Stephen Hawking On Our Dangerous Times: Great Analysis, Wrong Conclusion.

Stephen Hawking writes a great article in The Guardian. He provides us with great analysis, however the prescription Hawking offers is off the mark, in my view.

He observes,

More than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.
Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it

He argues that we need a more cooperative system of world order

But right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.

This is surely correct, however the road he maps out to reach a more cooperative conception of world order is incorrect. Hawking writes,

What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? …

… it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.

As a scientist Hawking makes a case for rationality among the elites, however the race to calamity for the elites is perversely rational even though from a broader social and ecological perspective it is manifestly irrational. There exists a built in rational irrationality, as it were, into the institutional framework of the capitalist system, which concerns itself with short term pursuit of profit above all else, and a system of world political order built upon interest maximising states.

The most dangerous type of irrationality is collective irrationality based upon individualised rationality. This is the dilemma we face as a species today, and the dilemma we pose to many species beyond our own.

It is not rational to plea for humility among the elites, to plea for a measure of restraint to their avarice and hubris. The institutional imperatives are far too great, and social change in cooperative directions requires dissidence and action from below.

There exists an anti-oligarchic mood among the world’s population, much like that which existed in the eastern bloc in the 1980s. This anti-oligarchic mood needs to be channelled into a popular insurgency against the institutional framework that structures the global economic and political order.

The anti-oligarchic mood of the 1980s in east and central Europe went on to take the form it did, a reassertion of oligarchy in different guise, but not without struggle and not without alternatives. One of those alternatives was a transition to more libertarian forms of socialism, inspired by left socialist thought and practice.

Today’s anti-oligarchic mood provides the greatest opportunity for the revival of anarchist ideas and praxis since the Spanish revolution, in my view. It is not sufficient by any means, but it is necessary and the current popular ferment needs to be channelled in the right directions.

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