A WORLD IN NEED OF WISDOM

I have been listening in to some of the proceedings of the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. The conference brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists for up to four days to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world. Over the years it has had bitter criticism as well as rough handling at the hands of protesters; it has been inevitably branded by conspiracy theorists as a world “take-over” group, and it has been maligned as the spearhead of globalization activists etc. Nonetheless it continues to be a place where international contact can be made between leading world politicians and those who are heading up the vast new business empires and the technological revolutions that are rapidly re-shaping our age At the same time the fundamental intention of the forum still remains the resolution of the tensions and difficulties in the world. To have such a forum is important. The subjects under discussion are wide, impressive and relevant. Theresa May, for example, has spoken at the Conference (very ably) on AI (Artificial Intelligence) – a massive issue for the future. Of course we have to acknowledge that in such a forum different interest groups (whether business or political) will inevitably watch carefully over their own interests, but there never has been in this world any kind of forum on any aspect of life where that has not been the case. Despite such divergent interests it remains a fact that such forums have done good and can still do some good. Finally it is worth noting that it is the brain child of a Business Professor of the University of Geneva, not a politician; the politicians are invited because the resolving of our the problems in our future society will require business and politics to operate together more than ever before.

Watching all this as a sort of “layman” in a hideously technical and complex debate I am struck once again by the fact that the new modern world requires a huge amount of wisdom from those steering the vast changes that are taking place. I am alarmed by how little grasp even the best informed economists have on the vast fluctuations in the world economic processes. It’s not just economic wisdom we need, however. At another level the technological changes promise great gain, but at the same time are fraught with appalling social dangers: Face Book, for example, has brought great social gain and yet at the same time grave social dangers. We need wisdom for that.

The problem in the modern world is not so much what we know as what we do with what we know. Knowledge is what we know; wisdom is what we do and how we handle what we know. It is wisdom we need. We know how to split the atom, but we need to understand what to do with that knowledge; we now know how to cram an infinity of knowledge on to a very small “chip”, but we need to know what we should and should not do with that chip! The world has excelled in knowledge over the last decades; it now needs to excel in wisdom!

This wisdom, however, is not just scientific or economic or business wisdom. The wisdom that is called for is a wisdom that will restrain irresponsibility and evil self-aggrandizement; we do not want the “wisdom” that creates greater and greater profits for just a few, or that puts a few on higher and higher pedestals. That, unfortunately, is the horizon of too many powerful people. It’s a “selfish” wisdom. Rather the need is for a wisdom that creates a much wider and greater social benefit. In other words the wisdom required must have a strong underlying moral aspect. We want a wisdom that leads us away from the jungle of the “survival of the fittest”; we want a wisdom based thoroughly on responsibilities to people. That, of course, is a huge challenge to our self-centred humanity. The best of the Davos thinking would not disagree with that desire, I’m sure: indeed many of the discussions centre on human social needs. But the problem is to keep focused on such a desire! I do not think any algorithm will find the way to such wisdom; at best it would only affirm the intransigence of humanity in its propensity to do the wrong thing!

It is precisely such wisdom that our Christian faith offers. That is fundamentally because it offers the strongest of moral bases. It constitutes a call to a deep personal rejection of pride, power, unlimited possessions, and an embracing of responsibilities for other people. The billionaires who make up the guest list of Davos are in grave danger of missing this call simply because of their worldly success, though some have clearly acknowledged the need of a moral basis for their discussions. The wisdom that the Bible offers is summed up in the simplest of terms: “The fear of the Lord (an awesome respect for his commandments) is the beginning of wisdom” in the Old Testament, and “Love your neighbour as yourself” on the lips of Jesus. A Holy God calls us to a personal rejection of all evil and to a simple trust in Him and his Christ. The world lacks wisdom simply because it does not walk with its Maker as it should, even though his “wisdom” has been conveyed to us it such simple terms.

Bob Dunnett     25/01/18