In the wake of a disaster

In the wake of a disaster

The dangerous and self-destructive withdrawal from Afghanistan by the US is exactly what we did not want from a new President struggling to right many of the wrons left by his predecessor. Its coincidence with the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre Twin Towers reminds us of the major starting point for much of the subsequent action to try to eliminate terrorism and protect US citizens from further attack.

An unhappy anniversary compounds an unhappy loss of war. Our hearts go out to our American friends and, in my case, to my cousins there, too. Nobody wants America harmed or weakened. The United States is still the most successful country in the world by most measures. It stands for liberty in spite of many flaws, most of which are echoed around the western world. But what does this liberty now mean, not only for America but also for the rest of us?

We observe authoritarian states making changes to their education, child upbringing and business financial systems with a speed that is breathtaking – and unattainable in a democratic society. As with all such speedy renovations, the jury is out on how well these changes will work or how badly they will fail. Meanwhile, liberty and freedom are being continuously whittled away in the name of security, better researched and proven systems, and an attempt at fairness in a world riven by riches and poverty. East or West you are increasingly surrounded by law.

So fast are the changes happening everywhere that we need to pause and ponder what it is we are aiming to achieve for humankind, especially in light of the frightening advances being made with Artificial Intelligence. Every writer sees a glimpse of what is to come when he switches on a spell check. Any attempt to use a word or phrase creatively is auto-corrected to the, usually boring, convention. Of course, an author still has the right to use whatever word s/he wants – except in official documents, government publications, legal contracts, medical prescriptions and educational materials. And a good many other epistles, too.

Soon enough, “the convention” will be adopted universally, because it is “more easily understood”, and the mental exercise of working out what something means in your particular situation will be subordinated to the facility of popular understanding. How will this shape the up and coming Mozart or Piccasso? What will it do for the craftsmen and women who are to fashion our new looks and likes? Where will it leave the individual in the midst of universal behaviourism? About a third of the programmes on Netflix now use the “f-word” as liberally as any other, with the result that youngsters see nothing wrong in addressing it to – or even at – their parents. Is that where democracy was meant to take us?

You may ask if it is not a long way from a sad and bad withdrawal from war to abusive language in the home. Not nearly as far as you might think. The models our parents and teachers set for us influence our own behaviour significantly. Example is still the best teacher. And it has worked for  many. Young people are making new businesses faster than ever before in both East and West. The inventions surrounding the internet are many and excellent. Added to which the courage of those who build their own gigs and make their way independently in the world is gratifying. These are the potential wealth creators of the future and they are to be congratulated.

The number of people being brought out of poverty, many for the first time, was growing remarkably until the pandemic and there is a new determination to try to relieve destitution and unfairness in political intentions. Let’s hope the rhetoric gets translated into practice, perhaps as massive redundancies, in the wake of Artificial Intelligence job replacement, take hold. Maybe the right to have a tolerable life no longer equates mainly to the right to work, as in the past?

All these immediate and impending problems can obscure us from the critical project of saving the planet. Awareness of the urgency of this is widely accepted now. As catastrophic weather fires and floods more places more drastically the message will reach all. The big question will soon be what to preserve and what to let go.

When my five children were young, people asked me what I hoped for them. They expected answers like success, fame, wealth. Even seventy years ago aiming for these things was popular. My reply often shocked the enquirers. I always said “Sensitivity”. I would give the same reply today. To be able to feel the love of someone else, to be able to appreciate the music of Elgar as you walk across the Malvern Hills, to be able to sense care and concern as it is often shown in a hospice – these are the things that make life worth living.

Should they be the things that humankind cherishes and passes on forever?

Good morning

John Bittleston

What is your view about the priorities for shaping the next version of humankind?

We’d love to hear your views.

Please write to us at:

You’ll get an enthusiastic response.