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A New Zeitgeist

Entry 1828, on 2016-12-22 at 23:37:52 (Rating 3, Politics)

I have often mentioned the concept of the zeitgeist in my blog posts. It is one of my favourite concepts and one of my favourite words too (German words are often very useful because they have specific meanings). I you need a reminder of it's meaning, it is (according to the Oxford Dictionary): the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

For the period from the 1970s to the early 2010s there has been a clear belief (well, I thought it was clear, anyway) in commercialism, political and economic elites, and free markets. There have been great promises made that following these will bring great benefits to everyone, primarily through the famous "trickle down" effect where greater wealth held by corporate leaders is somehow distributed to the lower echelons too.

But that doesn't seem to have worked, because the gap between rich and poor is now utterly obscene.

It might be argued that although the gap has widened greatly, in absolute terms everyone is better off, but that is far from clear, apart from in emerging economies like China. And it is a well known psychological effect that people measure their wealth (and well-being in general) in a comparative way.

Clearly there is significant dissatisfaction at the way the world is being run today. The most obvious "protest vote" against the political establishment is Donald Trump's win in the US presidential election, but there are many other indicators across the globe.

As I have said in the past, I welcome revolt against the establishment (being a fairly anti-establishment person myself) but the danger here is what alternatives will people choose?

I have said in the past that I am not as anti-Trump as many other people are. I am very concerned about some of his opinions and some of the people he has appointed to positions of power, but I am also prepared to give him a chance. But he is an example where potentially an anti-establishment (Clinton clearly represented the existing political elite) vote might have resulted in the unleashing of something even worse!

Whatever the outcomes of this change might be, the fact is there is an appetite for change and it seems to be a global phenomenon. There clearly is a new zeitgeist emerging. At the moment it is just the thought that we don't want what we have now, and protectionism, localism, and conservatism seem to be preferred, but it will hopefully (but not necessarily) lead to something more positive.

And there is another factor on the horizon which will force an even greater degree of change than the social, economic, and political factors I have bene considering so far. That is the true computer revolution.

What has happened so far has been significant but it will look minor compared with what is soon to come. Robots and intelligent machines will take over many jobs, virtual and augmented reality will blur the line between the real and virtual world, super-fast and reliable internet will make distance irrelevant, 3D printing will make manufacturing complex items easy, and (most importantly) artificial intelligence will finally fullfil its promise.

Already companies are saying that many professions will be taken over by AI (for example, accounting will become almost obsolete according to some), that many less skilled jobs will also disappear thanks to automated machines (self-driving vehicles, for example), and that abundant energy and goods will make existing economics obsolete.

Whatever small changes people imagine today will seem trivial compared with what is coming. We need a total change in thinking. We need a new zeitgeist.

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