A Case for Doubt: To Question and to Mistrust

Credits: Sciences Po

There can be little doubt (if you would excuse the cheesy pun) that while flicking through the pages of this edition of Le Zadig, one develops a tremendous sense of trepidation over the various routes and potential pitfalls facing our world in the near future.
By Hardy Hewson

Whether they can be deemed as positive or negative, matters of progress or regression, the forces and circumstances exercising influence on the direction of human life are more difficult to predict than ever. Indeed, the state of the world is noticeably less secure in 2016 than it may have felt at the turn of the century, or even following the gradual recovery of the world economy following the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Of course, there is plenty to be concerned about in the near future. The world is undoubtedly a far more uncertain place than it was perhaps a few years ago. Demonstrated by the shocking attacks carried out in Turkey, Lebanon, and Paris, the rise of the so-called Islamic State has complicated further the already labyrinthine flashpoint of the Syrian Civil War. The disruption of human life in this conflict is mirrored by the political upheaval in the same region, associated with plummeting oil prices and reforming states; as state revenues decline, countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia may be inclined to externalise internal tensions, making policy predictions dubious. A further source of doubt over the future can be found in the distressing state of elections in the world’s leading nations. A general decline of political involvement in western democracies has been matched by rising populism on both sides of the Atlantic, as is already the case in Poland under the Law and Justice party, and in the United States with the shadow of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz looming large over the GOP debates. By 2020, national elections in each of the respective G8 countries could potentially introduce entirely different players into international politics. They will face a variety of current and future issues as the world recovers from the lasting effects of recession, especially given the potential shocks of a slowing Chinese economy, and the humanitarian crises of refugee influxes and international conflict.

However, one need not be fatalistic. Approximately a quarter of the world’s population, some 1.8 billion people, have turned 15 but not yet 30—an enormous proportion from which the next leaders, innovators, and educators will gradually assume stewardship of humanity. Although they may be the generation of a Doomsday Clock that looms permanently at 11:57, they are also the most well-educated, longest living, and most connected. In a recent article, The Economist reported that, in general, Haitians spend more time in school today than Italian children did in the ‘60s, while many around the world are developing a common culture and common complaints about the state of the world. These commonalities unite a generation that supports (to a far greater extent than previous generations) the extension of equal rights and representation in marriage and politics; “18 to 29-year-old South Koreans were four times likelier to be gay-friendly than those over 50.” It will be this generation that will determine the outcomes of the future, and it is imperative that they retain the sense of doubt upon which this edition is based.

It is with such a sense of doubt that this generation must try to resolve the issues it faces. Collectively, they must employ their doubts and uncertainties in order to question, or more importantly to critique, the established orders determined by the traditions of our past. Doubt over dogmatic ideologies, over the tales of the media, or the promise of a politician drives independent thought and learning and councils us in our choices (the writer himself will be doubting the virtues of Brexit or Bremain in the coming months). It is through doubt of established ‘truths’ that innovation occurs; to paraphrase Albert Einstein, the problems created in our past will not be solved by the same thinking by which they were created. Finally, it is with this same mental process that we must evaluate the prospects, scary or otherwise, of our collective future in a world in which our lives are changing at the same rate as the problems we face.

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