'Past helps us understand future'

An age of discovery, then and now, is a time of upheaval. And upheaval makes both winners and losers.

An age of discovery, then and now, is a time of upheaval. And upheaval makes both winners and losers.

“Perhaps that’s why when Michelangelo was commissioned to carve David and Goliath during the height of the last age of discovery, he focused on the underdog. His David stood, not triumphant atop the corpse of his enemy (the standard portrayal), but alone and at the ready, with the implacable resolve of one who knows his next step but not its outcome,” Chris Kutarna pointed out during the opening of his book “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance,” co-authored by Ian Goldin.

The 42-year-old Canadian author, who is recently in Shanghai for the launch of the book in Chinese, said it’s not the first time globalization has divided societies. “Nor is it the first time technological change has unleashed income inequality, social tension, xenophobia and ideological extremism. We can always learn from the past. It is popular wisdom 500 years ago, and it is true again today,” he claimed.

Drawing on Europe’s Renaissance, a period between 1450-1550, Goldin and Kutarna, both with the Oxford Martin School, suggested that our time can also be regarded, loosely, as a second Renaissance, or a new age of discovery, and that we look to the first one for insight into how to manage our problems now.

“For example, the Renaissance was a period of great navigation. Voyages of discovery by Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan tore up millennia-old maps of the ‘known’ world. Now, like then, globalization and new media have democratized information exchange,” said Kutarba during an interview with Shanghai Daily.

“When technology or new media is invented to increase our information supply, it changes civilization. That’s the big reason why we feel so many changes because of the radical shift in the most basic resource of human civilization.

“Moreover, both have big consequences accompanied by a flushing of geniuses,” Kutarna continued. “If you look at 500 years ago how the society reacted to Columbus’ heliocentric theory, you will see today it is the same situation when people question the gene modification.”

In this new “age of discovery,” as he further points out in the book, there are no passengers, but only pilots struggling to steer the ship — between the good and bad consequences of global entanglement; between forces of inclusion and exclusion; and between flourishing genius and flourishing risks.

“Everything suggests that the shocks such as the environment shocks, the economic shocks ... will just keep coming. However, if you acknowledge the legacies of the Renaissance, you will know the choices you make will be our legacies to the future generation,” he said.

Kutarna worked at the Boston Consulting Group from 2004 to 2007, based in the group’s Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney and finally Beijing offices. From 2008 to 2015, he served as Special Advisor and later Vice President China for Dundee Corporation, a Canadian investment management firm.

As to how he came up with the idea to write such a book, Kutarna said: “I lived in China between 2006 and 2009, and at the same time I went to Oxford for my PhD in politics. I was staying in both places and I become aware of people, very obvious, how anxious they were, because they cannot make sense of the time they are living in.

“The three years I lived in Beijing gave me the perspective that I need to look into the history. History is a mirror, which I think is an extremely strong idea here in China,” he adds.

'Past helps us understand future'

Q: What is the process of writing?

A: I began by doing a lot of reading, very widely, to form my ideas, and sometimes I go to interview people. I also learn to make maps in the research. I would go into a park, walk in the circle and talk in to a mic for hours and days. There would be the circle in the grass for the walk I had done. I actually talk the book instead of writing it. Most of the book is just transcribing what is the recording of my primary ideas. Every chapter is a mini book, stands along including the history it looks at or takes away.

Q: Who is your target reader?

A: There are clear messages for policymakers, for business, and for use in the book. The English edition actually reached very high level of the government in many different countries since publishing last year. It aims for those who identify with the feeling of the anxiety; who try to make sense of the time they live in; and who want to be optimistic, but are afraid or anxious. I hope the book delivers that there is good reasons to be anxious, and also good reasons to be hopeful.

Q: How did you work with Ian Goldin?

A: I am the one who holds the pen, so there is the integrity of the style the rhythm of one author. But Ian has the experience and perspectives. We would talk before each chapter, and Ian would review the text after I did the writing. It’s so useful to have Ian talking with me all the time. He would point to me that those are important issues, and we should spend more time on them. The result is there are well tested experiences, but also a strong creative inspiring pull of the details.

Q: Does learning Chinese give you any advantage?

A: I dare say you can’t talk about our new age of discovery without China. That’s one of the fundamental forces that makes this moment today. One strong value that comes though the book is the global equality of civilizations. I am drawing from all civilizations for wisdom. I am expecting contributions from a more balanced way in this 21st century.

I didn’t have those grand thoughts when I personally came to Beijing in 2006. I am Canadian, and I have been to the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand. But learning Chinese helps me widen my own understanding of humanity.

If we are going to find good solutions to these global issues, we have to learn how to work together in a much deeper way than we do today. We can’t afford to not learn from each other’s wisdom.

'Past helps us understand future'

“Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance”

By Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna

Those who are interested in reading Kutarna’s “rules for the 2nd Renaissance” can sign up to his personal website (www.kutarna.net).

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