2017 – 2018: A Race Between Good or bad

2017 – 2018: Race Between Good or Bad
Dr. Colum Murphy
President Geneva School of Diplomacy

As we look back on 2017 one of the most remarkable events of that turbulent year, not yet known worldwide to historians, was the the concert mounted by Geneva School of Diplomacy students in November in the historic evening “GSD’s Got Talent”. Hundreds of thousands of people (well perhaps not quite hundreds of thousands) queued for hours in freezing rain to see a rarely seen display of student ability to sing off tune, dance in the aisles and nobly help recycle and dispose of needlessly large amounts of previously unused alcohol. The students raised a sizable sum of money to support a project of GSD’s Humanitarian Department to help bring water to villages in Africa, along with making a contribution to medical projects on the island of Zanzibar (see accompanying photos).

In the name of honesty and historical accuracy however,  it must be admitted that SOME students actually did sing IN tune, and sing very well indeed. Serious and sober talent occasionally appeared. At the end of the packed evening the judges unanimously and rightly awarded First Prize to Professor Alexandre Lambert who had played on the piano, for the first time ever in public, his own composition “A Piece for Peace”. The evening ended with students dancing in the aisles as well as on the actual stage and a riotous evening was had by all. And, seriously, an exceptionally good composition that first prize entry was  !  –  which Alex played with intelligence and passion. The evening, uneven as it was, constituted an undeniable success  –  very especially if you are one of those Tanzanian villagers who are now seeing the concert proceeds help bring a fresh water well to your own village. Bravo GSD students and staff !

The thing is, GSD has not only renowned theorists and scholars, it’s a hands-on place where students can bring real benefits to real people:  development is not just a word, it is something GSD students will be actually contributing more and more to.  2017 saw GSD launch its new Humanitarian Department. There were other high moments in the year we just left:  2017 at GSD saw us graduate some 23 students at the end of June. They were joined on that elegant summer’s day by recipients of honorary degrees by Stephen Sackur of BBC’s Hard Talk and Jack Roepers of Georgetown University’s Advisory Board. Indeed, 2017 saw the first exchange of Georgetown and GSD students. It also saw us receive the visit of President of Senegal, Macky Sall, as well as the conferring visit of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, and of Russian Minister for Civil Defence & Emergencies, Vladimir Puchkov.

All of this GSD activity took place, of course, against a 2017 background, worldwide, that can only be described with words like “turbulent”, “confusing”, “tumultuous”, progressive”, “encouraging”, “dangerous” and “alarming”. Nuclear armed leaders childishly compared the size of their “nuclear buttons” while climate change, actually believed by one of those leaders to be non-existent and “a hoax”, wrecked enormous and unprecedented havoc on various parts of our small globe. At GSD we saw again that the production of far better leadership, worldwide, is more urgent than ever:  in our small way we try to add to those needed leadership skills. Every little bit helps.

Now 2018 brings fresh challenges. Perhaps one of the central questions of the decade ahead of us might well be   –  is intelligence more important than consciousness ?  On the answer to that question hangs perhaps the future of liberties and human rights. Social media are so rapidly changing the world, and changing our young people, that we humans may in the future go from the enhanced chimpanzees we have been for millions of years to future oversized ants. Social media observers of the present and the about-to-be future are reminding us that life may just be about data processing and that computers increasingly know us better than we know ourselves:  in many places computers are already doing a better job at predicting cancer than human doctors. But if we thus turn more and more of our concerns over to computers then what will be left of our individualism, our souls ?  Books like Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus” have much to teach us. Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury”, about the Trump White House, has much to alarm us.

2017 was both bad and good:  bad as in more dangerous and sliding more toward general war, and good in that 2017 was possibly the most progressive of all human history in terms of the many more millions lifted out of extreme poverty and toward a healthier and more sustainable development. Nicholas Kristoff has written eloquently of this in The New York Times. The race between development (good) and the danger of general war (bad) is hotting up and accelerating. Only better leadership worldwide can save us all. Around the world, whatever institutions are in the business of producing better leaders need to lead better themselves  –  be more scientifically as well as philosophically ahead of trends, ahead of where humanity is going. Today every group of young people walking across a zebra crossing with its heads down and glued to their smart phones instead of on the traffic is telling us something about the nature of our future:  more information but more shallowness, more silliness, a larger pool of information but less depth in understanding.  With youth’s emphasis on Facebook “likes” there is more emphasis on a new tribal collectivism than on individual souls, accelerated inclusion and accelerated exclusion. Separations.  In a world of new nuclear brinkmanship and climate chaos many new graduates around the world today are less ready, not more prepared to provide needed good guidance or wisdom.

By contrast, other graduates  –  and undergraduates  –  are marvelously compassionate and courageously ready to do real things for real people around the world, often in impoverished and deadly places. With the guidance of renowned GSD professors who are also practitioner-scholars there are openings for new young leaders of the kind we all badly need.

2018 for GSD is beginning with our preparations for a new semester, new campus life, and the upcoming visit at the end of February of His Excellency Filipe Nyusi, President of the Republic of Mozambique. Ahead of us is also our planned celebration in September of GSD’s 15th Anniversary. Like a finely matured whisky of that age we have also many hundreds of years of experience from our renowned faculty and GSD community distilled now into trying to do our best for today’s students. They, of course, are the future. Both the good and the bad continue to advance in todays’s world. It has ever been so, historically. The problem is that changes are now happening faster than ever. Change now accelerates  –  so that we now even witness, amusingly sometimes, young people who are already themselves démodé, overtaken by yet newer technologies and even younger people than themselves. All this presents special problems for education  –  itself a process that needs lots of time. And time is something we don’t have enough of, increasingly so. It’s best to instill in the young the habit of lifelong learning. We don’t have the luxury to decide that on a certain fixed date we can stop learning.

2018 will be a big year,  a celebratory year for GSD. It will also be a big year for the world. In whatever small way, the Geneva School of Diplomacy will try to make a difference. And we’ll try to do that ever better and better. And better again. With excellent scholarship, hands-on and cutting-edge practitioner guidance and  –  please  –  with grace and a sense of humor, we’ll no doubt survive 2018 too. And make of that yet a new record breaking year in all the good things, more peace, better respect for human rights, more development, less cruelty.

But we should have no doubt that it is still a race  –  between good and bad, between confusion and better leadership. And the pace of change is picking up, ever and ever faster. Dangerously.
May the best man  –  and more than ever, woman  –   win.

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–   Dr. Colum Murphy
January 2018


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