High Noon Inauguration?
By Dr. Colum de Sales Murphy, President of Geneva School of Diplomacy
Welcome to the new Geneva School of Diplomacy blog. Though we are often asked at GSD to comment on world affairs, this blog is new – today is our “inaugural”. I am writing it from my office on our beautiful campus in diplomatic Geneva.
Meanwhile, as I write these few paragraphs a much more important inaugural is taking place across the Atlantic Ocean: Donald Trump is being inaugurated today as President of the United States. By choosing this man our American friends have just shot themselves in the foot. But in that brave, optimistic way they have, Americans are not only succeeding today in a peaceful transfer of power, they are also optimistic. They will give Trump every opportunity to do good and they will try to make the best of the next four years. And while this may be a worrying first for the U.S., older countries have already been down this road – and survived the likes of Nero, Caligula and that lot. More recently, if Italy survived Berlusconi, no doubt America can survive Trump.
I write this at noon on 20 January 2017. But despite one’s wish to be optimistic, the worry still mounts that today may be High Noon for many of the universal values we hold most dear – peace and human rights. For decades I have taught university courses on the origins of war. Large-scale conflict is, after all, a cancer we need to understand and eliminate if civilization is to survive. The elevation of Donald Trump as President is cause, not just for worry, but also for alarm. “Man never expects the plague“, Albert Camus wrote, “and man never expects war. But the plague always comes. And war always comes“. The truth is that Trump as President may be calamitous.
For all its creativity, progress and inventiveness, the 20th century was the most destructive and violent of all time. Yet as we head into this 21st century, our international institutions are hardly stronger than those that failed to prevent World War I, WW II and a nuclear armed Cold War. In Syria alone, Aleppo was recently turned into Stalingrad while the international community stood by and failed abysmally to save it – while, indeed, from our comfortable armchairs we all watched the horror, in full color, on television.
Now, as I write this from my comfortable desk on our beautiful campus I can see a group of students through the window. I count. Seven of the ten students I can see are glued to their smart phones. According to some philosophers this is an indication that we are all headed for what they call: ‘The Singularity’ – future generations permanently wired and connected to the rest of the world. An emerging global consciousness.
Unfortunately, another small coterie of philosophers think we are headed for what they call: ‘The Nightfall’ – a concurrence of environmental disaster, planetary chaos and parallel nuclear war. One of the problems is that there are thinkers on both sides who think that Nightfall will arrive before The Singularity.
Indeed ‘The Singularity’ may not itself be so rosy: around the year 2045 humans get to be pushed around by robots. So-called artificial intelligence may, to whatever degree, replace humans – just as homo sapiens rendered ape-humans obsolete.
This week’s news also tells us that we have just lived through the hottest year on record. And that this record has now been broken for the last three years in a row. It is precisely for such reasons that the next President of the United States must be a person of wisdom, farsightedness, education, restraint, humility and humanity. Even then, she or he would need help and luck.
Instead, today the United States, and the world, gets Trump.
In the rest of the world too, leadership quality has also plunged so that we see in too many leaders a resurgence of tribalism, ignorance, unpredictability and cruelty that should alarm us. Whatever our political affiliation, cruelty should be, must be, the universal enemy.
Yesterday, the news was also that ‘Brexit’ was moving “forward”; Russian interference in the U.S. election was condemned; in “advanced” countries refugees from war and hunger froze in this harsh winter; and President Xi of China spoke at the United Nations, next door to where I sit. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Mr. Obama, a measured and cultured man, hands over power, as he must, to a man liberals see as a dangerous fool and knave.
What hope is there for any of us unless the world produces better leaders! And while giving them the education and professionalism, let’s advise them to more often look up, as well as looking back at history, rather than simply looking down at their smartphones. They may have enough data, but they need more compassion.
In that 20th century we have just survived, we had the genius of such as Einstein and his profound insights on energy and light and other mysteries. But I am inclined to think – at this High Noon of History – that we need to see compassion as the true key force of the universe.
His critics say Dangerous Donald of the Orange Hair certainly lacks empathy.
Perhaps evolution itself has only just begun. Imagine if our human mission then is to fill, not just our own solar system and galaxy but rather the entire universe, with that unique force of the human spirit and genius, compassion. Rather than “mere” rhetoric, this may be the most realistic, as well as idealistic path for humanity to take. Perhaps compassion is the real central force of the universe.
It is not all bad news. Worldwide, a lesser percentage of people now live below the line of extreme poverty and there have been great advances in development and trade. In a piece entitled: ‘2017: The best year ever’, Nicholas Kristof recently noted that these days ‘every day, an average of about a quarter million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty… For nearly all of human history extreme poverty has been the default condition of our species, and now, on our watch, we are pretty much ‘wiping it out’’. (NY Times, January 2017).
So, ahead of us all, Singularity or Nightfall? Perhaps neither. Or a mix. Or a glorious surge in leadership wisdom, worldwide.
But right now, at the outset of a hopeful but dangerous 2017, we badly need better leadership. The inauguration of Donald Trump depresses people. The values of the United Nations Charter, and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – those twin pillars that hold up the temple roof of civilization – may be under assault. We will need to underline that they are not “Western” values, they are universal values. As H. G. Wells said: “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe“. We may be losing that race. These are dangerous times.
But the danger of war has not diminished. We know that planet earth silently circled the sun, in God’s domain, for millions of years before humans ever appeared. What it has done before, it can do again, entirely without humans. It behooves us to seek wise leaders, especially among the Great Powers, especially now.
Of such thinking Donald Trump seems singularly ignorant. Let’s face it, for President of the United States, Trump was a dangerous choice.
For our planet entire, today may well be High Noon. The world will of course continue. But much may be set back. Or even set on fire.