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What Times Are These?

December 21st, 2007 - 4:06 pm

Thanks to its brilliant editor, Robert Tracinski, every day I get the TIA Daily (TIA standing for ‘the intellectual advocate’), and believe thee me there is no more stimulating, informative or enjoyable publication on line or on dead trees. Subscriptions cost money, but it’s well worth it.

Today Robert reruns something from a year ago, which featured part of a column from the London Times by Anatole Kaletsky, one of the current stars in the British firmament:

“You Think Our Age Is Turbulent? What Nonsense,” Anatole Kaletsky, Times of London, April 12

We are constantly told by politicians, journalists and business experts that we live in an era of unprecedented change—a dizzying period of technological and geopolitical revolutions, in which every year brings some new and astonishing upheaval for which our nervous, insecure societies are totally unprepared. What nonsense.

Never in human history has life been more predictable, safe and stable—at least for that large minority of the human race who live in the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe, North America, and East Asia.

This thought overwhelmed me last week as I prepared a tribute for my mother, who was born in Odessa in 1916 just before the Russian Revolution, and died peacefully in London on March 31. Who would have imagined, in the terrible and wonderful 20th century, almost all of which she lived through, that she would end her days peacefully in her own home in London—surrounded by the secure, comfortable family whose prosperity she had created literally from nothing—instead of being carried off by the wars, famines, revolutions, epidemics and state terrors that had dogged the first half of her life?…

Compared with the upheavals of the early 20th century, the challenges we face today—whether as families and individuals or as societies and nations—are almost laughably trivial. Have psychologists who tell us that accident witnesses need grief counselling forgotten about Holocaust survivors and POWs in Burma? Do environmentalists really believe that global warming is the greatest threat ever faced by Western civilisation?…

Anatole Kaletsky is a very smart guy, and Robert Tracinski does well to provoke us with Kaletsky’s thoughts, but I think that the message is wrong. How shall I put this? Yes, life in London is predictable, stable, and pretty easy…until it isn’t. And with regard to Anatole’s mother, her life in London was a lot better than it was in Odessa, until it wasn’t, until Nazi bombs started to fall on her and her children. I think it’s foolish to say that the challenges we face today are “almost laughably trivial,” compared to what the citizens of the 20th century went through. It’s foolish above all because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. And I have to say that it’s pretty clear that there is a great perturbation in the Force.

I have the sensation that everything is somehow up for grabs. I think most of the world has lousy leadership, certainly most of the free world, and I think that our people know that, and are very confused about which way to turn. That confusion translates into unpredictable elections sometimes (I have no clue about the likely candidates from the two major parties, and a third party run, maybe even a fourth party run, does not seem at all unlikely to me, nor does the prospect of real political conventions next year, perhaps for both parties).

This may turn out well; we may get a terrific president in 2009. But we may not, with all that entails.

Ditto for the fundamental conflicts. I believe we’re already in a big regional war in the Middle East, and it can spread quickly all over the place. But I can also imagine events (the fall of the regimes in Tehran and/or Damascus, for example) that would give us enormous opportunities for a dramatic expansion of freedom.

Ditto for the globalized economy. Economists are divided–shocker!–over what the next few months will bring. Recession or worse? Soft landing? Continued growth? Nobody really knows, and indeed I don’t think they CAN know, because, as in the other cases, the outcomes will depend on decisions of men and women who, today, don’t know what they’re going to do. It all depends.

Which brings me back to Anatole Kaletsky, and his happy thought that we are living in a rare moment of tranquility and security. I think that was true for about half a century after the Second World War, but I don’t think it’s true today. Today it’s all up for grabs, and no one can reasonably predict what’s coming.

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