PS21 Event Writeup: ‘New year, new thinking? Ideas to define 2019’

By Janosch Siepen

Photo Credit: Tristan Turner

The event on the 15th of January – New Year, new thinking? Ideas to define 2019 – took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage. It was  moderated by Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist, Founder and Executive Director of PS21.

Gwenn Lainé, Director of Production at ARK Group, former Naval Officer, said that there needed to be a extensive revision of social and political concepts for 2019 and beyond. That included reassessing the role of the state, as well as dealing with enormous challenges of demographics and migration. The centre of gravity in the world was shifting to Asia, he said, while the West was seeing an increasing mood of isolationism and non-interventionalism. This was visible in the military, humanitarian, and diplomatic spheres, he said, pointing to the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, forgotten war in Yemen, and broader U.S. government shutdown all as signs of this.

Very different norms were appearing in emerging economies in Africa and Asia, he said, while China had ist own very different world view and ambitions. Reconciling these would be key to surviving the coming decades.

Frances Hudson,  described a general aversion among people to complexity, while a need to believe that society exists in an ordered world. Hudson said people tended to see trends but are very bad at prediction and and probability assessment.

She expected a further rise in the importance of technology, data and Artificial Intelligence – trends that will become ever more important for industries like healthcare. Hudson said that the UK was ahead in this field, citing robotic advances in surgery. Hudson also predicted a change in social attitudes. Hudson said we need take responsibility for our own health and stop blaming what is perceived to be a flawed health system.

Other health advances might provide further reasons to be optimistic. Potential further breakthroughs included using bacterial „phages“ to use friendly bacteria to promote bodily health. Overall, she predicted a future in which humans could generally find themselves happier and healthier.

Nigel Inkster, former Deputy Chief of  the Secret Intelligence Service and Senior Advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, spoke about China in 2019. Beijing was increasingly keen to reorganise the world in its own image and interests, he said, particularly in its own immediate neighborhood- but was also facing increasing international resistance to doing so.

Inkster compared the rise of nationalism within China now to that in Japan in the early 20th century. Japan’s fear of inferiority and shock of being open to the West ultimately fueled aggressive expansionism, and some regional powers worry the same may happen for China. Within China, for example, the widespread theft of intellectual property from the West was seen as largely justified due to the previous excesses of imperialism, such as the Opium Wars.

China was particularly keen to embrace technological change, he said, fearing it could not afford to miss the twenty-first century technological revolution in the way it missed the nineteenth.  Beijing had real worries about the impact of slowing growth, he added, with the trade war with the United States therefore a real and growing worry.

Jessica Toale, former chair of the Fabian Society International Group, said new thinking was needed to tackle a range of problems in 2019 and beyond, with a particular focus on boosting sustainability. She cited particular examples from her recent experience travelling the world, arguing tourists and business travelers alike would increasingly need to make much more educated choices to prevent environmental damage, particularly as globalisation massively increases numbers able to travel. As an example, she pointed to a beach in Thailand, featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” ,which was now closed due to excessive numbers visiting.

Douglas Ollivant, former U.S. Army officer and Managing Partner at Mantid International, said Donald Trump would continue to disrupt the status quo in 2019 for good and ill. That would include continuing to question NATO, he predicted, as well as withdrawing from Syria and further increasing tensions with Iran. Some of these moved would be more justifiable than others, he said, with the long-term presence of U.S. troops in Syria particularly hard to justify legally or politically. While Trump would likely continue to be softer on Russia than his predecessors, he would continue to be harder on China, Ollivant said – an approach that might well have a legacy beyond his presidency.

While East and West coasts had largely recovered from the 2008 financial crash, other areas have not, he said. Political attention on migrants arriving from Central American and boyond would likely linger, he said, particularly as migration continued to be as broadly threatening. it was not clear if this would lead to greater U.S. attention on the problems migrants were often fleeing, particularly conflicts in Central and Latin America.

Felicity Morse, Journalist, Life Coach and social media specialist, said many of the problems of 2019 originated from politicians and others not being entirely honest. Citing her experiences as a life coach, she said deception- whether self deception or deliberate misleading of others- invariably produced drama. But whether populations were ready for politicians and other leaders to be entirely honest about policies and other options was an entirely different matter. Populations and individuals often reacted badly when confronted with uncomfortable truths, she said.

Social media also appeared to be focusing more popular attention that ever on negative facts and arguments over their positive and negative alternatives, she said. This appeared to be fueling further anger. People were more likely to share content they hated than that they liked, she said, let alone that which challenged them.

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