Backlash, Change and Disruption

By Dr David Laing Dawson

How stupid can they be to vote to leave the EU? How stupid can they be to vote for Donald Trump?

These questions leap to mind but are mostly the product of bafflement, anger, and worry.

But perhaps we should take those two questions seriously and try to answer them. Because if we don’t understand these phenomena, we may find ourselves in big trouble.

Prior to the turn of the last century, as 2000 loomed, I wondered if there would be a backlash. That millennial year signified change and disruption, a world, yea a universe, that could no longer be understood using concepts and tools of the 20th century. It didn’t seem to happen at the turn of the millennium, but then we humans have a very narrow perspective. I think it is happening now, not all at once, but here and there, a growing backlash, a growing avoidance of the realities we face and the future that will unfold.

Historically it happened once before, thanks to the printing press. Suddenly knowledge was disseminated. Literacy grew. It was no longer locked away in the vaults of monks. The world was not flat after all. And the earth traveled around the sun, and even the sun was not the center of the universe. Humanism competed with religious dogma. Gallileo, Copernicus, Columbus, Da Vinci – they all had to be reckoned with. Maybe, just maybe, the Pope did not have a pipeline to God. Maybe parts of those old texts were simply wrong. Maybe disease and pestilence and weather were not acts of an angry God.

We did go through a renaissance and a reformation and then a scientific revolution, but we also floundered into a protracted reactionary period, a hundred plus years of religious wars, famine, pestilence, superstition and stupidity. The dramatic changes in the 1400’s did bring us literacy and art and science and a new awareness of the world as but a sphere in orbit around a star. But it also brought us the 15 and 16th century equivalents of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Radical Islam.

It was the invention of the printing press about 1440 that triggered that first disruption, the spread of knowledge and literacy, and with this a limitation on the powers of Popes, Princes, and demagogues. But there was a backlash and it brought on a century of pain.

Today we live within an even greater disruption, several in fact:

  • Our medicines, our science, our agricultural advances, and our industrial revolution have rendered us capable of destroying our planet. Quickly with nuclear weapons or slowly with population, deforestation and pollution.
  • The digital revolution. Faster than the printing press, information of all possible kinds is disseminated, made available throughout the world, almost instantly. And this now includes images and videos. This time around even the semi-literate are included. It is much harder today to be complacent about one’s knowledge and understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. It is much harder today to be so sure of the rightness of our lives and our place in the universe.
  • Globalization. A product of both the digital revolution, the massive increase in population, and all our other technologies. We can no longer even pretend to be isolated and protected from whatever plague is visiting a far off land or a neighbor.
  • The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. The robots. We are in the process right now of creating things that are smarter than we are, can do most of our jobs, and might not obey Asimov’s first rule of robotics. Exciting and frightening times ahead.
  • Our awareness of the expanse, the complications, the weirdness of our universe is blossoming, is growing beyond our average human comprehension. Clearly our world was not created by a God in six days 4000 years ago. Would someone please explain string theory to me, and black holes, and anti-matter, and things being in two places at once; and what existed before the big bang, and does that question even make sense?

Hence the backlash. The fantasy that we can return to our whites-only pub, discuss football with the same accent, build by hand what we need, grow our potatoes and eat our pies, drink our ale in peace, and know that we are British, the truly civilized people.  The fantasy that we can rebuild a caliphate and control all around us, the women, the way we dress and eat, the way we think, regain the comfort of absolutes and certainties. The fantasy that we can retrieve small town America and go about our lives certain of our jobs, our future, our power, our exceptional place in the Universe.

It is all happening now. And to avoid a repeat of the 16th century (with global consequences this time), our leaders must understand the disruptive transition ahead of us, and the forces that would like to pull us back to an imagined time of peace, prosperity, simplicity and isolation.

We really have only two choices: Embrace and manage these disruptive changes, accept globalization, muddle through and save the planet, or let Donald and his ilk drag us into a very dark (and hot) age.

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5 thoughts on “Backlash, Change and Disruption

  1. Terrible havoc has been wrought to the better angels of a civilized world . This Morning Saint Farage the saviour of England ( himself a German in descent) has achieved his goal. Where is he now. He has stepped down from his extreme right wing monster ? He will still have a seat on the EU even though he has rubbished his party! Reminds me of the song from Guys and Dolls. Sit down you are rocking the boat. I played it this morning to quell my anger. But where is the killer whale to swallow him up . We need you now Jonah don’t spew him up this time . He is dangerous. A false prophet of the worst sort.

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  2. This is reminiscent of the Luddite movement…they do not seem to be mentioning technology, but they are clinging to the old ways..!

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    1. I think the Luddites were a little more sympathetic than Trump and his ilk.
      But look at what is happening with Tony Blair! His unchecked action of committing Britain to an illegal war where thousands of needless deaths were caused, on both sides, has now been thoroughly investigated by the Chilcott Report. Blair’s tearful splutterings in response to this report send the message that he still does not get it. And he certainly cannot feel the preventable pain that he has caused.
      Reminds me of what is happening in the mental health industry where self proclaimed “mental health” advocates under the banner of “anti-oppressive practice” have successfully oppressed the voices of families, who have been accused of “wounding” their loved ones. This has been happening since the days of the asylum when families were considered to be intruders. Because there has been no family oversight, these zealots have successfully developed tax payer funded programs which exclude knowledge of serious mental illness. Institutes of higher education, also paid for by the tax payer, have been complicit in spreading this “flawed intelligence”‘. Many social work and social service programs do not include information about serious mental illness. With their war cry of “there is still lots of work to be done”, these zealots are charging ahead with “flawed intelligence”, unchecked, with no requirement of program evaluation or of accountability. Their dogma has “trumped” mental illness knowledge and literacy and it seems we are doomed to further decades of “protracted reactionary period” where the fantasy of “recovery” from so far incurable illnesses is held up as a goal that can be achieved if one only tries hard enough. Preventable tragedies have occurred as a result of this “growing avoidance of the realities we face”. At the moment, according to my friend who lost her husband through the actions of her untreated son, the only way to get effective psychiatric treatment is for the ill person to commit an offence. Hopefully, one day the current mental health industry will come under the scrutiny of a “Chilcott Report”.
      But that will only happen after a couple of decades. And only after more carnage.

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      1. Katy, well expressed and justified anger at the treatment we deal out to severely mentally ill citizens. But “committing an offense” just gets them more cruelty while trapped jails and prisons.

        Massive scientific research to prevent and cure infectious brain diseases like schizophrenia, autism, clinical depression and other neurological diseases could change the world– even prevent the tragic events we experience so often.

        The sad truth about our societies is that politicians and other powerful people refuse to open their minds to newly found scientific facts about root causes of these diseases of human brains. The current use of social manipulation to treat mental illness has failed completely. Yet we behave as if there could be better results if we just keep using the same treatments ad nauseam.

        This is no way to rid the world of medical diseases.

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