Niall Ferguson, the Harvard historian, has said that the four most dangerous words are "it's different this time". Gideon Rachman, chief foreign correspondent at the Financial Times, writes in his column today that some people say world wars are "blips" in the progress of humanity in science and technology. He thinks there will be more blips on the way.
Could it be that such a blip just passed with the financial crisis of 2008, which by the way is still ongoing, and that this was analogous with World War I and that we are unhappily awaiting a second major economical war. It's different this time--but analogous. Conventional wars are history and the chief military officer of the US becomes the leader of the CIA. The fight has become intelligence-driven.
The world, and especially Asia, seems to have engaged in a major tussle half a generation down the line where education and IQ is promoted in a fashion that martial arts where promoted in Japan prior to World War II. Asia has seriously "downloaded" the science and technology app and is going to show the world which system or culture that promotes this lore most efficiently.
The West is taking a beating and its neighbors are trying to break free in the Arab Spring. The reaction of the West is to tailor make a response that is ideologically corrupt and that they hope will improve the relation that is unfolding. Rachman called it at one point "the last hurrah of the West" which it is, as long as people are trying to tell the Arabs what to do instead of just helping out.
But there is reason to the blip-theory. We have advanced since the 16th century despite all wars in a breath-taking speed. However, few people inhabit both the science technology domain and the political ditto and this can make politicians think scientists are cynical not worrying about the negatives of technology. Wars are fought over differences of value systems and the dominating value systems are economy-linked today. Is it the most efficient economy or the most humane that is going to win.
An interesting scientist turned politician is Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Is she the politician of the future? She has recently been very cautious about nuclear power after the Fukushima catastrophe and she listens carefully to the public opinion. In a present educational war to empower the peoples of the nations such a leader might be optimal. And Germany is doing rather well economically as well. Margaret Thatcher was also a scientist turned politician via a lawyer's degree.
The question is, however, if Francis Bacon's old maxim "knowledge is power" is benefitting science and technology today sending the world out in a power and money innovation-driven quest. The risk is that politicians lose the average guy somewhere along the way. Care has to be taken to making innovation both in economy and science interesting also for the common man. Should it be linked to nationalism and dressed up like team sport? Sport serves the world well right now as a safety valve for exuberant emotions in the physical domain. Perhaps we need something similar for the spiritual domain.