“May you live in interesting times”, runs the apochryphal Chinese curse. Whatever the source, we all get the meaning well enough. In fact, the closest the Chinese have to this saying is “…better to live as a dog in a time of peace, than a human in time of war”. Not quite the same thing at all.
Whatever the case, we are living at a time of unparalleled wealth, scientific, educational and medical advancement in a world, which in relative terms, has never been so peaceful.
And yet there is a great sense of unease abroad in the world today. Why is that?
The obvious reason that springs to mind would be global warming. I think most of us get it that unless the problem of climate change is effectively addressed very soon, and as yet there’s no sign of that , we will be facing an uncomfortable future.
Another big reason for it is inequality. The world may be richer than ever before but most of us struggle increasingly hard to even maintain our lot. Something is amiss.
We know the globalisation of markets has created enrormous wealth for the few but we now see that this wealth does not filter down to the rest of us, although we are the ones who paid for it. Not only does globalisation only enrich the few but we now know that even when it works, it is economically unsustainable to the extent that it becomes a threat to world peace, as nations seek to protect themselves from its malign effects.
As a result political populism is alive and well, playing to the lowest common denominator in a race to the bottom. It is hard to see hope for improvement from our politicians of any stripe, in thrall as they are to the seriously rich. How can we look to them when we see all the promise of technology for a better world is co-opted and turned against us?
And beyond this there lies one other cause for such existential unease.
What of our post-human future?
Certain of our most admired scientists and thinkers seriously warn us of the possibility that the human race can be subsumed or destroyed by our computers. Either that or an advanced cyber-human elite will lord it over us as a sub-class of flawed original humans in service to them. That is… if we have not been made ‘redundant’ and cease to be.
None of this is writ in stone, but be in no doubt, it is a real possibility.
That said, in a very short time, some 150,000 years, we humans evolved culturally and socially to an extraordinary degree. And not only that, the pace of this evolution has become turbo-charged. We hold the solution to our existing problems and any other problems we may create for ourselve in our own hands. We have or can find the solutions, if only we have the will and the foresight.
That’s a big if… but it’s do-able.
One thing is for sure, if we are to succeed, we are going to have think big and not allow vested interests to stand in our way.
And, for that to happen we have to re-assert the rights of the commons. Re-invigorate the concept of citizenship, with it’s rights and obligations. We need to order our societies to honour those who serve the community, not those who enrich themselves at its expense.
There is already enough talent and wealth in the world for all its people to be housed, educated and cared for medically throughout their lives. It would certainly help if there were fewer of us and there are non-dictatorial ways for that to happen naturally. People could enjoy as much leisure time as they work, in other words the sale of labour would not be a necessity. Government would be devolved as much as possible so communities would regulate themselves to a far greater degree. There can still be wealthy people, but no one need be disadvantaged by them since ultimately wealth and property would revert to the commons.
Organising societies in such a way is not idle utopianism. There is nothing impossible about any of it. That does not mean it will be easy to do. Custom and vested interests will see to that, but both can be overcome.
Take war, for example. Throughout the 20th Century our world was militarised as never before. If a country was at war it meant every able man or woman was conscripted to fight or work in factories. Not only that, all civilians including children and the aged were targets too. Today the concept of the nation in arms no longer works. People won’t do it any more. The state must now rely on a small number of paid volunteers to bear arms plus technicians to man the fearsome arsenals they maintain.
That people are patriotic is not a bad thing, when it means love of country and one’s community. Being patriotic no longer means that you have to buy into someone telling you to hate, fight and kill somebody you don’t know and who never did you any harm.
Nationalism has had a bad rap over the last 150 years, being blamed for an awful lot of bloodshed. And it’s true. Nevertheless, until nations can devolve sufficient power to their citizens allowing the state to progressively cede powers to larger groupings, leading eventually to some form of federated world government, we shall need to make do with them as best we can.
For any of this to come to pass it is necessary for us to believe it can be done and to take what action we can to make it happen. What we do may or may not amount to very much, depending upon circumstance and inclination. The first step is to think it through, coming to the realisation that something of the kind is badly needed and take it from there.
There is enormous power in the weight of a consensus whose time has come.
Taking an interest and informing yourself on the issues involved will almost certainly lead you to connect with other people, who are also thinking along these lines. This helps lessen the feeling of powerlessness that can so easily overwhelm us.
If you have a vote, use it. No need to agonise or play politics. It is very simple. Go single issue. Just make climate change or homelessness the sole criteria and vote for whoever’s going to really do something about it. If enough of us do that the pols will take note and things will change. It’s true, we get the politicians we deserve.
At the end of the day, there is no opting out. Each of us is here for the duration. One way or another, we’re involved.
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