‘Just like prisoners in paradise, so close but yet so far. There will come a time no matter who you are, when you ask yourself was it right or wrong.’ ÔÇô from Prisoners in Paradise by Europe
Two questions! First, when did the world realise that Babylon’s rise threatened not just the Egyptian empire, but also the world as a whole? Certainly by now, history must have taught Man that there is nothing new under the sun. That events that led to past and present outcomes will always reprise, and that when these events present themselves, Man must be prepared to seize the day, and reshape a different outcome. And we live, right now, in our generation, at a time where history is the present. We have been here before, and I may not know how they dealt with this period in the past, but I cannot help but wonder how we are going to deal with this period right now. The ferocious rise by China seems to present a live reenactment of the battles for supremacy by alternating empires throughout history. And just like in the Egyptian era, the world is faced, once again, by one of two decisions ÔÇô be innocent bystanders or prepare a different outcome. Let me just add that, whichever decision is made, will set the order for how Man lives, henceforth. But it is prudent to remind Man that while this rise by China resonates in the past, the variables today are different. Victor E. Frankel implored Man to ‘be alert ÔÇô alert in a twofold sense: since Auschwitz we know what Man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.’ Now Man must decide. And decide he has. Well, at least the fellows at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center have! They decided to give the current phenomenon an academic perspective. They have started a project they call the Thucydides Project. After-all, it is this Greek historian, Thucydides, who wrote: “it was the rise of Athens and the fear that instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” And in there, he had inscribed the words that must remind Man of the challenges that emerge, whenever a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. In their own words, the fellows at Havard’s Belfer Centre say that the goal of the Thucydides Project is to illuminate the challenge both America and China face as China rises to rival U.S. predominance in Asia today, and in time the world. Their main aim is to scour history for instances where such events presented themselves so that there is some empirical understanding of what has been termed the hegemonic stability theory. Their case study begins in year 1500, and since then, they have been able to identify and review at least 16 cases in which a major “ruling power” was challenged by a rapidly “rising” power. In 12 of these 16 cases, war was the only outcome. In 4 of the cases, for whatever reason, war was avoided. I implore you to read more on this.
Second question: why is there not a single debate in the mainstream about the challenges presented by the panopticon we call the digital economy? All we hear is how great the digital economy is and like any other perspective; I most certainly cannot dispute these assertions. However, history once again shows that every cause, will most certainly produce an equal effect. I can only imagine that the industrial revolution, as powered by the steam engine, was touted as the greatest thing Man ever created. And great it was indeed, there is no denying that. But, when you look at the state of the world since the advent of the steam engine, would you say the world is a better place? Did anybody at the time, imagine a world that will be choking in its own industrial trash in 2016? Or was the euphoria of the steam engine so great, that reason and caution were bundled together with the coal and got tossed into the furnace that boiled the water? But that is history. In the present, the world is heralding the fourth industrial revolution! And now, it is meta-data that powers the economy to whatever outcome we will witness two and a half centuries from now. But, what are the threats that are presented by the digital economy? Or like the first industrial revolution, Man is so enthralled that caution and reason are subjects that require algorithms to decipher? In my book; We Need An Economic Cooling, I imagine that ‘the true value of the digital economy is so inflated that real and tangible value has been destroyed, while the cost of commerce has increased exponentially. Other than fitting the global economy into your pocket or handbag, the digital economy gives you less mobility within the economic world. And you always have to acquiesce to its demand for more of your liberties – this is where this economy is most threatening. I may as well say that, the digital economy is unashamedly autocratic. As a system of trade, it has created a great divide between its users. While the organic economy was deemed inefficient, it was indeed emotional. It was attached to human emotions such that decisions made by that economy were influenced by people’s judgment. The digital economy on the other hand, has no emotion whatsoever. It works entirely on algorithms that are based on a one and zero binary code. There is no in-between; either something is on, or it is off. As such, this economy lacks the ability to step into someone’s shoes and understand – it lacks the ability to extend itself beyond itself.’ But that is just my perspective anyway.
The reason why I highlighted these two questions is because historically, there has always been those who rather than being afraid and being caught in the euphoria, will begin to prepare. The fellows at Havard’s Belfer Centre prove this. Now Africa must also prepare. And to do so, Africa must position itself as the new land of the free. As the digital panopticon becomes unbearable, people will seek refuge and not just any kind of refuge, but the kind where Man can still exercise his faculties without fear of repression. Africa must certainly become this haven in case America and China become the thirteenth case. But maybe as Manly Palmer Hall indicates; ‘mankind in the majority is selfish, provincial in attitude, and concerned primarily with personal success and acquiring creature comforts. It will not be possible to build an enduring peace until the average Man has been convinced that personal selfishness is detrimental to personal happiness and personal success. It must be shown that self-seeking has gone out of fashion, and that the world is moving on to a larger conception of living,’ Africa might need to prove that it is worthy to be the next land of the free. Happy 50th independence Botswana!
*K. Gabriel Rasengwatshe is a business strategist, author and presenter of Gabzfm Business Hour, on Wednesdays, 6pm-7pm. Gabzfm.com.