Age of Discovery –
Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance
By Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna
Bloomsbury – £18.99
If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all (Michelangelo).
To compare the current era to that of the Renaissance might well be a welcome yet debauched conversation piece amid the bars of France as the 2016 European Football Championship kicks off; but to seriously consider such a travesty of history (for that is what it surely is) is way, way off the mark of remote plausibility.
In Age of Discovery – Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance, Ian Goldin (who is a Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University) and Chris Kutarna (who has a Doctorate in Politics at the same University) attempts to show how western society can ”draw courage, wisdom and inspiration” from the bygone age of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Whether seized by Gutenberg or Zuckerberg, their thesis has essentially been written ”in order to fashion our own age,” wherein ”this Renaissance moment dares humanity to give its best just when the stakes are at their highest.”
Renaissance moment? Surely this is complete and utter bollocks?
In the opening of chapter one’s ‘To Flounder or Flourish,’ the authors write: ”If Michelangelo were reborn today, amidst all the turmoil that marks our present age, would he flounder, or flourish again? Every year, millions of people file into the Sistine Chapel to stare up in wonder at Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Creation of Adam. Millions more pay homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Through five centuries, we have carefully preserved such Renaissance masterpieces, and cherished them, as objects of beauty and inspiration. But they also challenge us.”
Too right they do.
What, amid the current, bankrupt euphoria of celebrity culture, is even going to come anywhere near close to the above paintings? Or indeed, the actual Renaissance? Katie Price and her annual, squalid wedding? The Islamic State’s ideology of crass and pointless murder?
In the same chapter, under the sub-heading ‘The Past is prologue,’ they continue with: The present age is a contest: between the good and bad consequences of global entanglement and human development; between forces of inclusion and exclusion; between flourishing genius and flourishing risks. Whether we each flourish or flounder, and whether the twenty-first century goes down in the history books as one of humanity’s best or worst, depends on what we all do to promote the possibilities and dampen the dangers that this contest brings.”
Admittedly, Messrs. Goldin and Kutarana are right about one thing: ”The stakes could not be higher. We each have the perilous fortune to have been born into a historic moment – a decisive moment – when events and choices in our own lifetime will dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”
Indeed, the stakes could absolutely not be higher. And we do all have the perilous (mis)fortune to have been born during a time of nigh catastrophic change – where events and choices in our own lifetime will indeed dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.
One need look no further than June 23rd, the day the nation votes on the European Referendum; where many millions of people will no doubt vote to turn the clock back to the dark ages. Or perhaps back to the actual Renaissance itself. Who knows? The frightening trajectory of which will invariably ”dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come.”
Alas, by the time one has reached the ninth chapter, simply entitled ‘David,’ bucolic bravado has finally subsided and an assortment of clear-cut-telling enters the fray: ”In the developing world, an estimated $1 – 2 trillion per year is siphoned away from public treasures by corrupt officials and cosy monopolists, facilitated by global investors and financial firms in the developed world. In advanced economies, scandals like the five-year diesel emissions fraud uncovered at Volkswagon in 2015, or the twenty-year Libor rate-fixing swindle conducted by London banks until 2012, remind us that people everywhere may cheat when given the incentive and opportunity.”
Key words in the above quote are ”developing world,” which to all intents and preposterous purposes, have nothing whatsoever to do with the Renaissance. Niente. Niks. Nada.
In fact, to compare today’s world with that of the Renaissance, is akin to comparing cement with Simone de Beauvoir.