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A French Christmas

I would like to write a few words to extend my season’s greetings.

To state that the world is changing is certainly not a scoop to anyone who is reading. I do wonder, however, if everyone is aware of the full implications of what is happening. Let me explain.

Overall it seems that while many are sounding alarm bells and saying the right things about the challenges that we face, those who are taking effective corrective action are much harder to find.

Nuclear proliferation, the growing economic and geopolitical clout of authoritarian regimes, the numerous wars with their countless casualties and flows of desperate migrants, famine and epidemics, and the rapid degradation of our environment due to global warming, deforestation, intensive farming, overfishing, and CO2 emissions – all of this is visible and clearly devastating.

We know all of this, but apparently the pain level is still not high enough; many powerful players across industries and governments do not seem to think that it is high noon. In fact, they try to put things into perspective and claim that we need to shed old paradigms in order to realize that things are not as bad as they seem.

Well here is one clear fact that everyone ought to be aware of: No matter what we do, the last thing we should worry about is the planet. Earth does not give a hoot. We will long be extinct as a species, before this orb that we live on disappears – and even then, when eventually it is gone – it will not make any difference to the Universe. We estimate at about 100 billion the number of galaxies in the observable Universe, and there are about 100 billion stars being born and dying each year, which corresponds to about 275 million per day, in the whole observable Universe. Sobering enough?

What we should care about is the stuff that grows on the planet – the plants and the animals, including us. So here is my question: Are we capable of it? Because if we are not up to it, then perhaps the revolution in artificial intelligence (AI) is the best thing that could happen to us. Maybe we should let machines take over! The algorithms will calculate exactly how much CO2 we are allowed to produce, how many trees we can cut, and how many fish we are allowed to take. Anyone who breaks the rules will immediately be identified and stopped by some kind of Robocop. It will be like Planet of the Apes, except that instead of apes it will be cyborgs or androids running the show.

Is this what we want? I should say not, because if hard AI ever materializes, the machines will be aware of their biggest threat to them – humans who can disconnect them – and therefore eliminate us in no time. Perhaps then we should take up the challenge and try to evolve to a higher level of collective intelligence, in which case we could use AI as a tremendous enhancer of our own capabilities. We still have an edge, but if we do not develop our emotional intelligence, our ability to show empathy and practice active listening, if we are unable to overcome silly feuds around religion, ethnicity, and who has the longest dong, then we will fail the test.

Here is my message. Earlier this year, I was very pessimistic on account of everything I saw happening in the world – I do not need to go into details. The same forces seemed to be at play here in my home country, France. Dark forces of populism were sowing division and it appeared that the presidential election was being fought over simplistic messages of intolerance and retrenchment. There was however, one voice of optimism and openness. At first few people noticed, no one seemed to take it seriously. Then it grew louder, and with the help of Lady Luck and lots of determination, a young man seized the moment and became our president.

Now I look around and I still see a lot of French people suffering. There is ongoing misery, our suburbs are beset with gang wars and drug dealing; the national debt is staggering and we are stuck with a chronic budget deficit; hospitals are underfunded and jails overcrowded; the terrorist threat has not disappeared and unemployment remains alarmingly high. However, people are beginning to straighten their backs and lift their heads. All of a sudden, the French realize that they no longer need to be embarrassed by a listless president or ashamed of their country’s lack of influence in the world. France is slowly but surely on a path of recovery, there is renewed optimism and the economy is showing signs of more robust growth.

Perhaps Emmanuel Macron is just fortunate and this is merely the result of economic cycles; or maybe none of this will last and fade away in the course of next year; but the fact remains that even when his message was not popular and perhaps too complex for many, Macron persevered and did not fall into the trap of easy populism. He beat the odds and is now leading France, possibly Europe, and why not the world, to what could be a better future. The challenges ahead are immense, but perhaps under his leadership we can bring about the true change of paradigms that is so badly needed across the world. A bit of optimism does not hurt at this stage.

I have just read that The Economist has designated France as its Country of the Year, rightly so.

Let this French light shine bright and inspire hope across the world. Merry Christmas!

Droit d'auteur photo: <a href=''>acnaleksy / 123RF Banque d'images</a>

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