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How selfish is self-interest?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Friday, July 12, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of replacing individual selfishness by global self-interest in her seventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Industrial Revolutions have been instrumental in changing the landscapes of the world for centuries, including social, economic and governance. The first through fourth industrial revolutions mark human history since the Middle Ages. Each era represents certain technological advances: from use of coal and electricity, to miniaturization and digitalization. But, what about tomorrow’s worlds? The quickly approaching 5th industrial revolution focuses on sustainability and humanity in equal proportion to technological advances.

 

Having a presence in the digital world has evolved rapidly in the past 20 or more years: 84% of people could have a digital presence by 2025. In our connected world, digital life is becoming linked to a person’s physical being. This digital representation sets up certain positive expectations. It will also bring along negative concerns like greater perceptions of self-importance.

 

Increased connections create a new kind-of nervous system across the planet. So much that we can experience the pain in other parts of the world. Increased is empathy that any population is more than a collection of workers as an input of capitalism. Instead, they are residents whose dignity, well-being, and health must be considered. Urbanization booms and new technologies introduce advanced engineering, design, and construction. They also contribute to new thinking about sustainability and health in a place. Results intend to support aspirations of humanity, perhaps replacing individual selfishness with worldwide self-interest.

 

The next half century may bring changes to institutions and rules that govern access to justice. Global technical inexperience may shift due to greater awareness of interference and other technology-based insecurities. Prized future technologies will help individuals maintain privacy, own and control their data, and decrease censorship into the latter half of this century. It is unmistakable that recent environmental turnarounds elevate China’s influence today. Beijing has shown that significant pollution reforms are possible and are providing a model for others to follow for decades.

 

Identity politics influence Western economics and policies today. Identity politics can influence social cohesion by giving greater voice to often marginalized populations. Such greater voice amplifies skepticism and dispassionate reasoning; key to strengthening decision-making. Democratic governance, often conflated with unfettered growth and exploitation, sets up unnecessary contention with sustainability. In the approaching 5th IR world, greater voice is given to sustainable systems than ever before. Incentivizing responsible actions that benefit all (including future generations) may help restore trust in both capitalism and democracy.

 

Out of necessity, deliberative and technocratic councils may declare water and air to be of strategic importance to protect them. Though competent, technocratic leadership can appear distant, and challenging to understand. It is further wounded by decisions made at the cost of slow, non-public debates. Gaps in public conversation, give and take can leave a perception of inaction. Coupled with distastefully polarized arguments may cause people to turn to private sector solutions. A danger of this leadership is that it offers a single-minded vision, often built by a charismatic mover-shaker and not by the self-interests of the community. There is a strength from the participation of a wide range of entities challenging perceptions of futures possible.

 

Thriving in a 5th Industrial Revolution world means that technology for its own sake isn’t the blanket nor disruptive answer anymore. New possibilities rely on thinking and communicating differently about futures. Traditional analyses centered on technology, business entrepreneurship, and growth-at-all-costs are incomplete to deliver future success. In a sense, this line of thinking is outdated. By contrast, understanding and articulating futures that include a vision of social justice, environmental and economic sustainability, and widespread cultural change is key. Understanding change maps to possible future outcomes. Impacts on people are why we ponder those outcomes. Though easier said than done — the result: Individual selfishness replaced by global self-interest.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  democracy  selfishness  sustainability 

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