Global politics is based on an outmoded and increasingly destructive model of human progress and development. Can science change a dire situation?

‘My view of human progress has stayed surprisingly constant throughout my presidency. The world today, with all its pain and all its sorrow, is more just, more democratic, more free, more tolerant, healthier, wealthier, better educated, more connected, more empathetic than ever before. If you didn’t know ahead of time what your social status would be, what your race was, what your gender was, or your sexual orientation was, what country you were living in, and you asked what moment in human history you would like to be born, you’d choose right now.’ Barack Obama, President of the United States 2009-2017

It is unusual for a national leader to articulate his worldview in this way. Nonetheless, Obama’s view of progress is one that is, broadly speaking, shared by politicians and governments throughout the developed world and beyond (partly framed here by the ‘identity politics’ that characterises political debate today). The view reflects the dominant or orthodox model of development.

However, this model is increasingly at odds with what science tells us about the world. It is not that the specific achievements are wrong, but that they are incomplete, and so present a false picture of progress. The growing gap between the conventional view and the realities of people’s lives helps to explain the widespread public disquiet in many countries and its political consequences, evident in growing political volatility and extremism.

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