quotes A world undefined, fast-forward to confusion

22 April 2022
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Updated 22 April 2022

A world undefined, fast-forward to confusion

The honeybee buzzes around in the summer, homing in on a luxuriantly-colored flower to contribute to the nectar of the hive’s honey, all while performing the essential task of pollinating the flowers so they can keep growing, feeding us, and embellishing our Earth.

When the day comes when a bee can no longer find a flower, its reaction will not be to go on a rampage, stinging every person who happens to be in its flight path, but to simply drop dead, having lost the singular purpose of its life. This essential point is one I find sorely missing from all the smart analyses I am reading these days about where we as people and the planet at large  find ourselves — commentators choosing to focus instead on cultural differences and the confrontation between different systems of governance.

The war in Ukraine has further hiked this trend of such analysis, and I cannot help but feel we are all missing the forest for the trees.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with trying to understand and explore different approaches in analyzing the situation we find ourselves in today: Seeing Western democracy gradually weakened from inside and out, as the “evil autocratic regimes,” of Russia and China rise. Some interesting arguments are being made, as Western commentators, in particular, realize that their liberal dreams do not necessarily coincide with the more communal or culturally and emotionally-motivated thinking of other societies.

We can see a new framework of understanding emerging after a long post-Cold War lull, but, in the end, most Western commentators continue to fall back on their old convictions that Western democracy and society are superior and will eventually prevail in a conflict of ideas.

The two years of the pandemic have no doubt influenced our understanding of the world today, but most analyses I read today pay little more than lip service to the issue and challenge that will most reshape our planet and our political actions for decades to come, namely the climate and environmental challenges. Somehow the pandemic made us forget the continuous warnings we had been receiving from Mother Earth — the raging hurricanes, droughts, flash floods, and terrifying forest fires — and yes, even the pandemic itself. In the meantime, nature has moved on from trying to educate us on the blackboard to caning us for our ever-more destructive and irresponsible behavior.

We should not need to be reminded that the seven hottest years on record are the last seven years we have just experienced. The US alone experienced more than 20 extreme weather disasters last year, costing the country $145 billion according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which highlights that this is part of an increasing trend.

It is perplexing that our analysts seem to forget this most important and powerful challenge that will shape and influence almost every interaction between peoples and governments in the decades to come. The hurricanes and heat waves are not only affecting our our livelihoods but also our minds and the way we project ourselves into the future. Could we have imagined an on-stage slap at the Oscars in less confounding and confusing times? In America the political stage has transformed into a wrestling arena where a sort of civil war without guns is being played out, adding yet more to our distress and confusion.

Despite our broad access to knowledge and information, despite the education we have received and the experiences we have gathered from our tumultuous history, we are more and more confused, reverting to arguments simplistically framed as good and evil.

Many of us, I believe, realize that it is not about open, liberal, Western society vs. culturally-motivated authoritarian societies today, but rather about humanity as a whole coming together to confront the challenges we all face as one. The new society we are building does not conform to any previous model, but, instead, is one of the individuals taking personal and collective responsibility for our actions and their consequences on others, our world, and our children’s future. The world is not divided between good and evil. Liberal Western society has provided many ideas and achievements that mark our lives, but the authoritarian regimes today appear to be giving their people greater predictability, cohesion, and stability.

There is a deep malaise throughout Western society, as governments lose the trust of their people, and the extremes are continually on the rise. France’s upcoming election is almost too close to call between incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.

It is in this context we must all remember that what we face in the world today and in the future is above all the limitation of resources and what our deteriorating environment is still able to provide for us. People legitimately wonder what kind of future their children will have. The challenges are many, and our continuing insistence on blind hope in technology will not only give us very few answers but could also set up our downfall as we rely on false hope instead of real solutions.

The power of the people, of individuals across the world coming together to confront global challenges, not because they are told to do so by their governments but because their consciences have been awakened and they are recognizing the need to act now, is the third way that I hope and believe we are heading towards. That path requires us to focus on education, tolerance, empathy, and respect. The future of our world depends on how well we can educate our children along with those principles and values. We must make them aware of all aspects and challenges of the world they live in while equipping them with the tools to recognize the limitations of our planet, adapt our way of life, limit waste, live more sustainably and take good custody of what is left and not to be abused for the future.

It was Albert Einstein who realized almost a century ago already that “if the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live,” and, most importantly, that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” That is the true challenge we as humans face today.

• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He headed the Saudi Information Office in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.