On November 5, Al Gore delivered McGill’s annual Beaverbrook Lecture to an enormous audience, which included Governor General David Johnston and American Consul General Andrew Parker. The event, sponsored by Media@McGill, was centered on technology and its effect on democratization. Gore’s recently published book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, was also written on this topic. The Future has been derided by critics for being an overly ambitious evaluation of modern society which draws heavily on idealism in order to further its argument. This was mirrored in Gore’s lecture to a certain extent, however, his essential idea itself was valid. Although Gore touched on a range of disparate topics, from climate change to the recent Congressional shutdown, the fact remains that people now have the digital tools to affect lasting positive change in the democratized world, and the decisions we make today will be important in shaping the future.
According to Gore, this generation has seen the emergence of a Global Mind, an expression he uses to denote the unprecedented amounts of network connectivity we access on a daily basis. Not only has the Global Mind resulted in an enormous influx of ideas and discussion, it has the potential to affect the future prospects for democracy and self-governance. However, this idealistic vision of the Global Mind is hardly the norm. Gore asserts that technology has given us an “Earth Inc,” and that the high rate of economic development and technology means that policymakers now face the problem of how to rapidly feed the demands of the new labour economy. These kinds of considerations will shape democratization, and unfortunately, there are no precedents for the kind of value judgements we must make.
Gore also drew attention to the prospect of “growth,” and claimed that the idea of growth has become problematic due to the increasingly common association of growth with progress. According to Gore, these two notions are entirely different things: our definition of growth relies heavily on objective GDP, which doesn’t account for negative externalities like pollution, or positive externalities like social service benefits. An emphasis on growth results in underinvestment in public goods, because they don’t count towards quantifiable growth in the way we have chosen to define it. In essence, Gore believes that “growth is challenging humanity’s future.”
This is where the Global Mind comes in. Gore maintains that we need to utilize our collective connectedness to make positive decisions which work towards a common good. He drew attention to the darker implications for this idea by saying that globalization is not always a force for good: American policy is no longer a stabilizing force, and the failure of American institutions may precede the failure of international institutions. The success of these institutions is critical, since international bodies such as the UN were designed to further democratization in the global community. If institutions do not nurture democratic cooperation in the post-industrialized world, Gore asks, then who will?
It is here that we as a society have the opportunity use the resources available to us to become more engaged citizens: “tools exist via the Global Mind which could create a global community dominated by nation states but guided by men and women who elevate the rule of reason.” We need to use the media at our disposal with the kind of intention which is necessitated by active and informed participation, and Gore believes that this is the key to a democratized and sustainable future for the globalized world in which we now live.
– Katherine McNamara