As this trying year of 2020 edges to a close, I have started to increasingly believe that our civilization has taken more than a few wrong turns in recent decades making our future on this planet ever more problematic. I am by nature an optimistic and hopeful person, so this line of thinking is not normal or natural for me, and that makes things even more troubling.
The COVID pandemic has undoubtedly been one of the factors leading up to this. It has led me to realize that despite all the miracles that modern science and technology has brought to our lives, they are no match for Mother Nature who has spawned a microscopic holy terror that has the whole world under siege. Perhaps this is nature’s revenge for the way homo sapiens has overpopulated, overexploited and polluted this planet, causing countless of other living species to become extinct. It should now be evident to all of us that contrary to our misguided beliefs, we are not the masters of this universe. We are but a few random viral mutations away from being rendered extinct ourselves.
We have far more serious problems though than just malignant microbes. Our societies have been evolving for several thousands of years, and though history is replete with war, terror, injustice, exploitation and hardships of all kind, we can justifiably claim that in recent centuries there has been commendable progress in establishing human rights, economic opportunity, democracy, freedom and justice for much of the world’s population. With the end of the age of Empires, the winding down of the Cold War, and the fall of Communism, many believed that a new era was dawning that would spell the end of the global wars and conflicts that had claimed the lives of so many hundreds of millions of people in the past couple of centuries. Sadly, it is becoming evident that that was just wishful thinking.
Over the past several decades we have seen a resurgence of predatory states and tyrants, hell bent on fomenting war and chaos on their own people as well as their neighbours. The madman Putin in the Kremlin is just as amoral and dangerous as his dictatorial predecessors. “Paramount Leader” Xi Jinping of China is determined to make China dominant on the world stage, both economically as well as militarily, while at the same time engaging in reprehensible ethnic cleansing within his own country. Petty dictators such as Assad in Syria and Kim Jung-un in North Korea are proving not only that evil knows no limits, but that it has remarkable staying power. Right wing authoritarians are once again on the rise throughout the globe.
Surprisingly, this has also been happening in the one place that most of the world used to know as the beacon for freedom, democracy and human rights, namely our neighbour, the United States. The U.S. has had no shortage of enlightened Presidents who have shaped world history in a positive way. It has also had some average and mediocre ones that have left a minimal imprint on their country’s present and future. With Donald Trump, we have a worst-case scenario of a deeply flawed, amoral and narcissistic human being, utterly unfit to govern the world’s richest and most powerful nation. His term in office, aided and abetted by a corrupt Republican party that has lost its moral compass, has resulted in a polarized, deeply divided citizenry that is being pushed into abandoning its democratic principles, reversing decades of progress on social rights and freedoms, and becoming another proto-fascist state run by a corporate elite for their own benefit. Trump may have lost the election last week, but the fact that over 70 million Americans voted for him speaks to an American society that is deeply afflicted.
This segues easily into the other major disappointment of recent decades, and that is the rising economic inequity that has emerged in most of the world’s economies. For most of mankind’s history, it was a sad reality that society was divided into a ruling small elite that possessed all of the wealth and power, and a huge lower class that struggled to survive and make ends meet. This was perpetuated by feudal, military and religious structures that resisted any notion of equal rights and opportunities. The industrial revolution was a catalyst that eventually lead to political, social and economic revolutions that by the twentieth century had made great strides in ensuring a fairer and more just distribution of both wealth and political power. In most European and “western” countries, this gave rise to a large middle class that became the driving and sustaining force of democratic capitalist states.
Regrettably, the continuing concentration of economic wealth into large corporate hands controlled by a small incredibly wealthy elite has seen a significant erosion of that middle class. We are once again sliding back towards an almost feudal economic and social model, where there is a tiny rich and powerful elite, an ever smaller and less powerful middle class, and a large majority impoverished and disaffected lower class. This does not bode well for our future. Our progress on the road towards being an enlightened civilization seems to have ground to a halt, and we are on the wrong backward trajectory.
As a student of history, I am hoping that this phase we are going through is temporary, and as has happened many times in the past, that we will persevere and find a way to overcome these challenges. As human beings, we have enormous capacity to change the course of history. It is time for some serious introspection and finding the determination to change the course we are currently on.