It is hard to avoid the feeling that the first few months of 2011 will go down as a major turning point in world history. The major question is: a major turning towards what? Hopefully, it will be towards more democracy and freedom of information.
First there was the outbreak of a largely non-violent, popular revolution in Tunisia, followed by the same in Egypt, and then the ongoing revolution in Libya, which seems to have degenerated into all-out civil war. Demonstrations, non-violent and some less so, have broken out in other Middle East nations as well.
This is significant because the Middle East, the source of most of the world’s oil, has been until now the largest bloc of repressive regimes remaining on the planet.
Also significant is the role the United Nations has somewhat reluctantly adopted regarding its responsibility to protect the Libyan people from their own government. It remains to be seen if governments of U.N. member states will show the same enthusiasm for getting involved in popular uprisings in nations without Libya’s oil reserves, but a small precedent has been set.
Then came the triple disasters in Japan: earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency.
Once again, how the situation will play out is far from clear.
Certainly the nuclear industry worldwide will come under closer scrutiny. This is significant because nuclear power has been promoted by some as a panacea that will wean us away from an over-reliance on fossil fuels and thereby stop global warming.
Now such an approach is seen to be overly simplistic.
Also certain is that the Japanese people will require better disaster preparedness (already some of the best in the world) and better sharing of information.
The common factor in both the Middle East and Japan is the need for increased government accountability.
Our government institutions, even those in liberal democracies such as Japan, are proving themselves inadequate for the task as our global society climbs higher and higher into new levels of complexity.
Corporations and other social structures are constantly evolving. Perhaps now it is time for governments to do the same.