July 16th, 2018

Future democracies likely to choose more gov’t regulations, involvement in economy

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on February 12, 2018.

There’s been a valuable and (mostly) polite discussion in the pages of this paper recently about political views, ideology, and the possibility of civil discourse between folks who hold radically different opinions. I have a story that might help to put things in perspective.

When I was travelling in Ontario recently, I had occasion to meet with a very pleasant elderly (i.e. a few years older than me) gentleman who held political views that were totally opposed to mine. We sat in his living room, while his wife listened in. I suspect she’s heard his views expressed many times.

He was very articulate, which is not surprising, since he’s a published author. He gave me a copy of his book Bogus Democracy, and outlined some of the arguments he makes in the book (MHPL has agreed to add his book to the collection in case anyone wants to read it). I didn’t back away from my convictions while speaking with him, and I didn’t concede that the points he was making had much merit, but the tone of the discussion remained pretty pleasant and casual. He said that in time, as I became older and wiser, I would probably come around to his way of thinking. I thought this was kind of amusing, since I’m almost 70.

That triggered something in me, though, and I spontaneously came up with an argument that he couldn’t refute, and had to grudgingly agree with. I said that neither he nor I will live to see which one of us has it right. Both of our stances relate to the way politics and the economy have functioned in the past and how we think they should function now, i.e. which side of the political spectrum makes the most sense given the current reality. We are entering a period of rapid change, though, and all bets are off. It really doesn’t matter how we would like society to be organized — new developments will force the next generation to change and adapt in ways we simply can’t imagine. Artificial intelligence and robotics are not a matter for futuristic sci-fi speculation — we and our children might, and our grandchildren certainly will, be impacted. Four hundred truck drivers in the oil sands are about to lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles; hundreds of thousands of professional drivers and millions of other workers will probably be fully or partially displaced within the next two or three decades. Global warming and mass migrations, block chain ledgers, genetic engineering, new ways to generate and store energy, 3-D printing and nanotechnology are just a few of the other wildcards that will change how (or whether) the world will function. What’s the point of arguing politics when we have no way of knowing how people in the near future will earn their living, spend their daily lives, make purchases and govern themselves?

If I’m right that major changes and dislocations are coming, we can set aside our differences, or at least carry on our arguments with a bit more humility. I personally think that in the future there will be a need for a more robust democracy with increased citizen participation. My guess is that those of us living in democracies will choose greater government regulation and involvement in the economy, to avoid a dystopian future in which wealth and power accumulate in fewer and fewer hands and we find ourselves at the mercy of powerful individuals and corporations over which we have no control. But that’s just speculation on my part, and I could be wrong; I won’t live to see whether my predictions are valid. What I can do, though, is learn more about the new forces and technologies that will transform our economics and our society, and that’s way more fun than carrying on the same old left versus right argument that’s been going on for the last hundred years and more.

But of course it goes without saying that there can be no dialogue, let alone humble and good-natured compromise with racists, sexists, homophobes or climate change deniers. I’m not sure why abhorrent and wilfully ignorant views are generally characterized as “conservative” — they don’t belong on the political spectrum, but on an entirely different spectrum.

Dave Bahnmiller retired from teaching in 2002, and now spends most of his time reading and thinking. He sometimes posts on Twitter as “Polidave.”

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