Man has made a lot of progress throughout history although progress itself is somewhat subjective. Some resist change, feeling more secure with things as they are. I sometimes think we put too much emphasis on new gadgets that, while intriguing, add little to our quality of life. For the most part, when given the choice, man will take the road that makes life easier or more entertaining and industry will provide these instruments of progress for profit. Unfortunately, choices that seem benign at the time can prove to be harmful over time. Fossil fuel is an example of a substance that changed the world for the better, but has also been responsible for destabilizing the world and harming the environment. We are currently rethinking the way we use fossil fuels and figuring how to progress past their widespread use.
Throughout history, war has been waged for all kinds of reasons. Different ideologies clashed and leaders used their power to take whatever they wanted. Might was right! The world was a large place in which communication between nations or even tribes was almost nonexistent. People knew almost nothing outside their own communities. Language barriers were greater than they are today. Negotiations between nations or rulers were much harder if not impossible. War was waged with swords and spears wreaking much death, but not widespread, indiscriminate damage from sophisticated weapons like today.
World War II, which ended with the horrific dropping of the atomic bombs, was to be the lesson that got man’s attention as to the folly of war. After the war, great institutions such as NATO and the United Nations were formed in an effort to keep the world powers in check. Expansionism was, as always, still the desire of many countries. The cold war saw the proliferation of nuclear weapons made for the purpose of not being used. Thankfully, there has been no nuclear war, as the prospect is just too terrible for the great powers of the world. Today, our larger concerns are terrorists who operate outside of any international norms. They lash out driven by frustration, poverty and hopelessness, often fueled by the testosterone of young men. Our enemies are changing as should our defenses.
Though America is a wealthy country, we have not figured out how to help the disadvantaged among us help themselves. We are very good at rewarding the rich and powerful among us even at the cost of harming society. We value education but have allowed the cost of education to become daunting if not prohibitive. We value good health but have developed a health care system that is too expensive and not available to many unless there is an emergency.
We value work, and scorn those who can’t find it, but we allow our employers, even mainstream corporations, to legally pay wages that cannot support a decent life and must be subsidized by our social safety net. It has been proven that addiction and mental conditions can be treated more cheaply and affectively than incarceration, and yet we continue to imprison and ostracize these sick people.
We have learned that children must be given a fighting chance from birth to school age to allow them to prosper and yet we spend our resources in less effective ways and wonder why things don’t improve. We drive our cars on dangerous bridges that have outlived their design life. We buy more efficient cars when gas prices go up and revert to monster cars when gas prices go down with little regard for the environment. We buy imported goods and complain that we have sent jobs overseas and now have allowed critical goods, including medical needs, to be sourced outside this country. We complain about immigrants but have allowed our economy to be built on their cheap labor.
We isolate ourselves in our little bubbles and discriminate against other groups while making little effort to understand them. We fight constant wars but most among us simply live our lives and let others make the sacrifices. The environment is crying down on us in the form of climate disasters as the seas threaten to flood large population centers.
The past few decades have seen marvelous advances. Digital technology has revolutionized communication, engineering, entertainment and business. Advances in genetics present limitless possibilities for health improvements. Clean energy is now affordable.
This current crisis gives us an opportunity to consider some progressive steps. I’ll make some suggestions next week!