"We are not powerless. We have tremendous potential for good or ill. How we choose to use that power is up to us; but first we must choose to use it. We're told every day, "You can't change the world." But the world is changing every day. Only question is…who's doing it? You or somebody else?" – J. Michael Straczynski

The rise of technologies and the advent of the modern world, have markedly shifted our morality and beliefs toward materialistic values. Although ancient texts throughout human history have always complained about large cities' vices and the loss of traditional values, yet never in history have whole societies based upon them. The latest wave of globalization starting in the 1980's coupled with new technologies have only increased the withdrawal into our lonely (yet cosy) bubbles.

This is of course no way to manage a society. Yet economists have come to define us as 'rational agents' into their well oiled models, while politicians are increasingly better at using attractive, immediate and tangible proposals to make people vote for them, cashing on their inability to remember or at least to engage themselves into the political debate.

The implications for societies are obviously dangerous over the long term: you cannot manage a country like a company, and even less so without offering a vision which is both inclusive and inspiring. And new iPhones do not inspire people, they only promote a mindless race for social status which knows no end. Economics and individual preferences play a role into societies' organization, yet putting them at the centre of our lives guarantees a poor result.

While in Western countries this rise happened over a long period of time, it happened over only a couple of decades in developing countries. The latter's elite are seemingly ruthless and heartless, quick to understand, assimilate and exploit a system created abroad.

Because of their visibility (fancy cars and bad attitudes), we may see a conservative backlash against them, but also against the depraving influences of foreigners: Hollywood films certainly tend to spread materialistic, frivolous and violent ideas. In the developed world however, resentment will build against this new affluence or their poor victims looking for better prospects abroad. Combined, these developments could hamper globalization, the phenomenon from which they originate.

It is however too early to definitely proclaim the death of globalization. Extrapolating current trends suggest increased tensions, but such a model wouldn't account for a change in course. After 30 years of expansion, the world is standing still, uncertain of where to go. Will we wake up from this cosy materialistic golden cage or have we lost the will to aspire for a better future?

Science, General Knowledge & Environment

In a Study, Text Messages Add Up to a Balance Sheet of Everyday Morality – "Psychologists have also contended that a fundamental difference between the political right and the left is that conservatives tend to think of morality in terms of loyalty and faith, while liberals focus on fairness and liberty."

The End of Fracking Is Closer Than You Think – "Once you've run out of locations in the sweet spots, you're forced to lower and lower quality rock. The wells don't get any cheaper, however. They still cost the same, it's just that you have to drill more of them to offset that fuel decline."

Oil the next commodity domino? – "As such, IS presents a direct threat to Middle East governments at a time of growing social discontent. What could Arab countries offer the West to help contain this threat? Lower oil prices."

History & Geopolitics

How Democracy Dies – "Ironically, democracy would increasingly produce workers and consumers, not citizens. Their concerns and obsessions would run almost entirely to the private realm, and the thoughts they might spare for public life would be driven by these same private concerns."

Global Fragmentation: Crying Wolf Again? – "There are several reasons for this lack of left-wing mobilization, but chief among them is a failure in the realm of ideas. For the past generation, the ideological high ground on economic issues has been held by a libertarian right. The left has not been able to make a plausible case for an agenda other than a return to an unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy."

Cardinal Reinhard Marx: «Notre bien commun est lié à celui de l’Europe» – (Hat tip CO) – "Un des grands défis de notre siècle sera d’organiser la mondialisation. Et qui peut influencer le nouvel ordre, avec les valeurs d’humanité, de liberté, de dignité de l’homme, de solidarité avec les pauvres, si ce n’est l’Europe?"

The Origins and Implications of the Scottish Referendum – "The referendum will re-legitimize questions that have caused much strife throughout the European continent for centuries, including the 31-year war of the 20th century that left 80 million dead."

Gaza and the threat of world war – "The false reality created by false news delivered by media gatekeepers may prevent some of us knowing that this new superpower is stirring in country after country: from the Americas to Europe, Asia to Africa. It is a moral insurrection, exemplified by the whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. The question begs: will we break our silence while there is time? "

The Islamic State threat is overstated – (Hat tip CO) – "After the capture of Mosul, the calculus began to change. All the regional powers are now in consensus that the Islamic State must be contained. The group is completely isolated, encircled by enemies."

Take a Deep Breath – (Hat tip CO) – "An existential struggle is taking place in the Arab world today. But is it ours or is it theirs? Before we step up military action in Iraq and Syria, that’s the question that needs answering."

Iran Prepares for a Leadership Transition – "The key problem that has surrounded the post of the supreme leader since the death of the founder of the republic is the very small pool of potential candidates to choose a replacement from: Most clerics either lack political skills, while those that do have political savvy lack requisite religious credentials."

China’s ‘creeping invasion’ – "But it aims to avoid the sort of crisis — and Western pushback — Russia has provoked by moving in small increments, interspersed with tactical retreats when necessary. The result, over time, could be as momentous as a war."

Finance & Economics

Lunch with the FT: Christine Lagarde – (Hat tip CO) – "On the one hand, she notes, the global economic system is becoming increasingly integrated; on the other hand, the global political system is fragmented and becoming more so because of a backlash against the way that globalisation is hurting some people."

Global banks retreat as the US and China tighten in lockstep – "This wall of money was a key cause of the pre-Lehman asset boom and continues to drive new bubbles everywhere, what the Bank for International Settlements calls the "puzzling disconnect between the markets’ buoyancy and underlying economic developments globally”."

You Can’t Feed a Family With G.D.P.  (Hat tip CO) – "Around 1999, growth in the United States economy stopped translating to growth in middle-class incomes. In the last 15 years, median income has been more or less flat while there was far sharper growth in, for example, per capita gross domestic product."

Conversation: Managing China's Economic Slowdown – [Video] – "Stratfor Economic Analyst Mark Fleming-Williams and East Asia Analyst John Minnich discuss the Chinese government's attempts to move the economy up the value chain as the latest economic statistics indicate a slowdown."

A trip to China yields gloom – "For financial markets we have been framing our China analysis with deleveraging at its core. We found little reason to shift us off that approach. While our visit threw up a range of uncertainties, what seems clear is that the authorities seem committed to restraining the growth of credit relative to the expansion of recent years."

Picture of the day: Mount Rinjani, 1995Rinjani1994

Written by Carlito with additional help from Steve

About Carlito Riego

"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi