The future is floating around a cluster of complications at a level above the politics of nationalism and which can only be unknotted from within a global liberal order. Terrorism, climate change, technological disruption including artificial intelligence and bioengineering, the jobs market, nuclear weapons and algorithms are just some of the problems in a Blockchain of the future that cannot be solved nationally. Algorithms will take away jobs- not robots or migrants from Venezuela and Syria. Authority has already shifted from humans. It is an algorithm that decides the price you pay for a flight to Moscow. 3D printers will force the closure of factories in Bangladesh. Speed factories will weave years of sport science data-into-designs in Ansbach.

Just as the agrarian and the industrial revolutions produced technologies that altered the world, so too will this one. The history of the Yellow River is of heuristic utility in understanding a world in the throes of a socio-technological revolution. It is a shift that differs from the periodic waves of technical change that have marked the progress of industrial society since its origins 200 years ago. The Yellow River flows from the Bayan Har Mountain through nine provinces into the Yellow Sea off Shandong- the birth place of Confucius. Over many centuries, countless kingdoms and dynasties lived along its path. They all suffered from floods and famines. No single tribe could do anything about these miseries because they controlled only a small segment of the river. Every year the river destroyed harvests and hamlets. Through long and complicated negotiations the warring kingdoms coalesced to form the Chinese nation. Eventually they harnessed the entire Yellow River. Farming, transport and commerce thrived as they regulated its flow with reservoir, dam and canal technologies. This unification has blossomed into a flourishing ‘One China’ today.

In Europe, the technological advancements of the industrial revolution like the telegraph, the Volta battery, locomotives, tin cans, typewriters, Portland cement, cameras and dynamos have created our modern world. But technology is never deterministic. These breakthroughs have been used to create very different kinds of societies, and political and economic systems, including liberal democracies, fascist regimes and dictatorships. The technologies available in California are not hidden from Caracas. They are simply used differently. Even warfare has changed from what followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Brexit is the new Warcraft without the loss of lives- as the UK exits the Union. Elsewhere, helpless politicians harken back to the politics of nostalgic fantasies- of going back to some imaginary pre-liberal golden past or a pre-global golden age. Others call for The Temple Mount to be restored and some cry for a Caliphate.

All of this distracts from dealing with the difficult task of creating a fruitful vision for the future. The past of whips in the West Indies was not fun. We will not want to go back. It is impossible to go back. In fact, the way back is blocked. Nor can we hope to solve the problems of underdevelopment by sleepwalking into our future. Perhaps the future may be decided in our absence. Clearly the set of measures imposed by the mantra ‘Make America Great Again,’ are a terrifying reminder of Trotsky’s observation- that the prospect of harmonious economic development on a nationalist foundation is completely impossible. Beijing’s bid to enhance its industrial and technological capabilities with its “Made in China 2025” masterplan has triggered a torrent of tariffs and currency wars. Now, once again, in Trotsky’s words, ‘Everyone (is) defend(ing) himself against everybody else, protecting himself by a customs wall and a hedge of bayonets.’ Trotsky’s warnings resonate with our present circumstance as everywhere the precepts of liberal democracy are being torn apart amid the re-emergence of authoritarian and fascist forms of rule.

The real problem here is that some countries continue to mirror the isolationists’ outlook of the ancient settlements along China’s Yellow River. They are yet to be convinced that they share a common collection of global complications. None of which is solvable at a national level. At every turn the gap is between the global and the national. We live in a global ecology and trade within a global economy but we are locked inside a national politics. These two things are incompatible. Either we de-globalize the economy or we globalize the political system. The former is not plausible and the latter remains an open question since no one knows for certain how to configure such a system or how it may work.

The West Indies will find no immunity or exemption from the consequences of our failure to embrace the profound changes that will unfurl at this inflection point. We must take notice that civilization is no longer framed by discrete kingdoms living along the banks of the Yellow River, the Nile, or along the curved blue rim of the Caribbean basin. Rather, we are everywhere now at school, at work and at home on the banks of the Cyber River connecting everything to anyone. Not a single knot that fences our future can be unravelled from within the national.