Our New Self-perception in a Radically Transformed World

In what kind of a society do we want to live? On the basis of which values, goals, and societal models do we wish to outline our future? These questions must be answered again, because very different future scenarios are conceivable for 2030:

Growing right-wing populist movements; a crumbling EU; a shattered world order in which the mighty battle for their benefits and in which growing fringes of uncertainty emerge; an accelerating climate and Earth system transformation that is overloading societies, triggering international distribution conflicts, and generating migration flows; digitalisation that is causing shocks to labour markets, increasing income inequality, endangering civil rights, initiating uncontrollable cyber conflicts. A completely different scenario is also conceivable: a self-confident, prospering, liberal-­minded Europe that utilises the opportunities of digitalisation and forms alliances to strengthen a fair world order; inclusive and open-minded societies that offer their ­citizens security, participation and future prospects; companies and sciences that contribute to enabling ­social welfare development within the boundaries of the Earth system. A lot is at stake!

What values and interests do we want to stand up for? We must again reinforce the central value pillars that distinguish the project of modernity: democracy, tolerance, open-mindedness, universal human rights, inclusive societies, social market economy, recognition of planetary guardrails. And then there are the crucial challenges we face as we head towards 2030: a culture of global cooperation is needed to safeguard global public goods such as the Earth system, international security, and order systems for digital innovations. The national and global common good, national as well as globally interconnected interests and authorities belong together. This could be referred to as global responsibility out of a well-understood self-interest. This also includes collaboration to set boundaries for authoritarian or militant actors in an international system. In Germany, we need to deal with integration, between diverging social groups and city districts, between ‘old citizens’ and people who flee to us or immigrate. A structure of the new digitalised order that revolves around people must be worked out, because self-learning machines open up doors to new spaces of human development. This opens up a lot of new territory: politics must start talking more about potential futures, values, interests, avenues of creation, and must act courageously.

Additionally, for a new social awakening to succeed, an important lesson from the last decade must be taken into account: eroding social cohesion and increasing inequality not only multiply instabilities within societies, they simultaneously reduce people’s willingness to cooperate across borders. The regions that support Brexit, Le Pen, and Trump are often disconnected spaces plagued by widespread sentiments of resignation and anxiety about the future. International cooperation is of no interest to people if they themselves feel marginalised and neglected. The answer to fear, worries about decline, and resignation lies in the future: investments in education, infrastructure, social cohesion, smart regional and city policies, competitiveness. Inclusive societies and cross-border cooperation are conjoined twins.