Add to the mix the increasing erosion of employment opportunities due to automation and AI, and the super-concentration of wealth at the very top. This erosion first hit “unskilled” labour hard (and still is). But now it’s creeping up the ladder to white-collar jobs. The concentration of wealth is starting to affect the (vanishing) middle class. Many people who seem “well off” and upwardly mobile but are not among the super-affluent actually live in surprising precarity, a paycheque or two away from missing their rent or mortgage payments and spiraling into homelessness. The level of average personal indebtedness is startling.
The exhaustion of natural resources is making itself felt too, particularly in the energy sector but also in the general decline in quality of affordable manufactured goods and steeply rising prices for anything real (be it food, tools, clothing, furniture…). The archetypical, relentless mining of the periphery by the core that pretty much defines capitalism is starting to be felt right here in North America instead of happening at a comfortable distance overseas. My suspicion, looking at the increasing edginess and extremism of our era, is that the herd sniffs the wind and feels a vague and growing unease about hard times ahead.
So… it was easy(er) to be progressive and liberal when the pie was growing and the future looked bright. The real test of character (and we seem to be flunking it) is whether people are still willing to share and care when the pie is visibly shrinking and they will most likely have to accept a smaller slice than they expected. Then it becomes tempting to start “voting people off the island” based on whatever attributes we can seize on and vilify, so that the remaining pie slices will be larger for Me and My Family and People Like Us.
Human beings don’t come with synchromesh, we’re more like crashboxes. Major gear changes, transitional periods from one regime or mental map of the world to another, are very hard for us: nasty noises, metal filings in the oil pan, damage. Seems to be the case whether the gear shift is personal, like a huge life change, or societal. We’re in a transitional time now on a number of axes: global power relations, global climate, technology, communication. It’s messy and scary and people often don’t behave very well when their expectations are confounded. I agree with the author that the big challenge is to remind ourselves that we are humans with moral capacity, and all in this leaky boat together. Throwing people over the side ain’t gonna fix things.