The Age of Truth, December 1998

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© Hazel Henderson, December 1998
(984 word count)

“THE AGE of TRUTH”

“The Information Age” has defined the late 20th Century—hyped by technological optimists as ushering in democracy, individual empowerment, the automation of drudgery and a new leisure society. Its most unexpected offspring may be a new “Age of Truth”. Henry Hyde, chairing the U.S. Congress impeachment proceedings against President Clinton stated that “lying is part and parcel of the trade of politics” (National Public Radio, December 18, 1998). Today, the rules are changing.

So far, the fruits of the computer-communications revolution have been decidedly mixed and unequally shared. Along with the individual empowerment of the few has come the widening gap between “info-rich” and “info-poor”. Democracies have morphed into “mediocracies” dominated by global commercial media conglomerates, sound-bite politics and its increasing corruption by money.

The newest challenges to societies lie in the technology-driven globalizing of corporations (200 of which now control 28% of the global economy) and electronic commerce, most visible in today’s unstable $1.5 trillion daily global casino. Most of this electronic currency trading is speculation and unrelated to real trade or investment.

Politicians are alarmed about this out-of-control global casino and its tidal waves of hot money sloshing around the planet. Many do not yet admit they helped create it with their financial deregulation and privatization policies which took down the firewalls between national economies. G-7 finance ministers mystify today’s speculative excesses as “global contagion” and call vaguely for “new financial architecture”.

In the USA, home of the cyberspace revolution, electronic markets and Wall Street’s information “bubble” economy, the Clinton Administration has declared this sector as a laissez-faire, tax haven. Despite US urging, other countries, including the 15 members of the European Union are more skeptical. They worry about untaxed, unregulated electronic markets and cybershoppers eroding their national sovereignty and tax bases. Real, bricks and mortar small businesses on Main Streets of rural towns and villages must pay rents, and taxes on their sales. They cannot compete with the growing virtual businesses in cyberspace.

All of the good and bad news of globalization and the Information Age will be debated for decades. What is new and indisputable is that all this has led to a new Age of Truth. Information overload is creating more selectivity, awareness and skepticism among citizens, voters and consumers worldwide. Citizens’ organizations continue to proliferate. They share information and campaigns via the internet against unaccountable corporations, governments, politicians and tyrants.

The rules are changing in the global village. All politicians, not only Bill Clinton, must understand they now live in the global goldfish bowl created by the technologies of the Information Age. Higher standards of personal conduct come with this new territory. Hypocrisy is short-lived. Campaign rhetoric is held to account as citizens demand that politicians walk their talk. Corporations are expected to live up to their codes of conduct—and submit to outside audits of their ethics, social and environmental conduct. Appeals for privacy and against the unfairness of harsher public scrutiny are irrelevant.

Erstwhile cozy relationships between political elites, corporate chieftains and top news editors are now labeled “cronyism”. Private conferences of world leaders and heads of state in watering holes like Davos, Switzerland and Jackson Hole, Wyoming are suspect as “collusion”. Public relations and political advisors have given rise to terms such as “spin doctoring” and “corporate green-washing”.

Young “Generation Xers” fight back against the fashion moguls and the “culture industry” by choosing second-hand and retro clothes. Ad Busters and other anti-marketing magazines and groups promote “Buy Nothing Days”, TV turn-offs, “No Gift Holidays” and clever anti-advertising that spoofs global brands and consumerism. Anti-economists ridicule orthodox economic textbooks and the economic prescriptions of the World Bank and the IMF as “The Washington Consensus”.

These newly aware citizens and their allies in academia sounded the global alarm on bio-engineered food, crops and livestock. They reveal new truths behind the hype of chemical, agribusiness and pharmaceutical corporations’ ads claiming that they have the answer to the world’s food problems. When US-based giant Monsanto announced its now infamous infertile seeds that cannot germinate future crops, protest groups worldwide staged media events and rallies against “Monsterco’s” “Terminator” seeds that would be useless to save, making farmers dependent on buying costly new seeds each year.

And this 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Age of Truth caught up with those accused of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia. Tyrants everywhere were put on notice by the trials of war criminals in the Hague and by the Rome agreement to create the International Criminal Court—in spite of lonely obstruction by the world’s self-styled policeman, the USA. General Pinochet’s future still hangs in the balance while Amnesty International is now a household word.

Meanwhile, the sages of the cyber age who ignored the millennium computer bug, still tend toward hyperbole or banality. Nicholas Negroponte of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab “predicts” (Wired, Dec. 1998.) that nations will erode because they are not big enough to be global nor small enough to be local—echoing 25 year old statements by this author and E.F. Schumacher in his Small is Beautiful (1973).

While the verdict is not yet in on the bewildering effects of the Information Age, it has already ushered in the Age of Truth.

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Hazel Henderson is author of Paradigms In Progress (1991, 1995) and Building a Win-Win World (1996, 1997) and co-editor with Harlan Cleveland and Inge Kaul of The UN: Policy and Financing Alternatives. She co-directed a recent survey on the Y2K bug, accessible at www.publicinterestpolling.co

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