Transformational Books: Age of Anger
What’s behind the sense of turmoil, disillusionment and anger that is so commonly cited in the popular media? What’s different about our current situation that has created this environment? What can we do about it?
These are some of the questions posed by Pankaj Mishra in Age of Anger: A History of the Present. As the name implies, Mishra provides a detailed history of our current discontent, tracing its roots back to the 17th & 18th centuries, the Age of Enlightenment, and what is commonly referred to as Modernity.
Mishra argues that the same turmoil that roiled the west through revolutions in America and France in the 18th century, spawned the anarchist movement in the late 19th century, and fueled two World Wars are the natural result of the spread of unchecked capitalism. Globalization is now bringing the same instability to new parts of the world. Reductions in poverty and disease, improvements in education and access to capital raise the hopes of so many. But their hopes are crushed as cultural connections fray and communities unravel. Absence of opportunity and the success of obscenely rich elites is perceived to have come at the expense of exploited millions. The result is anger, disillusionment and highly visible acts of violence that make us all feel threatened and less secure.
So what transformational insights can you find in the midst of the gloomy picture painted by this book? First, I think the historical context is important. The book contains an exhaustive reading list of artists, leaders and philosophers who have debated the relevant points for centuries. You will find more value in these books than in the pointless Facebook posts, Tweetstorms and television sound bites that dominate the debate today.
The book itself is focused on historical context. It doesn’t provide many ideas to help us find a way out of the current Age of Anger, so here are a few thoughts of my own.
Transformational Marketing & Communication
One transformational opportunity is to figure out how we can have a rational conversation and debate on important topics. Lies, name-calling and manipulation have always been part of political discourse, but now there seems to be no alternative. Communication channels and platforms have been poisoned, and mistrust is rampant. Jay Rosen of NYU recently posted a thread on his Twitter account on building trust in news which is worth a look. Click here to read it.
For anyone interested in the topic of Transformational Marketing & Communication, the issues are serious. Organizations without a strong value proposition or who have become less relevant in the face of a changing world resort to trickery and gimmickry. How comfortable are you with the term “clean coal?”
On the other hand, organizations with a strong value proposition should understand that trust and respect are in their best interests. Your commitment to being transformational has to extend beyond your product, service or cause, to the way that you communicate it to your market.
The second transformational opportunity is to acknowledge that enlightenment and globalization come with a high cost. We need to acknowledge the costs as well as the gains, and redefine success and the metrics that measure it. We need to crawl out of our trenches before our fear and paranoia take us down paths we will regret for generations.
What might this look like? It’s no secret that our economic model could more accurately reflect the costs of business. For example, Cap-and-Trade policies attempt to limit emissions by recognizing that there is a cost to individuals, nations and companies associated with emissions from commercial activities. The rules create financial incentives to limit or reduce emissions. You could follow a similar approach for other externalities responsible for misery and exploitation caused by commercial activities. What sort of transformational business models might thrive if we went down this path?
Here’s another example. New generations of better educated men and women are rising up in countries around the globe where educational opportunities have not previously existed. How do they access financial resources to pursue their dreams in countries or regions where a sophisticated financial infrastructure is non-existent? New block-chain technologies and cryptocurrencies, in combination with smartphones and digital devices, have the potential to offer such access.
The book makes clear that our Age of Anger was centuries in the making. If you understand the disillusionment and anger behind it, you can identify those who manipulate them to exploit the victims. You can resist the cynical attempts by those on both extremes to appeal to the meaner instincts of their base. And most importantly, you can remain focused on transformational strategies that improve the lives and fortunes of people and the intricate web of systems that allow life to thrive on our planet. I know there are a lot of transformational ideas out there, and I’m excited to work with you to promote them.
This article is the third in the category, Transformational Books. In 2018, I will write articles on the books that I complete during the year and explain how they had a transformational influence. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Age of Anger: A History of the Present, you can click on the affinity program link to Amazon.com in this article.