The Problem Space

In the context of a broad introduction, this discussion will only attempt to outline the problem space in terms of what things have had, and will have, a major affect on the evolution of the political process, i.e. past, present and future.

While there has been some limited acknowledgement of the role of history and culture, we possibly need to continue the outline of its role in the global evolution of various political systems.

But how much history do we really need to review?

If we simply look back at history from a general perspective anchored to the very start of the 20th century, rather than the 21st, we might perceive progress towards a more enlightened approach of political governance as the idea of a democratically elected executive, legislative and judiciary functions developed. While democratic forms of governments were not necessarily the rule, optimistic predictions at this earlier time might have suggested that the days of absolute monarchies and dictatorships were coming to an end. Of course, much of this implied enlighten approach was really restricted to only a few developed and prosperous regions of the world and possibly by the mid 20th century much of this earlier optimism may have faded during the course of two world wars and the emergence of a capitalism versus communism standoff between the US and Russia. Even so, it is possible that optimism was rekindled with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the apparent softening of the Chinese cultural revolution by the mid 1990s.

So what is the state of optimism today?

In a forward looking context, we really need to consider the totality of the problem space and the ability of present-day global governance to solve global problems. However, while tomorrows problems will very different in scope, they may still be rooted in what we might call the human condition, which has been responsible for creating most man-made disasters over and above the many types of natural disasters, which have often inflicted misery on humanity.

But what is meant by the human condition?

At a basic level, evolutionary theory suggests that all life is driven by survival instincts to adapt to its environment or perish in the attempt. While the human condition is complex, basic survival needs, e.g. food, water and shelter, still have to be met, after which humanity invariably seeks the protection of larger social groupings. However, the evolution of the human condition also appears to be driven by the need for both esteem and power; where the former relates to a need to be respected by others, while the latter relates to a need to win and/or achieve. Within this hierarchy of needs, humanity has developed many politically powerful institutions in order to manage the increasing complexity of its societies and through these institutions, small minorities have been able to establish their governance over larger majorities. However, in order for a small minority to dominate, it needed power of one sort or another, e.g. political, military and/or religious, such that the initial development of political power tended to be authoritarian in style. This said, history up to the 20th century suggested that progress was being made towards the wider acceptance of democratic and constitutional principles and, to some extent, it still is. As such, given enough time, we might be optimistic that better political processes will evolve and spread around the world.

But how do disasters, both natural and man-made affect this optimism?

In the past, natural disasters in the form of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods were often enough to destabilise the rule of a minority-led government because it jeopardised the more basic survival needs of the majority. However, while natural disasters can still threaten the political order of a society, such disasters and any resulting political instability that follows tends to be relatively localised, when viewed from a global perspective. This localisation was also true for the many man-made disasters up to the 20th century. However, in the 21st century, the survival needs of a global majority has become increasingly threatened by a new catalogue of man-made disasters that could have far-wider reach, e.g.

population growth, global warming, ecosystem collapse, resource depletion, economic collapse,
social and political anarchy, disease pandemics, cultural, racial and religious strife, war and terrorism

While, in this outline, we do not necessarily need to understand all the risks implied in the list above, it seems that such man-made disasters could easily lead to global instability, as the political process of governance breaks down and fails to meet even the most basic survival needs of the majority. Of course, many still believe, or hope, that modern technology, when coupled with appropriate political action, is capable of solving whatever problems the future might thrown at us.

But is this optimism realistic or simply wishful thinking?

While there is a place for optimism, if it cannot specify how a set of goals will be achieved, then it becomes little more than wishful thinking. In this respect, we have to be realistic about what any future political process will be capable of achieving, if still subject to compromise and where open discussion of all the problems is constrained by the idea of political correctness and the notion of plausible denial.

So what is wrong with compromise and political correctness?

If we consider almost any of the global problems cited above, we might realise that within the cultural and economic spread of some 190 nation states, the scope of compromise in terms of winners and losers is potentially too wide to close in any reasonable timeframe. Today, the political processes within the most powerful nation states appears resistant to almost any wholesale reduction in the standard of living of its own population in order raise the standard of living in the poorest nation states. If so, the only way poorer nation states can increase their own standard of living is to attempt to gain access to more of the worlds diminishing natural resources, while still battling the potential injustices of expanding free-market capitalism, which typically favours the most powerful nation states. We might also realise that the world's poorest nation states are often the ones most exposed to many of the global problems listed, while having little leverage in any political negotiations that the wealthiest nation states might wish to describe as a compromise solution. If we accept this overview as not being totally unrealistic of the current state of play, which is unlikely to change any time soon, the problems associated with population growth in a world subject to increasing resource depletion might simply be ignored by an uncaring capitalist economy until it is too late.

So are politicians also being economical with the truth?

It is said that we get the politicians we deserve, although it might be more accurate to say that we get the politicians the political systems allows. For example, political leaders operating in a totalitarian system do not necessarily have to explain their decisions and we might cite the famines caused by the politics of Stalin and Mao as extreme consequences of such systems. Of course, we have to also recognise that the actions of democratic governments have also led to many deaths, although those responsible might possibly prefer the semantics of collateral damage. However, if people do get the politicians they deserve, then we, the people, must take our share of the responsibility, although this may be too harsh on those people forced to live under a totalitarian system. Despite this caveat, it may be true to say that the majority responsible for any given political system are often reluctant to hear the truth, if this truth will have an adverse affect on their lives and prosperity. Therefore, majority politics can also be responsible for limiting political action, such that the economical use of the truth may be used as a means of plausible denial by both politicians and the wider majority. So, even if there were some obvious solution to one of the global problems listed, the probability of a solution actually being fully adopted may remain close to zero, if it affects the national interest or the interests of the powerful minority and/or a significant portion of the voting majority.

But is the political process really to blame?

At this stage, we possibly need to consider that financial and commodity markets, driven primarily by supply and demand, do not have to operate in accordance with any obvious ethical or moral code. If so, we then need to consider who we expect to legislate the required ethical guidelines and, more importantly, how they would be enforced on a global level. For, today, most political systems essentially operate within the boundaries of a nation state, even though the prosperity of the nation state is more often than not dependent on the fortunes of a free-market economy, which is now global in scope. As a result, most nation states have little political control over their own domestic economies, when faced with global boom and bust cycles. Therefore, in the absence of any accepted form of global governance, which is underpinned by a recognised political process in which ethical issues are taken in to consideration, the global economy will continue to be driven by the need for financial profit and subject to potentially wild variations in supply and demand, which an unregulated market often helps to create and manipulate. It might also be recognised that in the absence of any obvious form of global democracy, the interests of a global majority will not really be taken into account, which is possibly the root cause of so much growing disillusionment being directed at so many political systems around the world.

But where does political correctness fit into all this?

At one level, political correctness might be seen as little more than the banning of a few words now considered to be unacceptable, especially in a racial context. However, almost by definition, the idea of political correctness can be extended to encompass the concept of ethics and morality within the evolution of political policy. So while some may disagree with the following definition of ethics and morality, it will be suggested that ethics can be characterised in the form of a policy that can then be adopted by almost any form of institution, e.g. political. In contrast, we might characterise morality as aligning better with our more individual ideas of right and wrong. One reason for arguing for this definition is that it allows a clearer distinction between the ethical practices of an institution and the morality held by individuals, such that the ethical policies of an institution may fall short of the personal morality of individual members. As such, actions taken by political institutions may not always be seen as morally acceptable by some within a nation state, e.g. killing is morally wrong, but ethically accepted by the state in times of war. The other reason for separating the definition of ethics and morality is that if the economic system does actually operate without any significant regard of ethics or morality, the best we may initially hope for is some form of ethical policy being imposed on the global economy, even though today there is no obvious political process that can impose ethical governance on all the financial institutions that make up the global economy. Another aspect of political correctness that might be debated is whether there is a significant difference between what people say in public, in order to be seen to be political correct, and what people actually think and do in private.

What examples of public and private political correctness might be cited?

Normally, it is accepted that the US constitution was founded on secular principles, such that the functions of the state would be separated from religious belief, thus hopefully preventing any religious persecution by the state, which so many had originally fled. This said, today, it estimated that 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christians with possibly up to 40% holding some form of creationist belief, e.g. that the Earth was formed between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. However, in contrast, research suggests that while 40% of Americans say they go to church each week, less than 20% actually attend. Against this backdrop of a secular constitution and a somewhat confusing picture of the actual depth of religious belief, over 92% of political representatives of the US congress declared themselves as practicing Christians. Why this might be so is left for you to decide.

OK, even if true, how do all these problems affect the scope for political evolution?

Again, it is highlighted that this broad introduction is only trying to outline some of the wider problems, which need to be resolved and some of the possible barriers to any practical political solution in the near term. So far, the following problems have been cited has having potential global scope for future generations:

population growth, global warming, ecosystem collapse, resource depletion, economic collapse,
social and political anarchy, disease pandemics, cultural, racial and religious strife, war and terrorism

While not all of these problems are necessarily directly linked to population growth, it could be argued that population possibly exacerbates all of them. While the debate over population has already been addressed in another discussion, see Population and Resources, it is highlighted that there are possibly two schools of thought on this issue. One argument is that the total population is the major factor, while others argue that it is the over-consumption of a smaller minority. My problem with the over-consumption argument is that it is dependent on the idea of the human condition, where the present-day under-consuming majority will aspire to become part of the over-consuming minority. If so, the resources of planet Earth can only be sustained, if the aspiration of a better life, rather than mere subsistence, is confined to a finite number of people. For example, the discussion of the Human Footprint suggests various figures for a sustainable global population based on the resource usage per capita. However, if everybody aspires to the lifestyle of the top 10%, then the total sustainable population would possibly have to fall below 2 billion in comparison to a current population of 7 billion, which is expected to rise towards 10 billion by 2050. In this context, the issue that nobody wants to talk about in public debate for fear of being seen as political incorrect is the very alarming, but nevertheless necessary question now being tabled:

Who lives and who dies in any future political compromise?

Only now might we see the stark horror as to why so few want to really talk about such problems, let alone address them within any effective form of public and/or political forum. While the affluent minority is not without compassion for the plight of the poor majority, there is no obvious indication that they are willing to give up their own lifestyle in order that a larger part of the global population can be raised out of poverty. Therefore, irrespective of whether we retreat back into plausible denial, the questions and the problems still remain and will demand a solution, one way or another.