Tuesday, November 07, 2006

on our world situation

For various reasons, the last few days I've spent a great deal of thought on the concerns of the world as of 2006. Why is the world so divided? Why are we having such crises of religion, of politics, of life? I like to look back at the past to see if there are any answers and I give a basis for at least some of my thinking to several books by Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August and the Distant Mirror. If we could conceive of reading one of our fairy tales, such as Hansel and Gretel, to a small child used to today's world, we might be asked: if they were lost, why didn't they call someone on their cell phones? Actually, I suspect even teenagers watching some of the old black and white movies might wonder why the actors didn't take advantage of the various electronic marvels that we have available. We could make an enjoyable movie a few years ago called "You Have Mail" (II believe that's right) and before the cast has time to grow old it is old hat.

When I was born, radio was still in its early days. Hoover had made the first nationwide radio broadcast by a president only eight years before. Television was there, but most people didn't know much about it, if anything, even after it went to public at the 1939 New York World's Fair just four years after I was born. World War II was fought with planes using propellers. Air travel was in its infancy; most people still traveled cross country by car, train or bus. And car travel had only become truly a major part of our lives in the thirties. Teams were still used on most farms before WWII. For many years, humans had a relatively calm existence. We had the usual wars and plagues and other outbreaks, but life was much the same with slow changes that many people never saw in their lifetimes. It did not affect them. Then came the Industrial Revolution. Many, many people made the trek to cities. Today's "traditional" family of dad, mom, and the children formed. it was something that few people had conceived of before then. We'd always, most of us, lived near enough to each other to have the extended family with similar beliefs and traditions. That began to hit shallow waters of disruption.

In the 19th Century, the changes speeded up. Eventually we reached the point where new inventions were almost obsolete before the first ones produced had sold out. Life speeded up. We wanted to resist change, but we also wanted to take advantage of change. We hit snags. Life move so fast that for many of us the traditional ways make no sense. Knowledge of ourselves, our world and our universe changed so rapidly that the old standards no longer worked. To continue the river analogy, we had hit the rapids, the cascades, the world turning and spinning in the rivers of change. So now we come to 2006. We face a world in which science is changing again. In the next half century, if their are no interruptions, I suspect we will see changes in control of genetics where we can determine the sex and brain capacity of our children at the time of conception. We might be able to create soldiers and athletes with double-muscled bodies so that steroids are no longer an issue. We may be able to expand our brain power through direct connections with computers. We may create artificial intelligence that will once again change our views of what it means to be human.

And these changes will be resisted. The traditionalists, the old order, will try to hang onto a past that they conceive of as perfect, the golden ages of many mythologies. And many of us will rush headlong into the future without thinking it through and come up with a successful way to approach it. And, in the end, those in the middle will eventually come to grips with the changes, if we survive global warming and other stresses and come up with a new morality that enables us once again to live with some definition of what and whom we are.


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