Haven’t we seen this before? Charismatic leaders emerge with promises of “good days” that all of us fall for, only to see the Utopian “dreams” turn to dust as the “realities” of human nature and the daily “grind” set in. It doesn’t matter much if the outcome was only “realpolitik” driven policies, as the status quo is within our comfort zone. However, the real tragedy is when a Dystopia ensues, that people start to question and then revolt, only to be greeted by another set of “leaders” who flatter to deceive. Wash, Rinse, and Repeat goes on; by now, a weary and wary populace knows better than to trust the empty slogans and the rhetoric of “change”. Indeed, this has been playing out worldwide for decades as each iteration of elections or coups, for that matter, settles into a predictable pattern. Welcome to the Age of False Dawns! Where we are promised Utopia, and then “they” deliver Dystopia.
To understand the root causes of this cycle, look no further than the “failure” of neoliberalism, an ideology premised on the “hope” of a better tomorrow. However, the outcomes are almost an uncertain future, where one should be glad if tomorrow comes. Maybe, we need “compassionate” capitalism, as otherwise, The Great Unraveling that is going on now can quickly lead to Derangement, where the “madness” of the world leads us all into a “Million Mutinies” here and there, with lawlessness, anarchy, and disorder the order of the day. Many are now calling for The Great Reset, where we “reboot” our world and economies in a last-ditch attempt to “save the world”. However, I am sceptical of such New Age “fads” as The Age of False Dawns is guaranteed to live forever until and unless we change the “rules of the game” and not pretend that “business as usual” works.
Take India as the “crucible” of The Age of False Dawns. Recently we celebrated our 75th Independence Day with much fanfare, and the overriding theme was how India@75 has “arrived” on the world stage, what with us being “wooed” by East and West. It was emphasized that the “sweet spot” we find ourselves in can be to our “gain” as we seek to become a “$5 Trillion” Economy. Moreover, we have also been told that India@75 is a “lone” bright spot, with it being the “world’s fastest-growing” major economy, and that The Indian Renaissance had begun after Thousand years of “decline”. Indeed, without sounding curmudgeonly, there are notable successes, especially in the four decades since the economic reforms of the 1990s. However, India@75 does need a “reality check” as sometimes we tend to overlook the “dark clouds” hovering above due to the “spin”. More so, when statistics reveal that you earn Rs. 25,000 a month, you are in the Top 10 Percent, and nearly 5.6 Crores of Indians slipped back into the “rut” of poverty in the pandemic years.
Worse, the chaos of such “Utopian” promises should make us all circumspect. More so when the “existential” crises and the Deja Vu feeling of yet another “recession” can turn into a “bottomless” downturn, what with “everyone and their dog” mimicking the “doom and gloom” scenarios routinely being parrotted worldwide. So, where is the “dream” now? Maybe, the “race to the bottom” world neatly sieves us all into “winners and losers”. Or, perhaps, this is The Age of the Unexpected, where even those who have “made it” risk falling behind if the competition gets to them. As the aftermath of the pandemic shows us, there are no fixed “rules” anymore. More so as Putin has taken the battle into the Western camp. When Biden casually talks about Armageddon, the threats of “nuclear” winter from “hell” and the new cold war begin to sound plausible and, worse, possible. So, is this the Dystopia that “they” are presiding over?
One can easily dismiss this rant of mine as coming from a middle-aged Gen Xer, the age cohort now being talked about as The Forgotten Generation. More so when the Millennial/Gen Zers’ “angst” drives the Iranian protests and The Great Resignation. The “problem” is not with us, the Millennials say, pointing to the post-pandemic “blues” and the sense of “weirdness” that has set in, with even The Atlantic Magazine calling this out. However, there was a time when we Gen Xers, too, were full of hope when Bill Gates and his ilk ushered in the Internet Age. We, too, believed technology would save the world and redemption would ensue through its “messianic” potential. It is another matter that the Dotcom crash brought us back to Earth, much like the Unicorn and Crypto bubbles bursting now, becoming a “moment of truth” for the TikTok generation. As I have been saying, unless we change the rules of the game that govern our economies, the wild gyrations and the selloff would be as natural as the air we breathe.
In my earlier editions, I wrote about the present as a “transition” from the Smokestack Era to the Digital Age. From 9 to 5 workdays, over which we built the ecosystem of modern life, to the 24/7 world that is now a reality, many things are changing. This was one of the themes of Davos 2022 as well, So perhaps we are “between ages” where the Present and Future Shocks as we pivot to the Digital Age are inevitable. Even this newsletter is made possible due to the “democratization” of content, though the Kool-Aid of aspiration is all too real. Do we need a reality check? Or, again, am I sounding “old”? What about the epidemic of stress and burnout that has made mental health a leading cause of worry for even seasoned business leaders? Are these the “symptoms” of The Age of False Dawns? Only time will tell.
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