2021 was clearly not a year for geopolitical optimism. Almost every month, a new crisis dominated the news, contributing to a sense that this mounting tide of crises threatens to overwhelm us.
Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that in Europe and beyond, concern about a growing loss of control is prevalent. In fact, findings from the Munich Security Index 2022 not only reflect the high level of risk perceived by respondents in the G7 and BRICS countries; they also suggest the emergence of “collective helplessness” in the face of a plethora of crises that reinforce each other. Just like people can suffer from “learned helplessness” – a psychological term describing the feeling that nothing one does can effect positive change – societies, too, may come to believe that they are unable to get a grip on the challenges they are facing. Whether it is the seemingly endless pandemic, the increasingly tangible threat of climate change, the vexing vulnerabilities of an interconnected world, or increasing geopolitical tensions, all these challenges contribute to a feeling of a loss of control. Liberal democracies appear to feel particularly overwhelmed.
This perception is highly dangerous because it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Societies that have concluded that they cannot solve humankind’s most challenging problems might no longer even try to turn the tide. Will our stressed and overburdened societies end up accepting what they see as their fate, although they have the tools and resources to change it?
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