An edited transcript of the keynote address delivered by Jeffrey Bleich at Universities Australia’s higher education conference in Canberra on 1 March, 2017.
You can also listen to the full speech here:
While I’ve spoken at many of your universities over the years, it has always been in a non-partisan role - as either ambassador or now as chair of the Fulbright board. So, whenever I’ve been asked questions about politics or elections before, I always did what diplomats have long done. I thought very carefully, before saying …nothing.
But these are not ordinary times. The recent US election has evoked a profound sense of uncertainty across the political spectrum.
The things we had counted on, suddenly and surprisingly proved incorrect. We are not sure what we can rely on anymore, and it has shaken many people’s confidence about the path forward. It is times like these, when good friends like the US and Australia put aside conventions and get real about what we need to do together.
No one saw this coming
Candidly, no one saw this coming - until it came. In the US, on the morning of November 8, 2016, no trustworthy polling organisation, no responsible media outlet, no respected political pundit, no one, thought that Donald Trump would be elected the President of the United States. Even Mr Trump did not expect it.
He won, in part, because many people in the US did not trust the political parties to address their concerns. They did not trust government. They did not trust the media. They did not trust experts. They did not trust the international liberal order. And the fact that neither party liked Mr Trump, that the media mocked him, that experts were appalled by him, and that he seemed to have no experience in government or diplomacy or any interest in it, did not discourage them. It gave them hope. They might not have agreed with him, but they believed that at least he would shake things up. And that is what they wanted.
This is not a fluke. Only a few months earlier, we witnessed something similar in Europe - the stunning decision by the people of the UK to reject the recommendation of their prime minister and virtually all leaders on both sides of politics, and exit the EU.
We’ve witnessed the Philippines elect President Duterte - a leader who attacks all politics as usual, belittles allies, and has authorised the vigilante killings of thousands of people.
Here in Australia, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party won four seats in the last election, and you’ve had five prime ministers in the past seven years (if you count Prime Minister Rudd twice).
Virtually every other major Western democracy these days is led by a fragile coalition government. And the world is already bracing for the rise of new nationalist, populist, and authoritarian minority movements in Europe.
So this populist unrest is not unique to the US.
The question is why, and what are the consequences for Western Democracies around the world. In the time that I have been asked to speak, I’d like to suggest we are witnessing an historic moment that requires an historic response.
New technologies, and global trends, are principally driving the shock and uncertainty. I’ll share my thoughts about what these are and where they are leading us. I’ll then do something that we all need to do - suggest some ways that higher education can adapt to meet these global trends and restore our sense of order and common vision.
But first, how we got here.
The digital revolution
Every person in this room, grew up in a century defined by the Second Industrial Revolution. Today, that revolution is being eclipsed by a Digital Revolution.
The uncertainty that we are experiencing in every aspect of our society, including our politics, is the same disorientation that occurred between 1870 and 1910 when the first Industrial revolution ended and a second one began.
It eventually vaulted nations like America and Australia to the top of the world order. But it also produced a Gilded Age, labor unrest, mass migrations, a great depression, and two world wars. That era is closing, and we are now experiencing the new great disruption that Silicon Valley promised.
Digital technology - while solving crucial problems - is creating or compounding others.
It has outstripped the capacity of Government to control it, and amplified the collapse of public confidence in democratic governments.
It has inflamed rivalries between those who benefit and those who don’t.
3) It has undermined standards - of journalism, of altruism, and of civility - that are necessary for us to find common ground.
To appreciate this, we have to see where we’ve come from.
A hundred and fifty years ago, we went through the same thing. Changes in technology revolutionised media, global integration, and demographics. The changes were profound.
In 1879, during a three-month period, both the electric light and a workable internal combustion engine were invented.
Those two inventions alone produced over the next 40 years a dizzying number of new technologies. The telephone, phonograph, motion pictures, cars, airplanes, elevators, X-rays, electric machinery, consumer appliances, highways, suburbs, supermarkets, all created in a 40-year burst from 1875 to 1915. It fundamentally transformed how people live.
We’ve known for a while that the structures created by this Second Industrial Revolution were running their course, at least in advanced economies, and was being replaced by a new revolution, the digital revolution.
In retrospect, we should have seen all of the side effects coming. Recently the pace of these advances had started to build on each other exponentially, and the pressure has been mounting.
Everyone who has had to throw out their CD player for a DVD player for an iPod for an iPhone for Spotify, knows what I mean.
The pace at which our world is being changed just keeps accelerating. Every year there has been some massive new disruption. Every year a new massive theory of disruption: “the digital economy”, “the social network”, “the Internet of things”, “sharing economy”, “big data”. Last year “machine learning” - where machines teach themselves things we do not know - was the Buzzword.
The word in Silicon Valley this year is “singularity” - where our species itself is altered by technology - gene-editing, bionics, AI - creating a new hybrid species.
Three years ago as I was getting ready to depart Australia, I gave a talk about how driverless cars would soon transform our societies, but that this would be a hard transition and it would be several years before we saw driverless vehicles on the streets.
Well I was wrong about that. As I was going to the San Francisco airport to fly here, the car driving alongside me was a driverless Google car.
In Philadelphia driverless cars are operating as taxis. As the tech writer William Gibson wrote:
“The future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”
Now I love driverless cars. Self-driving cars can reduce accidents, save us from needless deaths, injuries, and property damage, reduce traffic, give us more leisure time, reduce stress, and improve our quality of life.
Believe me, as an ex-ambassador, life is better in the backseat of the car.
But that’s not how you look at it if you are a 47-year-old truck driver or bus driver or cab-driver or you drive a fork lift and have a high school education, are carrying a lot of debt, and have a family to take care of. All you see is some elites in San Francisco trying to kill your job and destroy your family.
And driverless cars are only one disruptive technology. If you work in a small hotel or motel, you see AirBnB as an existential threat. If you work in manufacturing, 3D printing and robotics are direct threats to your job. If you are a book-keeper, artificial intelligence is an immediate threat to your job.
Fear of losing control
Many of us feel that we’ve lost control over the pace of it all. The technology is driving itself.
Breakthroughs that once took decades to develop can now be developed in a matter of months. We can test the impact of a particular set of compounds on thousands of cells simultaneously.
We can take the data from every mobile phone, every laptop, every modern vehicle, every refrigerator and toaster and microwave and aggregate them and analyse them as fast as the speed of the internet.
I was with the director of Google’s cutting edge incubator, Google X, Astro Teller, and he was asked what he feared about technology. He said,
“it is simply going so fast now that no one can control where it is taking us.”
Archimedes said that if you gave him a long enough lever, he could move the earth. Today, the lever of technology has extended so long that it takes very little pressure to fundamentally move the earth.
This dramatic acceleration of technology affects not only the workers who see their jobs disappearing and fear these new technologies. It inspires fear in retirees and dependents just as much.
Gene therapies may make it typical for people to live healthy active lives past the age of 100. That should be a cause for celebration. People getting to know their great grand-children, maybe even their great-great grandchildren.
But it’s also frightening. How will society support a generation that lives 20 years longer than they’d planned, that runs out of retirement savings? And if they live healthy lives to age 100, they will need to fill more of those years with work - their work lives may need to last 60-70 years.
But as technology accelerates, their training may barely be sufficient to last them 10 years. How will that work? How do we educate and re-train people for six careers over a lifetime? And what sorts of jobs will those be? How will we give people purpose when machines can do everything that is dull, dangerous, or determinable?
Even if you could find work for people and retrain them every 10 years, what sort of economic model can sustain this?
If you aren’t feeling anxious and uncertain yet, then you are in denial. If you are a 47-year-old bus driver, or coal miner, or assembly line worker, or cashier, or toll booth operator, you might want a leader who promises to shut this all down.
Build a wall, bring back the old jobs; let me keep my iPhone and Facebook (I like those), but otherwise, just go back to the way it was.
This could have been predicted.
The Industrial Revolution in the last Century caused the same great anxieties, and caused politics around the world to go haywire. There were massive disruptions in labor markets, unprecedented levels of migration, and other effects of industrialisation.
The result may sound familiar. Popular unrest especially in Europe and East Asia, xenophobia, isolationism, violent protests, and the emergence of authoritarians and demagogues around the world.
In the US, William Jennings Bryan was nominated three times for president during this Gilded Age - offering a bizarre mix of populist messages. He was anti-Darwinism, pro-Isolationism, proposed a Silver Standard, favored Prohibition, and stunned the political establishment with the way he campaigned - defying all conventional logic.
Demagogues flourish when large sections of society feel overwhelmed and fear they will be left behind. They offer simple solutions to complex problems and play on people’s fears and prejudices.
But technology does not do this alone. At the turn of the last century, the US did not elect William Jennings Bryan. It elected leaders who embraced technology. It chose people who felt government had an important role in fostering technology and dealing with its unwanted effects. Healthy democracies resisted demagogues and authoritarians and fascists. But less healthy ones didn’t.
The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of this throughout Europe. So this is not about technology alone. Three other trends already existed that fed public anxiety, and drew people to an authoritarian figure.
The gaming of democracy
The first trend is a 30-year campaign to diminish the importance of democratically elected governments.
For 30 years, political leaders on both sides of the aisle in the US ran for government by running against it. They secured votes by campaigning on the notion that government is a mess and couldn’t do anything right.
President Reagan had demonstrated the power of running for election on the claim that government was too big and bloated and ineffective. He ran on a campaign of cutting taxes and red-tape.
His successor George H.W. Bush did the same, to win, and then lost when he failed to keep his promise not to raise taxes. The next president, Bill Clinton, followed the same playbook, leading the charge that the era of big government was over. In all cases, the message was that we needed less and less government. George W. Bush ran almost entirely on promises to continue shrinking wasteful government.
Tom Friedman, the New York Times writer, had an insight about this. It came from his days when he covered the advertising war between Hungry Jacks and McDonalds.
He was interviewing the head of marketing for Hungry Jacks and asked him why - with the hundreds of millions of dollars Hungry Jacks was spending to win market share from McDonalds - it hadn’t actually gone after McDonalds burgers. Why didn’t they run an ad saying that McDonalds burgers were nasty frozen patties? The marketing head looked at him and said:
“That is the very first rule of marketing. You never kill the category.”
Loss of confidence in governments
Well, to win elections, both sides had been killing the category of government. And then in 2008, the US government seemed to vindicate their worst fears.
In September 2008, the country was already mired in an unpopular war in Iraq that was costing us our bravest troops and billions of dollars, and then we were hit by a recession that was directly due to the federal government easing its bank regulations. The two things that we counted on our government to do most - keep us secure, and protect our economy - it had failed to do. And both parties had supported both decisions.
If anyone was looking for proof that government couldn’t do anything right, that was the moment.
I think the Brexit vote shows that US voters aren’t the only ones losing confidence in government.
All of the indicators are moving in the wrong direction.
Voting rates have been falling in the US and many other Western democracies. Polls show that young people’s faith in democracy is plummeting. Tax protests movements have risen. America’s wealthiest people are looking for ways to avoid paying taxes through elaborate tax avoidance schemes. Recall that then-candidate Trump said that if he hadn’t paid taxes in 20 years, it was because he was “smart”.
Technology has exaggerated these effects.
For the average American, polling, data-analytics, micro-targeting voters, have turned politics into a game, and left them feeling manipulated. The political parties seemed more intent on using these tools to play the system and block each other than to deal with the real issues that we were facing.
While businesses were expected to innovate and do things faster, cheaper, better, governments now had less money, and were hamstrung with older technologies, and had more difficulty keeping pace. Government seemed to make the case for its detractors - moving slower or sometimes not at all. In the face of runaway technology, we have often seen walk-away government.
Millennials have the least patience with democratic government.
Having grown up at the pace of the internet, millennials aren’t afraid of technology. They love the new technologies; they trust technology to transform the workplace for the better.
To them, tech companies will solve their problems more than government, and so government seems irrelevant. To some, not all, government is entertainment or worse. And if you think government is entertainment, then why not elect a reality show star; and if it’s a joke, then why bother showing up to vote at all?
Disrupting demographic expectations
The second major trend in the US relates to demographics. Demographic effects have emerged in the past 25 years that have had a particularly pronounced effect on white males.
Your former countryman, Rupert Murdoch, built a news empire on the simple insight 25 years ago, that white males in America were getting angrier, and wanted someone to vindicate their anger. Even Fox & friends cannot keep up with the appetite for anger. Now they face competition from the even angrier Breitbart.
So where does that anger come from?
If you were a straight white male in the US in the first half of the last century with a high school education or less, you might lose out on jobs or opportunities to college educated white males, but that was it. You had an advantage over anyone else. You did not have to compete against women, people of colour, or people who were openly gay or lesbian. And you did not have much in the way of international competition.
Industries were largely protected among those countries with which we actually traded. But about half of the world’s economy was locked up in a failed economic system - Soviet-style communism - which did not compete with American jobs at all.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the US economy changed dramatically. Programs to enforce civil rights laws profoundly changed the workforce, introducing opportunities for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other previously disadvantaged groups to compete for jobs.
At the same time, the fall of the Berlin wall was effectively a starting gun for global competition. Suddenly a talented workforce around the world that had been denied the chance to compete was unleashed.
Western nations saw great opportunity in trading with these countries and working them into their supply chains. And now, suddenly, a white male worker who had a built-in advantage was forced to compete with women, people of colour, and people around the globe, who were hungrier and potentially more competitive than they were.
Now white males may never have been entitled to that advantage, but the feeling of loss, and resentment, and unfairness that they felt is a very real emotion that most of us would probably feel in similar circumstances. Even if an advantage we have isn’t fair, we still feel pain and possibly anger when it is taken away.
Especially if it affects your livelihood and your place in society.
The truth is, that the benefits of globalisation and modernisation have not been evenly distributed. While women and minorities and people who had been subject to crippling poverty in former communist countries are better off today, the white working class in America doesn’t feel that way.
Unlike minorities, they didn’t grow up expecting to have to work twice as hard to get half as far, or to live in poverty. They expected that their lives would be better than their parents lives, and that their kids’ lives would be even better than theirs.
But that is becoming less true now.
Statistically, about half of the middle class is not more successful than their parents. Their fathers supported a family, had a nice house, two car garage, vacation, health care, the ability to send their kids to college, and enough for a decent retirement, working a 40 hour a week.
Today, wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living. To have those same things, both parents work, they work longer hours - nights and weekends - and they go deep into debt. They feel like they are working harder and not getting as far. And they are worried that their kids will do even worse.
So they don’t want to just turn back the clock on technology, they want to turn back the clock on civil rights and globalisation, too. Because they don’t see how it is helping them.
So it is no surprise that some of President Trump’s strongest supporters want him to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, or ban all refugees, or deport immigrants, or roll back the reproductive rights of women, or reduce civil rights enforcement.
There is some bigotry here, but about 80% of Republicans currently support Donald Trump, and the vast majority of them are not bigots. If you don’t believe the heartbreak in this group is real, consider this.
If you are a white male with no college education in the US you are the only demographic in the OECD, the developed countries, whose life expectancy is going down. The main reasons for this are all forms of self-harm: suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, or morbid obesity.
We miss the point if we think this is just prejudice or intolerance. For many, they voted for Donald Trump because he gave them hope. Everyone needs hope.
All of us want to believe that our lives will improve, or at least that our children’s lives will be better than ours. But for people who have lost their advantage in the market, and have to compete harder than ever just to have the same job, and who worry that their kids will have it even harder, they’ve lost hope in the current system.
Nearly two thirds of the counties that voted for Donald Trump in swing states voted for Barack Obama. For them, Donald Trump was the hope candidate.
One last thing. I have no tolerance for bigots and racists, but I also cannot abide ignoring the fundamental humanity of others, particularly people who are heartbroken.
Now imagine how the people who depend on these men feel, their wives and their daughters and their mothers, and you can understand how many women, too, would not really care what Donald Trump has said about women.
The degrading of journalism
Finally, the third global trend that we need to address is the dramatic change in how we get and interpret information.
This shift isn’t new either. Before the printing press was invented, written documents were drafted by scribes.
Those documents were trusted because - frankly - they are hard to produce. Only those with some standing in the community and reputation had the resources to produce them. It was too expensive and time-consuming for a scoundrel with a crazy idea to publish a book. And so people got used to generally trusting things that were written.
When the printing press dramatically reduced the cost of the printed word, all sorts of things could be published that wouldn’t have been before.
While this actually improved the flow of information, it also confused people who were used to trusting the things they read, and it disrupted society and politics for many years.
Here, we had two media revolutions at once. Until about 30 years ago, news was generally obtained from one or two newspapers, and the small number of network channels available in each country - which usually devoted up to an hour for news.While different papers might cover the same news stories differently, they generally reported the same facts and merely drew different conclusions from them.
With the advent of cable news programs, this changed. We created a vehicle for virtually limitless news. Instead of news organisations being forced to decide what were the most important events that happened each day, they could report on many things that were not necessarily relevant to people’s lives but would boost ratings.
News organisations could make news a form of entertainment and compete for viewers in ways that didn’t exist before. And, before long, news balkanized so that every viewer could pick a news service that reinforced their prejudices.
In this way, conservatives who did not trust liberals, could find a channel that reassured them that liberals were untrustworthy, and capable of the most irrational and diabolical acts. And vise-versa. Social media only compounded this, because its algorithms ensured that you’d be fed advertising that reinforced your biases and beliefs.
If this was not enough to bring down trust in government, a second wave of media disruption emerged close on its heels.
With the arrival of cellphones and the world-wide web, suddenly every person with an internet connection could become a journalist and publisher.
Before the traditional media had even heard about a story, people were blogging it, uploading images to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and effectively getting their story out faster than cable could.
In order to stay relevant, traditional media simply followed suit and began running with whatever came in across the internet - right, wrong, or horrifyingly wrong.
The notion was that you wouldn’t be wrong for long, but that you needed to publish quickly or risk being irrelevant.
And so we have the phenomenon that at one point over 40% of Americans believed that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. It did not matter that President Obama was born in Hawaii, and that his birth had been duly recorded and reported in the newspaper for all to see. Bloggers created this lie, sent it around at the speed of the internet, and news channels covered the “phenomenon” as if it were actual news.
If anyone on earth recognised the power of this phenomenon, it was the chief evangelist of this claim, Donald Trump; the person who would be the next president.
Today some substantial portion of Americans believe Michelle Obama is a man dressed as a woman. Even more believe that climate change is a hoax, that airplane vapor trails are a government conspiracy to spread chemicals to humans, that vaccinations cause autism, and that toilets in Australia flush backwards.
In this environment, where facts are ignored, and people choose the stories that support their world view, is it any wonder that a substantial number of voters believe even the most outlandish claims.
That the president can claim that it wasn’t raining when it was. That his crowds broke records when they didn’t. That millions of people cast illegal votes when they did not?
Over the past 30 years a perfect storm has formed to produce an election in which a large enough portion of the American public has backed ideas that have been heretofore unthinkable.
Our nation elected a president that was prepared to call into question not only a stunningly broad set of policies that had served the US well, but he was also prepared to question basic facts, science, and principles of our democracy.
And that is why the challenge for our nations, and our nations’ universities is both great and urgent.
Role of universities
So what is the way forward? We should not lose heart. During the Gilded Age, when a similar rapid change in technology, media, and demographics all converged to short-circuit our politics, our nations endured. In fact, our nations preserved and strengthened the values that have made America and Australia great.
We remained nations that ensured religious tolerance, the rule of law, free press, free minds, freedom of travel, free markets, and the free movement of capital.
Despite missteps along the way, over time we became fairer nations, more prosperous nations, and more secure nations not by abandoning our values, but by fighting for them.
So this is the challenge facing our universities as they confront their own disruption. Whatever is happening in the US will challenge every democracy and every pillar of democracy. The future is here, it just is not evenly distributed. Yet.
The only antidote to the impulse to divide and exclude, to isolate, to create barriers, and to resist the future is this.
We need to rethink education to help address the things that ail our democracies. And we must put our best minds to work to offer a vision of the future in this new economy that works for everyone.
The forces I’ve described challenge many assumptions about how we should learn, the lives and careers we should be prepared to perform, and how our economies should operate.
To successfully navigate this turn, educational institutions need to refocus on solutions that reboot our democracy, and prepare our citizens for this new economy.
Australia is already ahead of the US in many actions needed to restore and refresh democracy. Australia’s universal voting offers a model that the US should consider.
Universal voting reduces the influence of extremism and money in elections, it keeps the debate more on the issues that matter, and it forces citizens to stay more informed and engaged.
Australia already has a head start on educating citizens. In the US, free public education is guaranteed only until year 12, and civics education has been dropped from most curricula.
Today, every study shows that to be economically competitive and an effective citizen in a Western economy, you need at least 14 years of education including civics. So again, the system here in Australia is one that Western democracies need to study and adopt.
There are things that no one has solved where we all need to pioneer together. Both of our Second Industrial Revolution economies were originally designed to train people to work from ages 25 to 55 (after doing military service) in one career and generally not live past 65. The training they received prepared them for a single career that would last their full working life. This no longer works.If the students we are training today are going to live to be 120 years old, and their careers are likely to span 90 years, but their training will only make them competitive for 10 years, then we have a problem.
We need to rethink our educational model.
We will need to increasingly train young people not just in a skill, but in how to learn, and for skills that cut across multiple disciplines. Universities may become less a way station for youth, than a life-long subscription service, with frequent retrainings.
We need to restructure information systems so that facts matter, false statements are exposed, and making false claims has real consequences. The irony of the information age is that increasingly we seem to know more, but understand less. But this can be fixed.
Imagine a world where every article is immediately fact-checked by libraries, and reviewed for accuracy and relevance by a trusted board of editors drawing on high speed computers. Where every article has the equivalent of a yelp-rating, or is crowd-corrected wikipedia style. Where every false and digitally altered image can be exposed through blockchain technology. Universities can do this.
After a while, just as we know which restaurants to avoid, we would know which writers and journals and articles and politicians we can’t trust.
And finally, we need to devote our best minds to answering the greatest question of the digital age.
How will we give people purpose when machines can do everything that is dull, dangerous, or determinable? What economic model works where most of the things in life can be produced sustainably at low cost through robotics? How do we develop a bright vision of the future and give them hope.
Australia and America and Europe faced a similar set of questions 100 years ago. Then the vast majority of our citizens worked agriculture jobs in family owned businesses in rural communities. Over 80% of jobs were in family farms then. What would happen when all of the kids moved to the cities? How could there possibly be enough jobs for them all, and how would America feed itself?
Today, more people are employed than ever, they have more opportunity than ever, and America has more food to export than ever. The question for our universities is to help us see the future and prepare future generations to succeed in it.
No one can say for certain yet what the future holds. But the two things we know about the new economy are that people need a purpose, and that the most prized roles for human beings will be things that only human beings can do.
So as you begin this important work, consider this as a model for the university of the future.
The greatest limits on human civilisation have always been access to water, arable land for food, a source of energy, protection from the elements, and protection from each other.
A vast portion of our economy has been focused on producing those things. But now we have ways to turn salt water and brackish water into usable water.
We have the ability to produce foods that are more nutritious and last longer requiring less land.
We have created clean and renewable sources of energy that could make any place on earth energy self-sufficient.
We can create machines that do the back-breaking monotonous work involved in most jobs.
And, for the first time in human history, we can actually visualise a world that is liberated from dull, dangerous, and determinable work, from activities that cause us stress without producing much value, and from lives extinguished before they achieved their potential.
We have the potential to liberate the workforce to do the one thing that machines can’t do – improve ourselves and the emotional lives of others.
To date, our economic models have ignored many forms of high value work. Here’s one example that I think we can all relate to.
Ultimately, every family and community depends on people who raise our children, look after ageing parents, bring food and comfort to ailing neighbour. And in most cases we don’t compensate them, or reward them, or even give them a title.
They are untrained, unsupported, and yet they are entrusted with our most challenging problem - the human condition - a son who is an addict, a brother who is abusive, a daughter who is depressed, a mother who has lost her memory.
So many people need help with the emotional and mental parts of their lives. Yet, human history has been dominated by one era after another of people simply inflicting more misery on other people, while other work is rewarded.
Massive violence, incarceration, alienation, institutionalisation are ultimately products of emotional failings. Our economies have been driven by scarcity, and our actions by irrational fear, and prejudice, and other products of our own emotional and mental limitations.
So imagine this…
Imagine a world in which our technologists work to meet the most basic human needs sustainably, and our economies are freed up to do the things that society has always neglected – resolve disputes, restore mental health, nurse, teach, imagine, explore, imagine, design, create art, and provide the human touch.
Imagine paying people as much to do this, as we currently pay for them to mine coal, or guard a prison.
Done right, the moment of doubt we face today may be the beginning of something even more profound.
We could move from an impulse to exclude and brand people to just the opposite: an economy based on human outreach and improving the human condition.
We stand together at a great human inflection point. Society will be very different in the next 100 years than it has been over the past 100 years.
Either we need to offer a vision for something better, or we cling to the past and will be left behind.
I am confident that we will rise to the occasion.
While we struggle with the impulses and politics and challenges of today, we have to keep our eye on the future.
As President John F. Kennedy said,
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present, will miss the future.”
I believe our best minds and universities can forge a new vision. One in which we produce an economy that is less violent, less wasteful, less stressful, and in which we live longer and better lives. The world as we have created it is merely a reflection of our thinking.
Change our minds, and we can change the world.
Authors: Jeffrey Bleich, Former US Ambassador to Australia; Chair of the Fulbright board; Visiting Professor and a member of the Council of Advisors at the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney