There are some interesting but at the same time frightening developments in politics around the world. This is mainly driven by the fact that people no longer trust their traditional politicians and authorities.
The differences between socialist (workers) and liberal (business/professionals) parties have been turned upside down. The liberals are now more conservative, with a strong following among the working classes, while the socialist workers party is more progressive and is followed by more educated, socially engaged, environmentally conscious people. In between there is a large group of 20%-30% of the population who are totally fed up with the party politics, as well as with the ruling elite; and they are an easy target for the populists.
Polarisation between the various groups has led to echo chambers where people within the group only listen to the messages they like to hear, with the frightening result that among the populists and conservatives reason is thrown out of the window and knowledge is being disregarded – lies and deception have become the new truth for many of these people. The demagogues leading these groups spread fake news but they are unquestioned and adored by their followers. Very frightening indeed.
On a national level we see that in many countries party politics are placed above the national interest, and because of that decisions are often made against the national interest.
It is clear that structural changes are needed in order to restore democracy at the national level of many governments in what we still hope to call democratic countries.
It would be good for those politicians to look back at the origins of democracy in the ancient Greek city of Athens. Politicians were elected by their own peers (yes I know, only men of Greek birth) for one year. And at the end of the period they selected the worst politician who was then expelled for 10 years from the city.
I would love to be able to select a few of today’s politicians for that punishment.
Of course this Greek system was far from ideal and wouldn’t work in our society, but nevertheless it is worthwhile to look back on it. As there are no indications that structural changes will be made by those in charge of national governments I have often argued that a bottom-up approach might be a more realistic solution.
In general we don’t see the same attack on democratic policies, institutions, reason and knowledge at community and city levels. In reality, this is where the people are and, despite national politics, they accept climate change and support actions to mitigate this; they support renewable energy; they welcome migrants and refugees; and in general terms they help each other in creating liveable communities. There is also much better communication between people, making it possible in many cases to avoid the sharp confrontations that take place between the national politicians.
It is interesting to look at how cities such as Barcelona and Quebec are addressing these issues, as there are/have been very sharp divisions at a local level. After a long period it looks like Quebec has come out of its crisis in much better shape; and in Barcelona we have a mayor whose sole focus for her smart city is the people.
So, rather than being led by technology changes, these cities are totally concentrated on the wellbeing of their local citizens. Of course the one doesn’t exclude the other, but it will be fascinating to follow those two cities in coming years.