Another Heroic Age Begins…..

I’m nervous. My trip to the Park Hotel Kenmare this week isn’t quite in the league of those heroic voyages chronicled in ancient Greek mythology, but the dress code request on the invite pumped the pulse rate for a moment. Just a moment. The invitation to recreate the year of the hotel’s opening in 1897 in a gathering of mostly creative types (after momentary panic) seemed like an opportune way to ditch my far-from-hip personal wardrobe and embrace Victorian disguise. Party on, but still I’m nervous. I have this nagging feeling that the years 1897 and 2024 might have more in common than we’d like to imagine. Indeed, Mark Twain would say the years and risks are rhyming.

The Thirty Days War of 1897 between Greece and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) was hardly a century, or even decade, defining event whereas the current war in Ukraine is generationally significant for Europe. Furthermore, the first border-to-border direct attack by Iran on Israel in the past week could, left to escalate unchecked, threaten the planet with warfare of global dimensions. Neither of the current conflicts will necessarily snowball into multi-country warfare, but 1897 starkly demonstrated how military alliances fracturing under pressure in local skirmishes can lead to tragic global outcomes.

Just before the Greco-Turkish War broke out on the mainland in 1897, there was an intervention made by The International Squadron, a naval flotilla formed by the ‘Great Powers’ of Europe (UK, France, Italy, Russia, Austro-Hungary, Germany) to address a rebellion by native Greeks on the island of Crete against rule by the Ottoman Empire. Apart from being a precursor to war on the mainland, the Cretan intervention ultimately led to strategic disagreement followed by Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire withdrawing from the International Squadron. Only seventeen years later the same Balkan region erupted, and those two nations formed the Central Powers alliance with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire to fight the Allied Powers in World War I. So, fast forward to today and it’s not difficult to spot the strains in geopolitical alliances as they confront the following crises:


Ukraine-Russia: European members of NATO bordering Russia are terrified by Ukrainian funding (frozen) being used as a partisan political chess piece in an increasingly dysfunctional US Congress. How long before Poland asks for, or sources, its own nuclear deterrent against Russian aggression….?

Israel-Iran: Clearly, hundreds of missiles launched directly against Israel by Iran is a worrying first-time development in the traumatic history of the Middle-East. However, the co-ordinated defence of Israeli and neighbouring airspace by a coalition of US, UK, Jordanian, UAE, Saudi and Israeli forces could be considered a relatively surprising show of unity between Allied and Arab nations. Less encouraging is the horror of Gaza, and European countries (and the UN) looking for the US to pressure Israel’s leadership into a more humane approach.

China-Taiwan: The potential collapse of munitions-starved Ukraine is not just terrifying eastern European nations. The perception of ‘abandonment’ of Ukraine by the US has massive European and NATO implications, but will also reverberate through Asia-Pacific island nations watching China’s moves on Taiwan. It is no surprise to see high profile visits from the leaders of Japan and the Philippines to Washington in recent weeks. However, the fate of Ukraine will be the true indicator of the strength of this trilateral alliance. And, China will be watching closely.


Arguably, the timing-fuse for the potential explosion of any of the above crises is going to be a lot shorter than 1897’s seventeen year WW I burn. So, do we panic or seek inspiration? Geopolitical leadership, frankly, is lacking courage or heroes right now. However, dig deeper into the history of 1897 and that year’s other claim to historical significance was its status as the beginning of the last “Heroic Age” and lasted until 1922. This 25-year period saw 17 pioneering Antarctic expeditions launched from 10 different countries, but the Antarctic was not the only study subject enhanced by these expeditions.

The methods of expedition commanders like Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton have been the subject of many academic studies and have provided a uniquely pure window into different leadership approaches to life or death decisions under extreme conditions while cut off from the outside world. Geopolitical anxiety aside, I am increasingly optimistic that the stars are aligning for another Heroic Age. So, who are today’s heroes and where is the 2024 unexplored equivalent of the Antarctic? More importantly, can these exploits alter the geopolitical direction of travel?  I have three pioneering hopes.

Space Exploration: The brilliant George Mason University economist, Tyler Cowen, asserted more than 10 years ago that the US economy had been in a long productivity stall since the early 1970s. He referred to it as The Great Stagnation and this appears to have coincided with the suspension of genuine space exploration in the form of manned lunar landings since 1972. Undoubtedly, the space race of the 1960s accelerated many technological developments so I’m wondering will the renewal of manned space voyages to the moon (Artemis II) and Mars trigger global progress in remote services and activities. Consultancy group, McKinsey, have estimated the space economy will be worth $1.8 trillion by 2035. So, that’s almost like finding another Brazil with lots of new investment capital driving innovation. Think tele-health, agriculture, communications etc. Space exploration also remains a beacon of hope for collaborative endeavour – see the International Space Station (ISS) as a continuing example of cooperation between Japan , USA, Russia, Canada and the European Space Agency.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): We have written many times about the urgent need to defend The Truth in a digital world overwhelmed by misinformation and bad actors at a corporate and sovereign level. So, it might seem strange that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be part of the solution. A quick glance at any media headlines would suggest AI will be in the vanguard of misinformation rather than authenticity. However, I am struck in my day-to-day investment role by the number of recent AI applications which focus on one area and also could be a very profound instrument in the discovery of truth. The latest AI focus is video. We know Gen AI tools like Chat GPT or Gemini can be used to deliver super-quick summaries of large volumes of text from market analyst research to autobiographies to business plans. But, now hours of video can be analysed and checked in minutes, even seconds. So, imagine a future screen broadcast which is actually two screens, and the second screen is not a betting or chat platform. The broadcast could be Liz Truss, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin in full delusion mode and the second AI screen could fact check (or just show previous contradictory video footage of same speaker) and alert viewers to misinformation. My hope is that real time credibility checks could be incredibly powerful in exposing populist charlatans and assisting truth discovery.

Healthcare: Every week we read about new therapeutic discoveries using gene editing (CRSPRS), cell therapies (CAR-T), mRNA vaccine platforms, neural implants(Neuralink) or even drug manufacturing in space using micro-gravity(Varda). Healthcare remains a challenge for all governments and the recent memory of the Covid-19 pandemic should be an inspiration for further research co-operation. Recent news headlines on WHO worries about H5N1 bird flu mutations will likely focus minds and provide a potent reminder that viruses don’t stop at disputed historical borders. Indeed, a government closer to home looks like it will lose power despite delivering best-on-planet economic performance. Why? Ireland’s government coalition didn’t do enough on the health (hospitals) and safety (homes) of its citizens. You would have thought focus groups and polling research might have picked up on that genetic human instinct……to live. Politics, eh.

So, maybe nothing much has changed since those courageous expeditions trudged across an unforgiving continent all those years ago. As a species, we are probably still driven by the same three things: discovery of new worlds, the truth, and survival. Clearly, success in these pursuits can be shared and, in turn, bring humanity closer together. So, I’m not sure this vision of our future requires heroic optimism, but we could definitely do with some leadership. And…. I’m sure the ghost of Tom Crean would have some wise Kerry thoughts this weekend on where it can all go wrong.

P.S. The dressing up worked out, the creative crew were fantastic company, and the hotel is wow….!


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