Monday, 10 November 2008

We shall overcome . . . .

As a non-American, some may feel I am ill equiped to comment on the recent Presidential election, but what many Americans fail to take into account is the impact that their country has on the rest of the world - which, believe it or not, is alot bigger than the USA! As was said many years ago, when America sneezes, Europe catches a cold - but it’s actually more than just Europe, particularly now that this amazing creation, the internet, has made us a truly global society. I know, there are plenty who would argue with me on that, too, but I’m not arguing that it’s an homogenised society. The speed and accessibilty of information has changed not just our world view, but the very way we think and behave, even the way we feel. Our perceptions of reality are now enormously expanded and changeable, as the net feeds us an ever changing wealth of information, and this is what I see reflected in the election of Barack Obama as America’s next President.

World wide, the struggle for civil rights, and supply of basic human needs, has grown enormously since WW2, particularly with the advent and availability of radio and tv. It’s a truism that we don’t crave what we’ve never had, but the expasion of information accessibility has meant that more and more of those ‘at the bottom of the heap’ have realised what they are missing - that compared to the small, wealthy proportion of the population, they are grossly deprived and disempowered. This has created a powerful groundswell of discontent and anger that, sadly, the ‘haves’ appear to be oblivious to. With the advent of the net, it is much easier for the ‘have nots’ to link up and start to form action groups, and to educate themselves in their own potential and abilities. Networking groups such as Facebook and YouTube are not simply about entertainment or time wasting, as some employers are prone to see it, they are powerful tools for people to form alliances, not just locally and nationally, but worldwide, and to take action, to turn individual actions into an irresistable tide.

I believe that the election of President Obama is just the beginning - I fear that ignorant reactionaries may well attempt, or even suceed, to assassinate him, which would be an appalling tragedy, but not, I believe, the end of the movement for change. The disempowered have now discovered that they have real power, after all, and I don’t believe they will reliquish it, even without their symbolic figurehead. After the assassination of Kennedy the movement for progress and change collapsed in grief and fear, but if something dreadful ( heaven forbid) happens to Obama, I believe it would light the touch paper to an explosion of anger that would overwhelm not just America, but the world. He is only one man, with a terrifying task ahead of him, but he is the thin end of a rapidly growing wedge, that the ‘haves’ and the societally old fashioned ignore at their peril. It’s not Communism, or religious fundamentalists, of whatever stripe, that those at present in power need to beware of , it’s something they really can’t control now, because it’s gone too far - it’s the empowerment of the disempowered by the enormous expansion in connectivity that the internet has brought.

This is why I believe we are truly entering a global society, made up of a staggering variety of differing cultures, all with something to offer. Today’s young people take this connectivity for granted, and use it with a fluency and imagination that is inspiring, they socialise, and work, across national borders almost without thinking about it, it is no longer necessary to travel physically to share in a world wide society, and market. This connectivity is also why we are going to have to radically re-think the whole financial system - one nation’s financial mistakes now have an almost instant global effect, we can no longer afford any kind of insularity. Humans have come to dominate the globe through our ability be flexible, and adapt to changing situations. The net has speeded up this process of change and adaptation, or rather the necessity for it, exponentially. As has always been the case, those who are not able, or willing, to adapt as change drives through our lives, will fall by the wayside, in this new context, there will be no room for inflexibility.

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