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15th November 2016

The fourth deception of humanity

Lioui Benhamou argues that Donald Trump’s victory exemplifies humanity’s inability to make political progress

When I was a child, I felt a bit sad that I did not get to see most of history. I was too young for 9/11 and not born at the right time for flying cars or the teleportation machine. I had the impression that I was born when history decided to slow down for a decade or two.

And I guess that is good. A major challenge for Western countries and the world general at the time was terrorism. The next one, I thought, would be climate change. But, overall, I was quite optimistic about the human race: progress never stopped and the century before ours opened-up many possibilities; it was up to us to continue and explore the continuation of progress.

But Donald Trump’s election to be the President — the leader of the free world — and Brexit before that, have provoked a feeling that I believe to be the forth deception of humanity.

There is a famous psychological theory that argues that humanity has known three deceptions in his history — also referred to as narcissistic wounds. The first one came from Copernicus, who showed us that humans were not literally (or metaphorically) the centre of the universe. Thus, we then knew that we were not at the centre of the universe, and we knew that we were not the most important beings in the universe.

The second deception came from Darwin, who scientifically proved that humans were the product of evolution, and were therefore a part of the animal kingdom. Thus, the knowledge that we shared biology with the rest of our world hindered claims to human superiority over other beings.

The third one came from Freud. His theories about the subconscious showed that humans are not in control of their desires and what they want; rather, they are merely in control of the choice of the super-ego. If we are not the masters of our own minds, then we are not the centre of our own lives; our desires and their roots exist separately from our own decisions.

The fourth narcissistic wound, I believe, is the way many of us feel right now: the realisation that political progress has reach its limits. Sure, we will survive Trump’s years, and real progress will occur again. But if we do not profoundly change the rules of our systems, we will come to the end of political progress. As things are, we do not seem able to use politics to achieve real progress in the face of our challenges.

I am not arguing that Hillary Clinton would have been the perfect candidate, or that the Americans are stupid. I am arguing that we are not capable of doing better than what we have done so far.

I understand the protest vote, I understand why the revolt against the system, against Neoliberalism, against the establishment. What I am saying is that we are not able to come together as one and effectively decide what we truly need to do for our future. Maybe that is human nature. As a political animal, humans need something to fight about.

But this election proved one thing: human free will is not at the centre of the future of politics; the economy and identity is. If we are not able to effectively adapt and change our institutions and political processes to assure our survival, then we are not even at the centre of our own destiny as a species.

I am making it sound as if Trump’s election is one of the worst things that happened to humanity. It is not at all that: far from it, in fact. But it is the perfect illustration of a more general problem: we want and need change, but we are unable to adequately process or reflect on it.

We tend towards easy discourse instead of pushing the limits of human possibilities. Americans are not happy, and fairly so. But instead of having a true political reflection on how to organise change, they have elected the man who was regarded as the joker candidate in 2014.

It is up to our generation to restore humanity’s ability to organise for change; to reverse the trends of the last few years, and the way in which it occurred “bigly” on the 9th of November 2016. We must re-kindle the desire to push the limit of political, and human progress.

Despite the election of Donald Trump, I am hopeful. Though Copernicus might be right, we are the only species known to ourselves with the capacity to explore the universe. Darwin might be right, but we are the only species known that will be able to built Artificial Intelligence, which could potentially be more intelligent than is naturally possible. Freud might be right, but we are also a product of the context of our lives, and we are still able to reflect on our individual and collective desires and make progress towards them.

We might have reached the limit of what is politically possible for us to do. But humans are full of surprises. Perhaps the era of populism, if it falls or withstands, will be followed by a new horizons of progress.

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