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Eureka: 10 ideas that made the 21st century
by Joseph Gatt
2018-09-15 08:32:32
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I wanted to write a somewhat short article on the history of ideas in the 21st century, but there was too much to cover. So I chose to focus on 10 ideas, that, according to me and what I observed, made the 21st century.

  1. Black swans

I'll save the best for first. Up until 2006 when Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan came out, almost every economist had the tendency of making predictions. Korea will be the world's top economy in 2038. Unified Korea's economy will surpass that of the European Union in 2020 and that of the United States and the European Union combined in 2022. China's economy will surpass that of the United States in 2012. There will be a financial crash in 2029.

ideas001_400We rarely ever read such predictions anymore. Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that the economy, and life in general, is made of Black Swans, that is events that can't be predicted and that come out of nowhere. No one in 2012 predicted that Emanuel Macron would be the French president in 2017. No one in October 2016 predicted that Manuel Guterres would be the UN Secretary General in January 2017. No one predicted natural disasters, or manmade disasters, or that Raul Castro would give up power and that a non-Castro would be president of Cuba. So the good thing is most economists have given up the art of fortune telling.

  1. Language is learned naturally, and the difference between a language and a dialect

Until the beginning of the century, many believed that children had to be taught language, that children and adults did not speak properly. Many also believed that any language that did not have an elaborate literature was not a language but a dialect.

Today's educational curriculum often no longer focuses on teaching children the correct uses of language, but on developing their creative uses of language. Smaller languages have acquired the status of language, when they used to be considered dialects. Unfortunately, many Facebook users of smaller languages comment on each other's pages in English, French or Spanish rather than in the regional language, despite popular linguistic attempts to give their language a phonetic alphabet, often Romanized.

  1. The human mind is full of biases

If you ask a judge to pardon a convict at 9 AM, there's a big chance they'll say no. If you ask a judge to pardon a convict at 2 PM, there's a better chance they will say yes. If you ask a soccer fan if Muslims are dangerous, there's a good chance they will say no. If you ask a baseball or ice hockey fan if Muslims are dangerous, there's a better chance they will say yes. If you ask a basketball fan to guess the average height of human men, they might answer 6 feet. If you ask a soccer fan to guess the average height of human men they might answer 5 feet 9. If you ask a woman to guess the average height of human men they might answer 5 feet 6.

In sum, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky found that the human mind has its cognitive biases.

  1. Order matters

If you put one tray of salad and three trays of meat people are more likely to take lots of meat. If you put three trays of salad and one tray of meat people are more likely to binge on meat. If you give three credit card options and one debit card option people are more likely to go for the credit card. If you give three debit card options and one credit card option people are more likely to take the debit card option.

Richard Thaler found out that depending on what order and what frequency and option is presented in, people are more likely to choose one option over the other. Make one book stick out and people are more likely to borrow or buy that book. Give a separate menu for whiskey and people are more likely to drink whiskey.

  1. There is no rule of law

Up until the end of the 20th century, the average John Doe in Europe or the United States used to think that everyone followed the law and that the law was strictly enforced and that criminals and criminal organizations were fought hard and were always caught.

Well book after book suggests that law enforcement is often helpless in the face or organized crime, and either has to act like there is no organized crime or make pacts with organized crime. Only when organized crime attacks symbols of the state does the government mobilize all its resources against organized crime.

  1. Culture doesn't matter, leadership matters

Book after book has explained that culture is in fact in excuse leaders use to justify their incompetence. And that people thus incorrectly believe that rich countries have good cultures and that poor countries have bad cultures. If the Middle East becomes rich and powerful in the next decade, we will all look at the benefits of the Quran for economic and social development. When the Asian economy collapses, we all try to find out what went wrong with Confucianism. But leaders are to blame for economic and social disasters, and culture plays little or no role in such.

  1. The fall, and fall of epistemology

Up until recently, there was the prevalent belief that knowledge and intellect was something of a distinct realm, that the average mind had opinions and the superior mind knew facts. There was the belief that knowledge had to follow some form of correct methodology before reaching conclusions. But around 2010, most scientists tend to agree that science should read like a pleasant bed-time story, not like some kind of boring method and fact enumeration. New methods are discovered every day, more methods than the average scholar can catch up with.

  1. Documentary, PowerPoint, or just me and the microphone?

One dilemma academics face is what format to give their speeches in. Should they just use the microphone and tell a nice story, should they use PowerPoint, should they just read their declaration, or should they retreat and broadcast a documentary their students made?

  1. The end of power

People tended to believe that we were in a unipolar world and that the United States was the sole superpower. Or that we were in a uni-multipolar world where the United States was a superpower and that the European Union and China, along with Japan, India and a few other countries were regional superpowers. Then people believed that Wall Mart, Facebook, GM, Amazon and other multi-billion dollar companies were superpowers and that the government was at their mercy. Then we figured out that power was a broad consensus among smaller and larger forces and that most people in fact have no power or authorities to turn to.

  1. Nationalism, neo-Marxism, Islamism and Radical Christianity, Hedonism

The three main political forces are nationalism, neo-Marxism, radical religious beliefs, and one that has no political representation, hedonism. Nationalists believe in the state and its symbols in an age where people tend to look for global symbols. Neo-Marxism looks for global symbols while fighting those who make money from being global symbols. Orthodox religious movements believe that religion should play a central role in daily life, and that life's answers are found in religious scriptures. Hedonists want to pursue the finer pleasures in life and want to fight those who believe in militarism.

Many other ideas have shaped the 21st century, but I'll leave it at this.

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