Look to the Past to Determine the Future #75 #cong16

By Gavin Duffy.

We live in an environment comprised of multiple layers of order and dis-order.  Ordered elements like night and day are predictable because we know it happened yesterday and indeed everyday for as long as mankind can remember.

There are more chaotic oscillations in our system like the weather which are not so predictable.  Yes, we can make short term predictions via technology and our understanding of the atmosphere however meteorologists tell us it is impossible to predict with any certainty anything beyond 10 days.

On a much longer time scale we can say with relative certainty that we will have another Ice Age, an ironic fact given all the discussion on global warming.  The reality is that the predominant climate of the northern hemisphere over the past 2 million years has been an icey one and we are simply in an interglacial period.  How long it will last is uncertain but it is generally agreed our 'warm period' could last anywhere between 5,000 and 50,000 years, determined by Milankovitch cycles (wobbles in the Earth's orbit around the sun), and the as yet unknown affect of human activity.

Of course there are occasional traumatic 'unforeseen' events, which Nicolas Caleb calls 'Black Swan' events.  They tend to be life changing events, but what we can say is there will be more of such events in the future.  The Jurassic extinction event is largely believed to the result of a meteorite strike.  It was sudden, traumatic and had a profound effect on the planet.  Carl Sagan once said "If the dinosaurs had a space programme, they would still be about".  However the dinosaurs did not have such insight, and Swan's never mind Black Swans were yet to come in to existence!

Some people however try to claim certain events are Black Swan events, when in reality they are not.  They were entirely predictable if people took the time to look in to the past, and recognise similar historical circumstances.

One such example was the recent traumatic economic collapse of Ireland.

I still recall the reaction of one of my friends in the mid naughties when I said I missed the boat to get on the property ladder but I was happy to wait until the boat came back again and prices become more affordable.  The idea that prices might fall was completely incredulous to my friend, and indeed not just to him but by society at large and the so-called experts, who predicted a soft landing and certainly not a fall in prices.  I am not an economics guru.  I did not foresee the credit crunch and did not know when the brakes would be applied, just that a time would come in the not too distant future that the prices would stop rising and in that event would certainly fall.  Why? Because 35 out of the previous 36 property booms around the globe ended in bust.  Soft landings are not the norm, so why should Ireland have been any different.

I would like to suggest that human societies have oscillatory patterns much like the physical environment we inhabit.  The rise and fall of empires, the spread of religions, disease, periods of enlightenment and periods of repression are all part of the same circular cycle of the human experience, and as the saying goes, 'it's a big wheel that doesn't turn full circle'.

Politically western society is in a state of flux, demonstrated by the rise of fascists parties across Europe, the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.  This political turmoil follows a period of economic turmoil across Europe and North America where the middle and lower working classes have suffered disproportionally whilst the gap between the wealthiest and the average workers wage has widened.

Such political upheavel normally occurs a short period of time after the sudden reversal of general prosperity which had extended long enough for people to become used to it as 'the norm'.  The swinging 1920's were followed by the depression of the 30's, which was closely followed by political upheavel in Europe and ultimately war.  Many have drawn similarities to our current changing political landscape and those currently holding the centre in politics would be foolish not to take these warning signs very seriously.

Policies which view society as economic entities rather than social ones have failed to recognise the ghetto-isation of Muslim communities in France, Britain, Belgium and Germany and the lack of jobs and services supplied to such communities.   Media likes to focus on the threat of radical Islam to western society but the biggest threat to our stable society lies within us.

Supposedly educated people making uninformed decisions because they have not looked in to the past will unfortunately insure that this inevitable cycle continues, unless we can develop policies for the many and not for the few and educate people on the real outcome of following populist policies which defer to fear and isolationism.

© Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie