David Bosshart: "We are giants in terms of knowledge – and dwarves when it comes to implementation."

05.01.2021
Interview

Whether people are putting their faith in experts or the populist movement, we are experiencing a lack of shared realities, asserts David Bosshart in an interview. Bosshart is driven by the question of how we achieve so little despite knowing so much.

David Bosshart

Four years ago, in "Polarization Shocks," you described the drifting apart of our society. That was, so to speak, a harbinger of what we are now experiencing. Have your worst fears come true?

What drives me are not fears, but the question of why we achieve of how we achieve so little despite knowing so much. We are giants in terms of knowledge – and dwarves when it comes to implementation. We suppress, forget, postpone. The big trends – globalization, digitalization, the imbalance of capital and labor, populism – are long-term and go on for decades. It's the same with pandemics. Infectious diseases transmitted by animals have steadily increased in frequency and intensity. We know all this. The importance of capital – platform capitalism, novel monopolies – vs. the importance of labor has also increased since the financialization of the economy, the assetization of life ("exploit and monetize all your mental, emotional and physical potentials"). Digital business models tempt us to act in much riskier ways and drive leadership decisions to extremes, as do income and wealth situations. We react rationally to this with even more specialization and expertise. And irrationally with populism. In the end, all three lack common realities.

What is accelerating the drifting apart of classes the most: Covid-19, digitization or different political views?

First of all, the topic of class society is so important because the economic conditions for people in affluent societies still play the decisive role. Peace can be bought to a large extent with shared prosperity. That is why there is a need for growth, why GDP growth is clung to as a glimmer of hope. The old dialectic of employer or capital owner and employee or worker defined clear mutual dependencies in the industrial world: People knew they had to depend on each other's performance in order to advance. And with the expansion of the welfare state, the balance of power could be achieved. But with globalization, digitization and financialization, this no longer works. Today, the winners of digitization, the monopolization of platforms and the financial industry assume that they will prevail. Currently, it seems to me that we are dissipating our energy with too much focus on cultural minorities, forgetting that it is ultimately about economic power. Without it, no political power remains assertive. Covid-19 shows how society is divided into religious, esoteric, and even science-believing groups - fluid opinions with no real, practical majority power. None of this is reassuring. Religious states are the best case studies for this. The dollar is stronger than Allah or Buddha. In that respect, Marx is still highly relevant. Ten years from now, we will still define ourselves by our work. And it should be properly valued and remunerated.

Can polarization be stopped, and if so, how?

People are active beings, they want to be needed and get recognition for it. And they don't want to hear that they are "deplorables" or "losers. Because such disdain destroys the social cement at its core. The Covid 19 crisis is a good illustration of what is "systemic". One reason for the polarization is the extreme reduction of skills - supposedly in demand - to a few predominantly cognitive abilities. We therefore speak, not without good reason, of "cognitive capitalism". This would involve a holistic view of hand, heart and head. Because the separation of "high skilled" and "low skilled" (or even "no skilled") is increasing, we have entered the world of so-called "degreeization": Young people have as of now the pressure to complete even more and even more important diplomas in order to get a well-paid job in the struggle for status and recognition. Nowhere is the elbow-war for ratings and rankings greater than in so-called "higher education." This development has not made us more fit for life or more able to reach a consensus; rather, we have become something like highly bred rats. The U.S. still has the highest number of top universities, but they have become incredibly expensive, so you can only gain entry with the appropriate capital and connections. A Harvard degree is now a luxury accessory, a sort of Louis Vuitton bag of education.

China seems to have a better handle on the pandemic than this country. Is Covid-19 asking the system question?

The question is what we all learn, at least preemptively, for the future. What can we do to make such events at least more bearable? We cannot prevent them entirely, especially in liberal systems. China has it easier because tracing and tracking are politically possible and are supported by a very large part of the population. Putin said three years ago that whoever controls artificial intelligence controls the world. That's the way he speaks who wants to exercise dominance via central control, because artificial intelligence centralizes. We have to see that we use background technology - why not blockchain? - to continuously improve security for citizens and consumers. Prevention is the keyword.