Now, this is the Age of Menace

 ·16 May 2024

On a cool summer evening on the 8th of October 2022, with a picture-perfect view of Cape Town harbour behind us, the well-regarded economic and political commentator Bruce Whitfield and I prepared for a scheduled interview at the V&A Waterfront Exclusive Books, which would take place in front of a hundred people who had gathered to attend the official launch of my book The Age of Menace: Capitalism, Inequality and the Battle for Dignity (2022). The setting sun was reflecting off the ships anchored in the harbour in a gorgeous array of shades of red and yellow when Bruce Whitfield began the proceedings by introducing the book. He then asked me a great question that I had not expected, which was, “How can you say, David, that this is the age of menace? Surely you mean to say that this is an age of menace? Because prior to this age, we’ve had many calamitous ages.”

I answered with some confidence that I did believe that this period in human history is the age of menace, on the basis that there had never previously been a time in which so many different forms of severe geopolitical disruption had occurred, and been amplified to the degree they are now by the endless stream of misinformation and disinformation that we are bombarded with. This narrow-casted avatar-driven content has created enormous psychological dissonance between people, at a time increasingly characterised by an extreme loss of trust in government, global institutions, the entire banking system and, ultimately, in the values that underpin democracy itself.

In that moment, I probably did not word it as clearly as it appears on the page, but I do now, in May of 2024, nearly 18 months later, unfortunately feel somewhat vindicated. Right now, across the globe, there are multiple wars being waged. There is a deadly and ongoing conflict in Sudan, as well as in many other central African countries that go almost entirely unnoticed because we are so overwhelmed by the Ukraine war, which is now, after more than two years, at a stalemate. Western powers, which at first threatened, and then executed, unprecedented sanctions against Russia, are now reconsidering whether they will spend money on helping to defend Ukraine, with significant packages of military aid having been held up for months in Congress.

At the same time, we have the Middle Eastern conflict, which is nothing short of existential for the Palestinian people, and which is truly biblical in its historical context. It has divided people like never before, to the extent that there’s an extremely unnerving, almost intractable rift playing out in the university campus occupations that are taking place all over the world. As in the protracted case of the Russia-Ukraine war, it seems that there is no obvious solution to this conflict, especially given that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just doubled down in his efforts to retaliate for the October 2023 attack, crossing Joe Biden’s red line by continuing with the ground invasion of Rafah.

This is all occurring in a world in which the main multilateral institution that is supposed to maintain international peace post-World War II has been neutered by its own Security Council, which issued no resolution when Putin invaded Ukraine, owing to Russia’s veto rights as a member of the council. The Security Council has also reached no resolution on a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Israel, meanwhile, has been taken to court for genocide by South Africa. This is something that you could not have made-up in October 2022.

Those countries that historically held the power to intervene in global conflicts have meanwhile turned their attention inward, navel gazing in an endless cycle of narcissistic indulgence curated by mega-firms worth trillions of dollars situated in Silicon Valley. The self-indulgence has occurred while authoritarian regimes grow rapidly more blatant in their challenge to US hegemony and Kantian values. The previous leader of the US is currently sitting in a courtroom facing an ex-porn-star for a hush money accusation of $130,000, while its current president wishes to triple the tariffs on Chinese imports, upping the ante in a trade war. Interest rates remain elevated because of the unknown future outcomes of persistent inflation. The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet still sits at over $7 trillion, roughly ten times what it was in the five years before the Global Financial Crisis. The US’s debt is at an excruciatingly high level, bringing with it deep economic uncertainty to the world’s reserve currency.

Europe is facing a number of threats to its stability and security, a truth underscored by the cover of The Economist last week, which featured a picture of a very thoughtful looking Emmanuel Macron with the title “Europe in mortal danger”. The world’s second largest country by GDP is China, a totalitarian state that is grappling with what I believe is impending state-wide bankruptcy, with its private property crisis worsening day by day. And I could go on.

The one thing that apparently everybody can agree on in such a disjointed, disconnected world is the urgent need to address the climate change crisis. And yet, the hypocrisy and pandering that is glaringly obvious at the UN COP meetings, which are hosted in the deserts inhabited by ultra-authoritarian regimes, is seemingly the best solution that we, as world citizens, can come up with.

So, yes, I sadly do feel justified for calling the book “The Age of Menace”. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the biggest problem that we currently face is that we have not yet recognised that this is the age of menace, and not just an age of menace. If we could only open our eyes and acknowledge the place we have arrived at, then we may have a chance to navigate our way out.

Buckham is founder and CEO of Johannesburg-based international management consultancy Monocle Solutions.

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter