And Now the Good News
Things change for the better either because something went wrong or because something went right. Recently we've seen an example of the former, and this failures fill me with optimism.
The acceptance of the reality of global warming has, in the words of Sir Nicholas Stern in his report on climate change to the British government, shown us 'the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen'.
The currency of conservatism for the last century has been that markets are smarter than governments: and this creed has reinforced the conservative resistance to anything resembling binding international agreements. The suggestion that global warming represents a failure of the market is therefore important. Technical solutions will hopefully be found, but the process will need to be primed and stoked and enforced by legislation that would be regarded as big government socialism in the present climate. The future may be a bit more like Sweden and a bit less like America.
If a single first instance of global governance proves successful, it will strengthen its appeal as a way of addressing other problems —such as weapons control, energy management, money-laundering, conflict resolution, people-trafficking, slavery, and poverty. It will become increasingly difficult for countries to stay outside of future treaties like Kyoto—partly because of international pressure but increasingly because of pressure from their own populations.
Which brings me to my main reason for optimism: the ever-accelerating empowerment of people. The world is on the move, communicating and connecting and coalescing into influential blocks which will move power away from national governments with their short time horizons and out into vaguer, more global consensual groups. Something like real democracy (and a fair amount of interim chaos) could be on the horizon.
The Internet is catalyzing knowledge, innovation and social change, and, in manifestations such as Wikipedia, proving that there are other models of social and cultural evolution: that you don't need centralised top-down control to produce intelligent results.
The bottom-up lesson of Darwinism, so difficult for previous generations, comes more naturally to the current generation. There is a real revolution in thinking going on at all cultural levels: people comfortably cooperate to play games for which the rules have not yet been written with people they've never met, listen to music and look at art which is emergent, not predetermined, and accept the wiki model of the open-source evolution of knowledge.
All these represent dramatic and promising changes in the way people are thinking about how things work, how things come into being and how they evolve.