2016 was a strange year: more refugees, Brexit, the US Election disaster, a coup d’état by the Government in Turkey, the destruction of Aleppo, Russian and Chinese hacking, the mainstream emergence of artificial intelligence, and self-driving cars are hitting the road. The environmental record is worse than predicted: mass extinction is under way, the oceans are rising, the cities are growing. We hope that more technology will save us, because going back is not an option. Many people are increasingly skeptical about the course of the world, and everybody seems to feel a deepening uncertainty about our future. I recently read on a wall in Berkeley: Your Utopia is my Dystopia.
One ray of hope is the new UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. He was a former Portuguese Prime Minister, and then he became the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2005. He understands the splits in our world probably better than anyone else, and he said: “Today’s paradox is that despite greater connectivity, societies are becoming more fragmented. More and more people live within their own bubbles, unable to appreciate their links with the whole human family,“
Brexit is an example of the fragmentation of Europe, and the US election has increased the deep divisions within American society. It is the story of a stolen election, and of a sinister Russian puppeteer who skillfully exploits the weaknesses of open societies. Economic disenfranchisement merges with nationalist self-interest to form a toxic mix on the right side of the political spectrum, and these ideological formations insulate themselves against any reality checks.
All developed industrialized societies face the same problem: Economic and technological globalization has leveled the playing field between poor and rich countries, and as a result, the people in rich countries are getting poorer, while a small elite in these countries is getting much richer. This dynamic will spawn more political conflicts, and possibly even wars. 2017 will bring more turmoil and transformation. Turning against free trade and globalization is a popular but nevertheless a failing strategy. Many of the problems we face today cannot be solved by individual states anymore, even if they are as big as the United States. We need better systems of multi-national governance, and we need a deeper sense of global justice in politics.
Historical progress has always been uneven. The human rights discourse is still our best chance to move towards a better world, less dominated by power politics. Human rights include political participation and adequate representation. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of this process. But authoritarian governments still rule in many countries: The Chinese never elected their leader or the Communist Party, Putin ignored term limits, manipulated the elections, and abolished the free press in Russia, Erdogan turns to a cult of personality and arrests hundreds of thousands of government workers and civil servants, including many academics. Countries like Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt, are all failing miserably when it comes to basic democracy and the protection of human rights. None of these governments will transform quietly into better systems. Their mode of operation is corruption and a strange form of state-controlled capitalism. The case of China shows that corruption has become so systemic that it is now uncontrollable. What do you do as a citizen, when murderers and criminals have taken over the government, like in Russia? Nations need deep democracy, or else the state quickly becomes a violent institution.
Unfortunately, the recent American election has cast a shadow over the idea that democracy works in large and advanced societies. We recognize today that the public sphere, or the “will of the people,” can be manipulated too easily. America demonstrates for the second time in 20 years that it is not a democracy. Hillary won by 3 million votes, but Trump becomes President, due to an electoral system that was created to account for population numbers during the times of slavery. The election result was forged through a strangely distorted political discourse, driven by deprivation and anger, and often in opposition to the facts. Trump is a demagogue and a con-man, he does not have the character or credibility to unify the country. He is an illegitimate President, without a mandate to govern. The Republicans currently control all institutions of power, but they will face the opposition in the streets and in social media. America is at war with itself, and the end of American hegemony may be near. Who will step into this vacuum?
The problems with American leadership are also evident in the Middle East. 5000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 alone, and the U.N. estimates that about 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war started in 2011. The US Government argues that it does not have the authority to intervene, and Syria has no strategic importance for the US. The “War Powers Act” from 1973 provides that the U.S. President can send U.S. Armed Forces into action abroad only by declaration of war by Congress. 1 At the same time, ISIS operates from within Syria and Iraq and has conducted a series of terror attacks in Western countries and Turkey. By refusing to intervene more strongly, Obama has created a very dangerous situation for Europe, and he is indirectly responsible for many of these deaths. Syria represents a failure of moral and political leadership in the United States and in Europe. The world is forced to witness helplessly how barbarous acts are committed every day: This is the failure of politics in our times.
- We need to rethink our idea of politics with nature in mind: The ecological problems we face today cannot be solved by treating ecological destruction only as a management problem, or a business opportunity. A deeper acknowledgment of nature is necessary for our survival. This means that our systems of production and consumption have to change. For example, animals are not just food.
- What worries me most in terms of future trends is the increasing release of genetically modified organisms into nature. This process permanently alters global ecosystems, and the consequences and systemic effects of these changes are unpredictable. In addition, antibiotic treatments are losing their effectiveness. One major flu epidemic could wipe out millions of people and demonstrate the limits of human control over nature.
- One of the under-appreciated trends in the last hundred years is the rate of urbanization. Currently, 54% of total world population are city-dwellers. This rate increases by 2.05% annually; in 1950, the world urbanization rate was only 30%. Urbanization has deep implications for a wide range of issues including food, water, transportation, and energy consumption.
- The ten largest urban agglomerations together hold more than 200 million people. They are: Tokyo (Japan) 38,001,000; New Delhi (India) 25,703,000; Shanghai (China) 23,741,000; Sao Paulo (Brazil) 21,066,000; Mumbai (India) 21,043,000; Mexico City 20,999,000; Beijing 20,384,000; Osaka (Japan) 20,238,000; Cairo (Egypt) – 18,772,000; New York-Newark (US) – 18,593,000. Mega-cities are now bigger than some countries, and they pose a new kind of challenge for human civilization. It is also noteworthy that the only city from the Western hemisphere included in this list is New York.
- Incomes erode not only because jobs move overseas, but because many jobs are becoming obsolete due to technological automation. Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne wrote in a famous 2013 study that about 47 percent of work was in danger of disappearing in the United States by 2040. This trend is accelerating as well, and it is global.
- One sign of the coming turmoil is the increasing irrelevance of job titles. They are becoming useless because people do jobs that are defined by an agglomeration of skills, not by a specific function.
- Institutions like universities, hospitals, government agencies, and regular corporations, are getting more tightly integrated via their central information systems and websites. University libraries become data centers and communication hubs. This allows the quantification of almost every aspect of life and work, and puts everything we do into the context of “big data.”
- The new business model is “disruption.” Nobody can be certain about the future anymore, and I wonder when and how my own profession of psychotherapy will be disrupted or transformed as well. The tendency to streamline psychotherapy by insurance companies is already a real challenge.
- Many people I know are struggling to keep their lives focused on what is truly essential for them. Our environments are increasingly rich and complex; contemporary life easily becomes an overwhelming experience. Ideas that help me to stay focused are “absorption speed” and “simplicity.” How fast can I personally adjust to new technologies and practices? Also, staying focused today requires elimination and strong filtering. For this reason, I have entitled this post “the search for simplicity.” I aim to use approximately 20% of my working time for self-organization, and I try to stay focused on narrowly defined goals. Let’s see how this works in the coming year.
Statistics for this website
The traffic for this website continued to grow rapidly in 2016, according to the AWSTATS traffic analyzer. Here are some numbers:
- The website had 115,194 unique visitors, with 1.44 visits per visitor. On average, each visitor calls up 6.6 pages. Compared to 2015, the number of visitors grew by 38,925, or more than 50%, over the total of 2015. If the trend holds, we will reach 150,000 visitors in 2017, which means that the traffic volume doubled in two years.
- There were 165,449 total visits, 763,500 pages called, and 5.01 million hits.
- I created 19 posts in 2016; the website now has 100 posts. Here is a sitemap.
- I also added 35 pages (pages are different from posts, which are only written by me. Pages contain quotes from various authors as well as longer texts). Now the website has a total of 443 pages. You can find a list of popular posts and recent pages here.
- The search phrase that brought the most traffic to Trialectics.com is still “characteristics of human rights,” which lands visitors on a post from January 2015 about Human Rights.
- The website currently runs on WordPress version 4.7
Trip to Germany
During December 2016 I visited Germany to meet with friends and family. I was mainly in Berlin and Coburg, my hometown. I visited the major museums in Berlin, and here are some pictures from the trip:
- The President needs this “statutory authorization.” The President can also enter into armed conflict in the case of an emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces, but the War Powers Resolution Act requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action, and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a Congressional authorization for use of military force, or a declaration of war by the United States. The resolution was passed by two-thirds of Congress, overriding a presidential veto. ↩