• Credit: Shutterstock/greenbutterfly with elements from NASA
     Credit: Shutterstock/greenbutterfly with elements from NASA

Digital Era Leads to End of Binary Societies

October 26, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Not only is the world changing, so are its underpinnings.


Traditional institutions are falling by the wayside as technologies and geopolitics undergo multiple revolutions. Political parties, global relations, sociological structures and education all are changing shape as a tsunami of new trends overwhelms traditional ways and means.

The result of these changes is that formerly disparate disciplines are becoming more interconnected than before. Digitization has become a common thread throughout all, but other factors have created symbiotic relationships that must be taken into account as humankind meets the challenges emerging in this new era.

The interlocking nature of these revolutionary changes was brought home in a keynote address by Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, to start the STAR-TIDES 14th Annual Capabilities Demonstration. Held this year virtually for the first time, the two-day event explored many of the resilience issues confronting the world. While it broke down the issues by categories, it also expressed the point that many solutions encompassed more than one issue.

This was reflected in the title of the event, “Converging Approaches to Sustainable Resilience.” And Friedman illustrated that point by describing the connected aspect of many ongoing shifts. Western countries with a long tradition of social structure and democratic institutions are undergoing revolutionary changes in demographics and politics. These must be taken into account as a whole instead of separately as people work to plan and implement solutions.

“You see the binaries breaking down everywhere,” Friedman stated. Traditionally, government would educate—through public school systems—and then business would employ. But that approach is breaking down as companies do their own education. The new paradigm may be just-in-time learning in which people would work in order to learn. “Rather than learn, work then retire, you will learn-work, learn-work, learn-work,” he declared. That will require an ecosystem that will provide just-in-time learning throughout a person’s career. Many companies already are providing that type of education to maintain their competitiveness in this dynamic market.

The deterioration of binary approaches is happening in geopolitics as well. The United States is migrating toward a minority-majority country, and those changes are being seen in recent demonstrations and political movements. “We will be going to a deeper form of pluralism from the motto ‘Out of many, one,’ to ‘Out of many, we,’” Friedman predicted.

These changes are happening in Europe as well. Friedman cited the emergence of “black-green” governments in several states in Germany. These represent coalitions of conservatives and environmentalists, who previously never have collaborated. They may be the future government in Germany New Zealand’s government is a mix of labor, environmentalists and anti-immigration activists, while Austria’s is a mix of greens and center-right politicians.

All of these represent an ecosystem of different views, and they are replacing the traditional left/right structure that has dominated industrial democracies since the beginning of the Cold War. In England, the Tories have no solid identity, the Labor Party has become Marxist and the Liberals have disappeared. In the United States, the Republican Party has become “a cult of Trump,” and the Democrats will blow up as soon as they return to power, Friedman stated. “France is the only country in the world which is a leader with no party and an opposition with no leader,” he added. The binary approach to politics will have to give way to a new politics.

Relations between China and the United States are another example of change. The two nations had a long period of unconscious coupling in which both interacted smoothly to their own benefit. However, that period of unconscious coupling is over, Friedman declared. “We are now in the process of setting a new framework for U.S.-China relations,” he stated. One reason for this is because China’s growth over the past few years was based in part by stealing intellectual property, establishing nonreciprocal trade arrangements and noncompliance with World Trade Organization Rules—“some real cheating,” he said.

For decades, many companies were willing to overlook the cheating because their benefits outweighed the drawbacks. Now, that no longer is the case. This coincided with a change in Chinese exports from “shallow goods” such as consumer and household products to including “deep goods” such as computing and telecommunications infrastructure. The trust framework to buy deep goods does not yet exist in this new era of dual-use technologies, Friedman said.

And trust is a major issue as traditional boundaries give way to new structures of operation. “We have lost both truth and trust at the national level,” he declared. “Without truth and trust, it’s impossible to govern.

“Where politics still works today is at the community level,” Friedman continued. The business community partners with its counterparts in philanthropy, education, social entrepreneurs and local government to build an ecosystem. People collaborate at the local level, because they must do so to get things accomplished. “What does the local level have? Trust.”

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