The 21st century question that can shape our post-pandemic future and end the politics of division & fear

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Asking the right 21st century question is the ultimate challenge of our times. All the rest will follow including choosing the right political leaders to take us forward, not drag us backwards."

Author: George Matafonov, CEO & Founder Trruster

All periods of great societal turmoil, fundamental change or leaps of progress can often be distilled down to a simple question and depending on how it was answered determined the subsequent future.

The travails of the 20th century, for instance, can be distilled down to the question of individual freedom versus the power of the state. The answer was in favor of the individual and the result was the flourishing of democracy, the freedom to pursue personal happiness and fulfillment and the rule of law to protect against state oppression, persecution and corruption.

In his famous "I have a dream" speech in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked the question why the "self-evident truth" that "all men are created equal" did not apply to African Americans and ignited a civil rights movement that changed and continues to change America for the better and continues to inspire hope of a better world for all.

In the 1970s, Milton Friedman, one of the most influential economists of modern times, asked the question about the obligation of the corporation. His conclusion, widely supported at the time, was that the sole obligation of a corporation was to maximize profits within the framework of economic liberalism. This provided the launching pad for political careers of both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and triggered a chain of events that included the Global Financial Crisis.

The new communication technologies asked the question of how information should be controlled and disseminated. The answer was again in favor of the individual and the result opened the floodgates to the information revolution, gave birth to a new type of interconnected society and made possible a true global economy.

So, if the pattern holds true and we are currently in the midst of societal reset driven by the coronavirus pandemic, then what is the question that will shape our collective post-pandemic future?

My premise is that our post-pandemic future will depend on how we answer the 21st century question: Should corporate social responsibility be extended to include the funding of the nonprofit sector?

If the answer is in the affirmative, the Trruster initiative shows how technology can open the pathway to solving some of the most urgent, seemingly intransigent and persistent problems and challenges of modern times, including:

  • Providing a new revenue source for the nonprofit sector to help the most vulnerable survive the current pandemic, on a global basis.
  • Establishing a new flow of capital into the global economy to mitigate the risk of a full-blown economic depression while opening a pathway to economic recovery.
  • Solving the problem of fake news through verified and analyzable feedback that builds herd immunity against the disease of misinformation and disinformation.
  • Encouraging closed regimes like China to become more open in order for their citizens to participate and benefit from the new flow of capital through the nonprofit sector.
  • Establishing the mechanism by which to deal with future health crises, other social, economic or political upheavals and existential threats like climate change.
  • Creating a new nonprofit job sector to absorb the job losses in the commercial sector due to automation.
  • Ending the politics of division by replacing fear and uncertainty with a practical and universally applicable solution to the challenges of the 21st century.

The discipline of distilling any initiative down to the basic question reveals insights and motivations that otherwise are glossed over or missed entirely.

Consider, for example, how the underlying question being asked by ideas like the Green New Deal and Universal Basic Income comes down to the old chestnut of how much power should the state have over the individual – Big Brother vs. public servant.

Applying the same discipline to modern-day democratic elections reveals the disheartening reality that all sides of politics are asking exactly the same question but with slightly different answers in response.

All are asking the same 20th century question that has been answered in favor of political and economic liberalism and individual liberty so thoroughly that it prompted Francis Fukuyama to ask one of the defining questions of the 20th century - was this “The End of History?”.

The answer proved to be in the negative, which led Fukuyama to conclude there was more in play than just politics and economics, citing the psychological human “desire for recognition” as the fly in the ointment.

Yet, the reason why history did not end as predicted is much simpler and has to do with seeing history not as a steady progression to some stable state, but rather as a series of defining questions that “produce backlashes and reshufflings of the social deck,” as neatly expressed by Louis Menand in the New Yorker.

Viewing history as a series of questions not only helps explain current events, it also helps guard against repeating history’s mistakes. For instance, if we keep asking 20th century questions, we will keep getting 20th century solutions like the Green New Deal and political leaders that reflect a past age, not the future.

If we keep asking 20th century questions then the horrors of the 20th century will never go away and illegitimate states will continue to 'use, abuse and brutalise their own and other nations on their way to chitchat at the country club called “the United Nations”', as pointedly expressed by Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi in an article entitled: The End of the Nation State.

Opponents of democracy gleefully point to the current travails of US politics as proof of the decline of liberal democracy. What they fail to understand is that these travails are not evidence of decline but rather the birth pangs of liberal democracy as it evolves and rises to the challenge as described by Harvard professor Danielle Allen:

“The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved.”

The 21st century question opens the pathway meeting this challenge by triggering the next stage of societal evolution with a practical solution to the myriad of modern-day challenges starting with preventing current health crisis morphing into the worst economic crisis since the last the Great Depression.

Asking the right 21st century question is the ultimate challenge of our times. All the rest will follow including choosing the right political leaders to take us forward, not drag us backwards. It also signals the end of political opportunists that have exploited a period of fear and uncertainty to gain power, divided us for political gain and, through their behavior, have brought into disrepute some of the highest offices in the land. Importantly, it lays bare the nonsense that the way forward is insular nationalism that suggests that in order for us to succeed others must fail.

These are the “blind men” Alvin Toffler wrote about in The Third Wave:

"A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it. This new civilization brings with it new family styles; changed ways of working, loving, and living; a new economy; new political conflicts; and beyond all this an altered consciousness as well...The dawn of this new civilization is the single most explosive fact of our lifetimes."

And it all hinges on a simple question: Should corporate social responsibility be extended to include the funding of the nonprofit sector?