SKKU: The first Sungkyun International Conference “The Era of Upheaval” was held successfully

Sungkyunkwan University successfully held the first Sungkyun International Conference, “The Era of Upheaval” on January 14th, 2022. Jared Diamond, a distinguished chair professor at Sungkyunkwan University and a Professor of Geography at UCLA, who is well-known as global best-seller author of <Guns, Germs, and Steel> pointed out that the most serious problem humanity faces is a nuclear weapon, climate change, lack of resources and inequality; instead of Covid-19 (Corona 19).

Professor Diamond said, “Even in the worst-case scenario, Covid-19’s mortality rate is only 2%.” He also emphasized that “However, it is a fatal problem that issues of a nuclear weapon or climate change can exterminate humanity, and we need to find a solution immediately” while discussing with Steven Pinker, a Psychology Professor at Harvard, and Kiyoteru Tsutsui, a Sociology Professor at Stanford in the first session. It was the first time that three professors have joined an online conference regarding global crises and challenges.

Regarding the reason for holding this event, Kim Joon-young, chairman of Sungkyunkwan University, said, “I was inspired by Professor Diamond’s book, 『Upheaval』 (published in Korea in 2020). It is necessary to analyze big changes all over the world from a diverse point of view. I sympathized greatly with Professor Diamond’s class provided for Sungkyunkwan University students in November last year. As the current change is experienced by citizens not only in Korea but around the world at the same time, the state and individuals must work together to overcome the crisis.”

“Thanks to COVID-19, there’s a chance for national cooperation”

Ironically, Prof. Diamond diagnosed that COVID-19 has set the stage for solving more important problems in the future by triggering international cooperation. He said, “This pandemic will be a turning point. Leaders of every country noticed that if the safety of all the countries isn’t guaranteed, superpowers cannot survive as well.” He stressed that “vaccine nationalism only worsens the situation; we should establish a transnational system.”

Prof. Diamond chose nuclear war as a first risk factor. Recently, in the international community, the danger has been overlooked. He worried that “The U.S., North Korea, and Pakistan still cannot rule out the possibility of a nuclear war, and in the worst case, nuclear winter (a low-temperature phenomenon is expected to occur in the event of a nuclear war) could come. In addition, there is a possibility that terrorists who are already using dynamite can get dirty bombs in their hands within five or ten years.”

Regarding resource depletion, Professor Diamond said, “The rate of resource consumption and waste generation in developed countries such as the United States, Luxembourg, Japan, and Germany is 32 times that of developing countries such as Kenya. It is the same effect as population increases from 7 billion people to 80 billion people if all the countries increase their consumption like superpowers.” He powerfully said, “There is no person to say that earth can withstand a population of 80 billion.”

Inequality, which has been deepening since the 21st century, is also a challenge facing mankind. Not only inequality within the country but also inequality between countries must be resolved at the same time. “If we fall into more serious inequality, houses in wealthy areas will begin to burn. Wealthy Americans will not be safe until poor Americans are safe, and the United States cannot be safe until Mongolia and Bolivia are safe,” Prof. Diamond said.

Pinker “Humankind, will overcome the crisis with technology innovation”

Unlike Prof. Diamond, who expressed a somewhat pessimistic view of the upcoming world’s crises, Prof. Pinker and Prof. Tsutsui expressed relatively optimistic views.

Professor Pinker, well-known as an author of 『Better Angels of Our Nature』, 『The Blank Slate』, and other books, recalled, “Human beings are prone to exaggeration because they are biased on the negative side. In the past, there was a study that in the 21st century the U.S. and Soviet Union will disappear from the map and humans will be destroyed by nuclear war, but it didn’t actually happen.” He claimed that excessive confidence in terms of risk should be wary.

Regarding the problem of resource depletion, Professor Pinker mentioned that it would not be a big problem as long as technological innovation is supported. He said, “There have been warnings since the 1950s that humans will self-destruct someday if they don’t curb population growth. However, over the past 20 years, humans have solved problems every time with new technology development; instead, according to Gini’s coefficient (a figure representing the gap between the rich and the poor and the degree of income imbalance between classes), absolute poverty is decreasing.”

Tsutsui, “Inequality is a matter to be compared with neighbors, not in the past.”

Prof. Tsutsui, a human rights expert, argued that it is important to grasp the nature of inequality. He pointed out the phycological factor that causes inequality by saying, “Society has improved in terms of health, wealth, and safety compared to the past, but mankind always evaluates the situation based on relative standards. It is human nature to think that ‘my car is slower than my neighbor’s car’ rather than thinking that ‘the current car is faster than 100 years ago’.” In other words, research focusing on current polarization is needed rather than judging that absolute poverty has decreased compared to the past and that the situation has improved.

The second session began with a presentation on forced migration by UCLA sociology professor, Cecilia Menjivar, under the theme of “inequality, political polarization, and state power.” Prof. Menjivar said, “In Latin America, many people cross borders due to amplification of inequality, poverty, and lack of a social safety net.” Amanda Murdie, a professor of international relations at the University of Georgia, pointed out, “68% of the world’s population lives under dictatorships. Political extremism is increasing rapidly.” In response, Emily Ryo, a law school professor at the University of Southern California, and Cho Won-bin, a political and diplomatic professor at Sungkyunkwan University, shared opinions on migration and human rights issues from the perspective of each country.

The third session, which was held under the theme of ‘Upcoming Cataclysm, AI and Social Good,’ and Bernstein,a computer science professor at Stanford University, Woo Wimon Sungil, a datascience professor at Sungkyunkwan University, Kim Juho, a professor of Schoolof Computing at KAIST University, Choi Joon-hee, a software convergence professor at Sungkyunkwan University and Charles Crabtree, a political scienceprofessor at Dartmouth University were participated in the session. In the last session, Walter Woody Powell, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Education, Kim Young-Han, a professor of the Department of Economics at Sungkyunkwan University, and Park Sung Min, a public administration Professor at Sungkyunkwan University diagnosed solutions to overcome the crisis under the theme of ‘non-profit organization and urban entrepreneurship’.

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