A Democratic Imperative Of The Technology Revolution

If societies really want to tackle inequality, they'll need to do more than just improve access to new technologies.

A Colombian woman reaps the benefits of South America's tech revolution.
A Colombian woman reaps the benefits of South America's tech revolution.
Gonzalo Hernández*


BOGOTÁ — Everyone talks about how we're in the midst of a technological and scientific revolution that's rapidly transforming our world in ways that exceed previous revolutions.

New technologies come to us so fast that it seems almost unnecessary — and repetitive — to keep mentioning them. And yet, we cannot overlook how such technologies are redefining our societies and institutions. But what's most important here is not just that people have access to these technologies, but that they reap the benefits of such advances and share in the dividends.

However sophisticated or confusing they may be, the key issue with these technological changes is wealth distribution. If yesterday we were focused on returns from land and machines, today we must pay special attention to the dividends of digital technologies, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

These new dividends, like past ones, can be either democratizing in their impact or help concentrate power in the hands of the few. But if they're to permeate society on a democratic scale, we first need a society that absorbs like a sponge, and that, in turn, depends on another basic factor: better education.

Have we already missed the train?

Improved education is needed not just at the higher levels of science and technology, but also in primary and secondary schooling, which creates better citizens. Unfortunately, in Colombia, too many people are excluded from quality education.

This is another reason why education must be a long-term, state policy, rather than subject to the short-term whims of whatever administration happens to be in power. And that means more government spending, which can be financed by more progressive taxes and a smaller military budget.

Colombian students walk to class –– Photo: Michelle McFarlane

One cannot have a truly democratic society if economic inequality allows a few to also hoard all the political power and wield it over the great majority. There can be no democratic society if everyone can access certain technologies, but only a few will reap its economic rewards. A decent education is one that permits a better social distribution of the dividends of science and technology.

Citizens should not allow the frequently used terms of this revolution — words like technology, digital, 4.0 or 5.0 — to confound the most basic social demands that include, and are a precondition to, democratic access to the dividends of science and technology. Colombia is no exception, and unless it embarks on a concerted revolution in education, it won't be able to properly assimilate the tech revolution.

Indeed, this is a particularly important challenge for developing nations like ours, which are already playing catchup when it comes to education. If we missed the train already, as they say, what happens now that the train is moving that much faster?

*Hernández is an economics professor at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogotá.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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