I am typically in awe of the universe and therefore upbeat. I have had a lot of opportunity to write on and study historic meaning and how the universe is constructed and how those two might not be exclusive. So when I had great difficulty in remaining hopeful in our violent world of the past few weeks, I had to collect my thoughts on our society and our species.
The past few weeks we have seen: continued use of terror during Ramadan, guns trained on love in the light of youth, and racial tensions flare after police killed unarmed black men and were targeted by snipers at a protest. Politicians repeatedly respond with meaningless hopes and prayers (at best!) and at worst, fear-based reactions that would remove due process and gun rights on one-hand or that would impose barbaric martial law on our Muslim American communities.
In the midst of this maelstrom of malevolent media, we are expected to determined how (if?) events change our worldview? If (how?) they might be part of a historical trend or force? How do both these acute events and the chronic global refugee migration impact our thoughts, emotions, and actions?
Iraq was targeted most recently. Still insecure after 13 years of war, Baghdad represents mistakes of the United States and the coalition government while still being the largest democratic Shi’a city. The blast killed hundreds and destroyed a popular destination in the city for late night restaurants. My wife visited this location on her last visit home.
ISIL claimed responsibility. Targeting Muslims during Ramadan seems counterintuitive, but where fear and blind faith are concerned, reason is rarely required. As ISIL is being overwhelmed in Iraq, having lost over 60% of their territory, they return to tactics of terror. Holland and Dubai prominently displayed the Iraqi flag on their government and commercial buildings.
Just days before, coordinated attacks at Turkey’s largest airport killed and injured dozens. Again ISIL claimed responsibility. Turkey has always been a crossroads to the world and with this act, ISIL used some of its battle-hardened fighters to bring the fight to the world. Unconscious anger claimed that mourning for Turkey was substandard relative to mourning for Paris.
Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia were also targeted. The succession and sensationalization of all of these attacks mean not being able to actively notice our reactions, to consider the data, to define a rational approach. Or to grieve.
All the foreign loss of life — children, mothers, dancers, singers, and writers — followed on the slaughter in Orlando.
The Orlando shooting crossed all of America’s hot wires: LGBTQ, guns, radical Islamic jihadists, mass shootings. Gun rights advocates climbed aboard the hit them there, so they can’t hit us here hawkish campaign to avoid talking about legit gun regulations, while gun regulators turned against the 4th Amendment to pass liberty restrictions for those placed without due-process on the terrorist no-fly list. Decorum in the People’s House was interrupted by an angry minority. Pundits and politicians prone to prudishness (or worse) on gays failed to mention that detail of the victims, while assumptions were built by the LGBTQ community that talking about any of the other components of this tragedy was negating the hate crime that it was.
And these are just a few of the storylines. All problems and no solutions.
Looking for solutions from the Presidential Candidates vying for the job of the top decider is foolish. Clinton’s calculation is a prudent maneuver of a career politician trying to help her party retake one if not both Houses of Congress, but it lacks the hopefulness of real change. Trump doubled down on hateful isolationism that, for all of the castigation it has brought him from political, media, and academic elites, still has a following of over 13 million primary voters. The most popular candidates in this year’s primaries are some of the most unpopular, untrustworthy since the Republic broke away from England.
And speaking of which, western economic and political institutions were upended by popular referendum in Great Britain. An older, rural demographic removed the UK from the EU. Parallels between Brexit and Trump popularism, anti-establishmentism, and nationalism were immediately drawn. Voters for Brexit were reported as either xenophobic ignoramus or as liberators, depending on the particular frame taken to explore the cascading changes happening on every corner of the globe.
The Trends and Forces of the Curse of Interesting Times
But you know all of this. You are likely struggling with the whirlwind of it.
There is a curse, directed from our malevolent ancestors toward us darn kids and great-great-great grandkids on the lawn of the future: may you live in interesting times. The storylines above sure are interesting.
And interesting is indicative of the appearance of historic trends and forces. The processes known as trends and forces stand against and make the conditions for the great men (and women) in history and direct the outcomes. They are the shifting demographics, politics, technologies, climate, and economies that shift society.
What would trends and forces look like in the now, without the benefit of context? In the long view of history where America’s 25 year unchallenged hegemony is compressed within the modern era following WWI, will our global prominence be an epoch or footnote?
We are seeing trends and forces play out across the entire West. Surgical innovations in government were needed before a national referendum in the UK and the Republican-led Congress in the US started cutting with the dull ax of nihilistic governance. Austerity and obstructionism producing a desirable outcome for the parties’ sustainability, but not the state’s. There are examples in municipalities where government is running using sound financial acumen and common sense approaches to fulfilling the mandate of the state to provide for all citizens and visitors in absence of the profit-incentive.
The rise of authoritarianism, populism, xenophobia, and racism rides in the wake of increased wealth and capital inequality. Inequality presents a danger to the entire spectrum of class. Diminishing middle class incomes that have grasped at unsustainable mortgage and plastic credit to maintain its role in a growing economy will falter and either find temporary sources of credit or have no fall back position.
Other trends include changes in global climate stoked by rising industrialization in the most populace regions in the world that will further exacerbation human migration whose myriad issues are on display with the Syrian crisis. The rise of extremist Islam in response to trends and forces including revolt against foreign imperialism and local tyrants has become the only enemy picking a fight with the high-tech fighting force of America.
A Set of Solutions
A viscous cycle with human and infrastructure costs can be avoided and kill the proverbial “two birds with one stone” by executing work projects to upgrade our energy and transportation systems to the most environmentally efficient technologies. Non-physical labor could be used to administer payroll, project management, instrumentation, and customer service.
A population working no longer at odds to, but with, a government that produces statesmen and stateswomen seems naive in the nation today. Indeed, in order for the rise in anti-empathy, inequality, and authoritarianism to dissipate, reason may not be enough of an elixir, the winning force might be a reaction to the irrationality of an actual authoritarian President in 2020. This represents a frightening lack of hopefulness.
Our politics might not be able to get us back to working together in time since, especially globally, it is mired in sovereignty-claims and religious irrationality and will likely fail to address this problem. Similarly, the global community has been trying for decades to convince governments to further study and develop non-carbon energy sources to combat the other great problem of our time — global warming — and progress has been painfully slow.
Reason has developed science and technology that leaves us awestruck, including one tool, the internet, that gives us as a communication pathway unparalleled in other social creatures. We can satiate one half of our multi-level selection, competition between groups, by communicating with all groups on the end of violent competition or changing the focus of our competition to the global problem of climate change. The first step of getting to a solution is defining the problem. Having clear and honest narratives about our religious and political institutions responsibility to quickly change course and promote partnership and pragmatism requires an agreed framework of data-driven inductive rationality.
But talking about the problem is only the first tactical step. Our information contagions need to be public service announcements to a social species that impact the collective unconscious where they can build weight and momentum.
In order to overcome challenges that cross sovereign borders and religious suspicion, we must use the medium of the internet to better spread the social engineering of our own evolution.
In the history of life on this planet, species change has only been accomplished by evolution. Our most base desires, to compete for mates and resources for our offspring, predominates our violent tribalism. We are very much still competing on the savannah and not in Silicon Valley.
Evolution is too slow by far. The strategic development that we really need is to utilize our awareness of evolution’s existence, devise a way for us to hack the algorithm, and program ourselves, all of humanity, against the problems that threaten our species — climate change and human-on-human technological violence.
No small task. (And an even larger task to govern!)
A wholesale reprogramming of our species in order to have the requisite fit traits for our survival in the world of our making that is much different than that of the savannah is a final solution to our overuse of our reptilian brain. Our journalism and philosophy has propelled us into the enlightenment of science and reason, it will be a collective unconscious of our internet and the hacking of neural algorithms that will help the brain transcend a scramble of influences from the savannah to solutions that will propel us as a species into a more certain and hopeful future.
Where the struggles are large and impact all of us, the hopes must be almost made of science fiction to keep up.