The China Syndrome ?

Excellent opening lecture in the BBC 2007 Reith Lectures series by US economist Jeffrey Sachs. A large part of the opening to “Bursting at the Seams” was a call for a “new enlightenment” based on a speech by JFK following the Cuban missile crisis. The main thrust of Sachs talks, of which this is just the first, is that the major issues of this “Anthropocene” age are characterised by the stress of humanity on the planetary ecosystem, intellectually and culturally, as well as physically.

Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions, on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single simple key to this peace, no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation, for peace is a process, a way of solving problems. [JFK] 

Inlcusive, dynamic, evolving, process and as Sachs goes on to elaborate a shift from the original “superpowers” not simply to the (temporary) US / North Atlantic powers but a balance in favour of China and India, that we’d better get used to, in our view of what it means to participate. Interestingly Sachs black picture actually paints an optimistic story of how we have the means to address this, an optimism that few of the audience of invited brains seemed to share – except for Geri Halliwell. The focus is education, education at home, specifically education in mothers (in the underdeveloped societies). Education, education education to new enlightnement. Naturally I was impressed, and will be looking out for the subsequent lectures.

Interestingly BBC’s “In Our Time” concerned the British / Chinese “Opium Wars” – a lesson from history in how the size of the Chinese market (trading tea for silver until silver became too scarce and opium became the currency) had global impact and lasting legacies. Enlightened education involves learning the lessons of history, and China’s ongoing importance in that.

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