Some big questions

After a long hiatus, Lindsay has convinced me to try and get back into the blog a little bit. I can’t promise that I will have the time to update it regularly, but hopefully I’ll be able to do a better job than I have been doing up until this point. Normally, this will involve random thoughts on various things I read or conversations I have had; this post is going to be a little different.

With my last quarter of college about to begin (a frightening thought), and the necessary self-reflection that that entails, I suppose it is excusable that I put forth some ‘big questions’ I have been thinking about. Before beginning, I should state that I don’t think I have a clear answer to any of them, nor do I believe that I have the ability to alter the discourse in such a way as to grapple with these questions. I also freely admit that they have been asked many times before by many people; I am merely trying to compile my thoughts in one place, and a blog seems like the perfect medium for that.

Without further ado, here are my ‘big questions’ for the 21st century and beyond, not necessarily in order of importance:

1) How can we create and maintain a civil society that accommodates religious, political, cultural, moral (etc. etc.) differences while simultaneously incorporating those elements that are the most anti-democratic and/or those who wish to impose their values onto others?

2) Is cultural homogeneity a necessary end-product of globalization? Is this a price worth paying to avoid cultural conflicts, or is the logic of group identification and persecution too deeply engrained in human psychology to ever prevent this from occurring? In other words, are relative differences sufficient for group conflict, even if absolute differences in cultures narrow significantly?

3) Apropos to the previous question, can we articulate the gains from positive-sum economic interactions such that it overcomes our evolutionary predisposition to think in terms of zero-sum games? Does this require us to view others as equal in value to ourselves, or merely to recognize the opportunity for mutually beneficial actions? If the former is necessary, then conflict can only be lessened if morality changes; if the latter, then economic and political structures may be enough to nudge us down a better path. Let us hope for the latter.

4) All of these questions take on increasing importance against the background of population growth, economic growth, global climate change and technological innovation. Are our institutions up to the task of adapting to these changes in such a way that we avoid the worst of the many potential problems?

5) What are the institutional preconditions for sustained and distributed economic growth, especially in developing countries? How can we make aid more effective in light of the the influence of the corrupt oligarchies that rule many of the worlds poorest nations? More generally, how will the role of accountability evolve in the presence of more ubiquitous and easily accessible information?

6) Finally, what will be the wild-cards of the 21st century (and beyond)? Are there current trends that will only become important in hindsight, or will a shockingly new discovery or unanticipated political event shake everything up? Will we establish colonies on other planets, contact alien cultures or embark on the Singularity? I know better than to make falsifiable predictions (its the best way to be shown wrong!), so I will take the easy way out and predict that we have no idea what is in store for us, which might not be all that bad of a thing.



~ by danplechaty on September 10, 2010.

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