Listening to the United Nations General Assembly today, which I do out of habit not interest, was uninspiring. The Iranians blasted ‘hegemony’ (whatever that means); the Argentines complained about how the U.S. treats Cuba (and demanded the Falkland Islands back). Then came the U.S. President. What struck me was just how bereft of fresh thinking and new ideas we are as a human race. How stuck in a cyclical pattern of problems exacerbated by inertia, by diminishing returns, by increasing populations and decreasing resources from which to pull. Some call this the singularity – not when humanity transcends, or when AI takes over, but when we reach the pivot point of scarcity in solutions and we begin to fall from the apogee, a fall that will probably be spectacular. When entropy takes over. The heat death of cognitive reasoning.
When the President talked about how the Russians should not have used force, he could have been talking about Nicholas or Peter or Catherine or Alexander just as easily as Putin. He talked about how Venezuela needs to return to the negotiating table, channeling 2003. He talked about how the US would not allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon – repeating talking points from the last decade or the one before that. Repeating Clinton’s assurances that North Korea would not be allowed to gain that dreaded technology, long after Kim Jung-the-latest flaunts his arsenal with impunity.
Africa will be free of disease. We will distribute more food aid.
The grand ideas? Break the deadlock at the United Nations Security Council by opening it up to include Brazil, India and Nigeria, reviving the stillborn idea from the turn of the millennium when people talked about BRICS, before that illogical construct stagnated. We will provide more health care aid to Africa. Forget we’ve been doing that forever, with little impact.
It was mostly about money, as American policy speeches tend to be. “We’ll give a billion for this; we’ll give ten billion for that; we’ll give a hundred billion for the other”. Forget it is never about money. Money follows invention and solutions and innovation – it follows answers; it does not create them. Besides, whose money, from where? The irony is surely lost on the President, who doesn’t have to worry about money, that today is the same day that the FED announced the end of the American Housing Era. There will be no more cheap housing; no more flipping; no more HGTV shows about fixer-uppers. And as interest rates spike in the US, they will be accompanied by a massive sucking sound of American dollars fleeing emerging markets and risky investments to flow back home, leaving poor countries poorer.
It has all been said before, been done before.
The irony is that these are times of tremendous consequence. Our world order, the one we built and that so many of us – myself included – have defended with our hearts and our minds and our guns, with our lives; the world order that lifted hundreds of millions from poverty and ended the slavery of billions – THAT WORLD ORDER – is dying. It is being killed by bureaucrats ‘raising the ladders as they ascend’ as they try to build for themselves an aristocracy; by the ‘deep state’ self-dealing; by Hollywood stars bribing entry for their stupid kids into Ivy League schools, those same schools faking numbers to place higher in rankings to get better bribes by the elites in a circular cul-de-sac to nowhere — by the sad realization by the downtrodden that their reality has not lived up to our soaring rhetoric – that their votes hard-won were only periodic events between scarcity and violence and dashed dreams.
America’s Aristocracy, or the ‘Party of Davos’ as some say, are fond of declaring that history ended. That the recipe for a perfect utopia has been discovered, and now it is only an issue of implementation. A better educated judiciary; a higher paid civil service; more Tasers and body armor for the police; a peace deal more carefully drafted – in an ever-improving virtuous circle to heaven.
But what if the discovery was not true? What if, as Patrick Deneen once wrote, liberalism actually failed – and what we are living is the aftermath, the consequence of that failure. What if the ghosts in the machine can never be exorcised, no matter how many successfully executed electoral observation missions? If that is the case, the question is what next?
Bringing me back to UNGA. Because UNGA this year was a full-throated denial of the failure of our world order. The President’s speech was a robust defense of business as usual; of a doubling down on the tired recipes of yesteryear.
We can do better; now is the time. For the decreasing number of us with children, whose main work is now to leave for them a home in which they may live, it is now or never. In 325 in Turkey, Christian bishops met at the Council of Nicaea to harmonize church doctrine, cementing the Roman Catholic Church. In 1648 Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden and France negotiated the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the thirty and eighty years wars and set a foundation for modern Europe. In 1944 delegates from forty-four countries, meeting in New Hampshire, established the Bretton Woods international monetary and financial system and ushered in the Pax Americana. In all these instances, brave men and women thought creatively, took some risks and did something bold that changed the world.
The time is neigh for something like that again. Just don’t invite the aristocracy.