#yesbut: We need action, not grift, from our thought leaders...
What a week was last week. The Roe v Wade reversal might prove to be the date at which the dissolution of the United States earnestly began – and that’s saying something given the SCOTUS decision to gut Miranda, their decision to declare key provisions of New York states gun laws unconstitutional, and the ongoing revelations of the January 6th committee all happening in the days before. The week started with Emmanuel Macron losing his majority in the National Assembly due to the shocking success of Marie La Pens far right National Rally party, on Saturday, Siverodonetsk in the Ukraine fell to the Russians, and Sunday capped the week with heat waves in Europe, Japan and the US shattering records – reminding us of the systemic and global challenges we face.
Accordingly, the media that I pay attention to, from the ‘skews left’ to the ‘skews right’ crowd on most media-bias charts, were again especially animated about the threat to democracy and all the other existential issues we are facing. Over the past several years, I have followed and come to highly respect dozens, even hundreds of subject matter experts, pundits and talking heads from Anand Giridharadas to Fareed Zakaria, who collectively are increasingly banging their drums of alarm. As democracy is struggling, if not failing globally, and with it our attendant ability to deal with climate change, war, economic and social injustice and a host of equally existentially pressing issues, they are warning of very real, immediate threats to our civilization.
However, it’s hard not to notice that their ‘solution’ to the systemic, global challenges we face without precedent in our lifetime is to promote their new book, their new 5, 8 or 10 point solution. Or to get you to subscribe to their newsletter or podcast as evidence of your activism and commitment to the cause. It’s also hard not to notice that they don’t really suggest what we should be doing, other than to protest and to vote. It’s hard not to note that at a point that more and more believe to be an inflection point in human history, we are told to keep looking to existing institutions and existing leadership structures for salvation.
As more and more are concluding that our civilization instead requires systemic transformation in years, not decades, too many believe that that reinvention can only occur amidst the detritus of a broken and fractured civil society. That is a horror that we can NOT and must not contemplate. Those who start revolutions are almost always consumed by them, as are far too many innocents. Besides, too often history shows that out of chaos, peoples seek strongmen who offer the illusion of safety under the guise of security, and we do not lack for an aspiring cohort of eager autocrats or dictators.
Democracy’s pundit class ask a thousand great questions every day. Every day they do broadcast compelling and thoughtful solutions. But the next day they rinse and repeat. Day after day, week after week, their excellent questions and excellent solutions just adding to the cacophony of social noise, ironically commoditizing, and thus devaluing the very discourse they seek to inspire.
Of course we must vote, and increasingly, to protest, but surely we have to admit that making the current system work is a band aid solution. It’s simply not working. Not for the most part for nefarious reasons – though there is too much of that to be sure - but simply because the systems and structures invented by our ancestors centuries or millennia ago are outdated.
So, if our institutions and the leaders that lead them are increasingly and demonstrably insufficient to humanity’s needs, what do we do as a civilization? I suggest that it’s time for our societies to walk and chew gum at the same time. While mobilizing to fight the good fight at a tactical level, we must consider new institutional and consequently, leadership, models from the classroom to the boardroom to the legislature, from local to global scale solutions - and we need to do that in the next 5-10 years. Our existing structures are giving us a few more years at best to devise a new Age of Wonder that is surprisingly close at hand. But only a purposeful, systemic, global civic effort representing the great middle ground of conventional politics, can devise, test and prototype these new models. Where else can it come from in the time we have left?
The pundit class needs to roll up its sleeves and take ownership of the solutions that don’t just get us through the next election, but to that new age. They have the brands, the expertise, the audiences to over time mobilize and engage I believe, hundreds of millions of people around the world to make that new world a certainty. With the greatest of respect to my favourite pundits, we need much more from them than the books and newsletters they publish, and the podcasts they record. We need action. Not grift.