person, Carlos Slim, 220 years to spend his $80bn fortune at a rate of $1m per day. By the same token, it would take the poorest earning $1/day over 220 million years to earn the same amount.

Whether there is a justification for such disparity will not be discussed at this point, but many consider the excesses of capitalism to be a problem. However, while capitalism, like democracy, may not be perfect, it is often assumed to be better than any alternative, where its global development will help expand prosperity, although this last assumption is not necessarily guaranteed. So, even if capitalism has been shown to work for a minority, it is questionable whether it works for all, such that we might ask whether this system has ever had the consensus of a majority. However, we might use a quote by Thomas Sowell to characterise the scope of this issue, which then leads to the issue of politics.

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

Again, we might start with an idealised concept of political governance ‘by the people, for the people’ as oppose to the imposition of autocratic or military power, However, while we might perceive the benefits of a more democratic form of governance, history is littered with the failure of possibly well-meaning, but weak democracies. If so, we may also have to question whether the perception of a democratic consensus is flawed, especially if it only has the support of a minority of the population. For, in practice, most democratic electoral systems only offer one or two alternatives that can be subject to much influence by powerful institutions with their own agenda. Clearly, this may be a somewhat pessimistic assessment, which people like Steve Pinker have provided statistical evidence suggesting that the world has actually become a much better place for many, especially over the last 100 years, which might be seen in the context of political progress.

So, do we need to consider a bigger picture?

Clearly, much progress has been made, which should not be ignored, although the Brave New Worlds discussion also attempted to consider some of the wider implications on various groups in terms of the future of employment, as characterised in the chart right. So, while not ignoring the positives as outlined by Pinker, it is possibly naïve to assume that self-interest will disappear from the world and that powerful individuals, institutions and nation-states will not continue to make decisions that prioritise their own self-interests above all others without consideration of a wider consensus. So, based on this initial introduction of some of the wider issues, we now consider the basic idea of a consensus.