Society, AI, biotechnology, ideology, nationality, religion, identity, truth and myth
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 3 January 2019
The topics in the subject heading, a partial list, constitute chapters of the five parts comprising the book. The treatment is comprehensive and cohesive and illuminates the society we live in while contemplating its evolution in the near future.
On the eve of the Second World War there were globally three main ideologies: liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. At the end of the war and the collapse of fascism there remained only two, liberal democracy and communism. And with the fall of communism in 1989 there remained only one, liberal democracy. By the early 1990s, thinkers and politicians alike hailed 'the end of History', confidently asserting that all the big political and economic questions of the past had been settled and that the refurbished liberal package of democracy, human rights, free markets, and government welfare services remained the only game in town. This package seemed destined to spread around the whole world, overcome all obstacles, erase all national borders, and turn humankind into one free global community.
But suddenly with the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing widespread skepticism on financial markets, globalization and liberal capitalism - the world is left without ideology. Liberalism is losing credibility as the twin revolutions of information technology and biotechnology might soon push billions of humans out of the job market and undermine both liberty and equality. Big Data algorithms might create digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite while most people suffer not from exploitation, but from something far worse - irrelevance. And as a result precipitating social, economic and political crises.
The above is just one theme of the poly thematic book. Of the remaining, I found particularly interesting the chapters on education and meaning.
In the light of the enormous speed of change, many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching 'the four Cs' - critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. - Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations.
When we look for the meaning of life, we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what is my particular role in the cosmic drama. This role defines who I am, and gives meaning to all my experiences and choices.
The stories that provide us with meaning and identity ( religion,nationality) are all fictional but humans need to believe in them. If you want to know the ultimate truth of life, rites and rituals are a huge obstacle. But if you are interested - e.g. Confucius - in social stability and harmony, truth is often a liability, whereas rites and rituals are among your best allies.
What is then the aim of my life? To create meaning by feeling, by thinking, by desiring and by investing. Anything that limits the human liberty to feel, to think, to desire and to invest, limits the meaning of the universe. Hence liberty from such limitations is the supreme ideal.
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