Editorial: Collision Courses

Is conflict a pre-condition of our existence?

With violence erupting in Syria, Gaza, and the Ukraine, the world, it seems, is sliding into the greatest of dangers. The talk is already of a new Cold War, and the world's governments are in need of urgent solutions to prevent the rapid-fire spread of open hostility. Against this backdrop of violence and uncertainty, we present a two-part interrogation into the shifting sands of world politics. In Part I, Rana Mitter argues that Russia is still flexing its muscles and China lacks a global agenda. America remains the dominant player on the global stage, he believes, for now at least.

Not so, says Martin Jacques in Part II. When you go to China, he argues, you will never think of the world in the same way again. With China on the march to economic dominance, the days of the West are numbered. But we must remember, he argues, not simply to use a Western template to think about what China is going to be like. The future of the world will be very different.

Away from the front lines, the culture wars have returned – as if they ever went away. Back in September we published on IAI News a typically forthright interview with leading biologist Lewis Wolpert, in which he argued in no uncertain terms that science transcends culture and there is nothing that art can ever hope to offer the sciences. Predictably perhaps, but nonetheless to a greater extent than we had imagined, Wolpert’s arguments created something of a furore. Clearly relations between the arts and the sciences are not as rosy as some would have us believe.

This latest issue of IAI News therefore features three very different perspectives on the limits of science. Philosopher Ted Honderich argues that scientists have been tying themselves in knots over the issue of consciousness in part because everybody is asking different questions. It’s time for a philosopher to step in and bring some clarity to the definition of consciousness. Cultural critic Stephen Bayley claims that the notion of a division between the arts and the sciences is based on lazy assumptions. If they insist on being separated, he says, art will always triumph. For Bayley, science merely measures nature; art aims to improve on it. Science writer Philip Ball argues that, although scientists – such as Wolpert – might like to see themselves as seekers after truths untainted by grubby politics, there are in fact grave dangers in insisting too strongly on a fundamental distinction between the two. This was true in Nazi Germany, he says, and it is imperative that we remember it today.

The issue closes with an impassioned battle-cry against the oil industry. Jess Hall explains how ground-level popular activism is helping to bring an end to the age of oil. As both a writer and an activist, Hall is operating in the war-zone between ethics and economics. Can the conflict between the two ever be reconciled? Unfortunately, we’re not so sure.


Image credit: Cristian V.

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