Well, let me tell you, Comrade: You may think you're looking at hopeless, but you don't know what hopeless is. I'm not going to tell you you've got food on your table and a warm bed to sleep in every night. I'm not going to tell you about the loving family in your life, the sunsets and the lakes and the mountains. No, I want to talk to you about Evolution, and about the Military-Industrial Complex.
The long-term trend in biological evolution is from predation to cooperation. This is the well-worn road from parasitism to symbiosis: organisms begin as antagonists, and end up as brothers. The bacterium invades as a parasite, maximally aggressive, and quickly kills its host. Later generations learn that if they back off a bit and allow the host to live, they can infect a lot more hosts in the long run. And as the generations go on, the parasite learns not just to co-exist with its host, but to nurture and benefit the host. Parasitism has become symbiosis, not because the bacterium has any sympathy or morality or fundamental decency, but because evolution has taught it a lesson: If I am going to make my living by mooching off you, then the better you are doing, the more there is to mooch.
In human history, the long trend is from despotism to democracy, from a monarch who lives off the work of his subjects to a generalized sharing of the fruits of labor. This is not because monarchs eventually see the light, or because good triumphs over evil; it is because when the economy is prospering, there is more for the kleptocrats to steal than when the working class is enslaved. Business moguls who sit atop a thriving economy are richer than those who preside over an economy bled dry.
Officers of our military know even better than we do that war is hell. They have seen it firsthand. They are onto the fact that this war in the Middle East has no purpose and no end, and that they are targets among a people that hate and resent them more each day. Our enlisted men and women know that their salaries are being shortchanged and their benefits slashed, that the Veterans Hospitals are being defunded and military pensions rolled back. Yes, they are trained in unthinking obedience, but that obedience depends on a bargain of mutual respect, while the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney have treated them with breathtaking arrogance and disdain.
A handful of billionaires has done well with the Bush tax cuts, to be sure, and two industries - oil and defense - have enjoyed a fresser's dream. But for most American business, these six years have been disappointment bounded by fear. Consumption has been propped up by unsustainable borrowing. The economy is poised on the brink of collapse. There is no stability, no security - no expectation of future profits or growth.
Politics is the epitome of a 'complex system', whose many parts interact in ways that are essentially unstable and volatile. Temporary eras of calm may lend the illusion of ordered, gradual change; but abrupt transitions are a characteristic property of the system. (Stephen Jay Gould told us that this is how evolution works, and Malcolm Gladwell has noted the same tendencies in social systems.)
We may study history, and we may formulate theories that seem to us like Destiny, but it is arrogance to imagine that we have the power to foretell the future. When we say that our efforts are pointless, this is not historical realism, but the corrupting psychological influence of depression and internal despair.
And so we press forward, spreading the truth, advocating for justice and compassion. We do it because we cannot do otherwise; we are under no illusion that our actions will make a difference. The world is large. There is much that we cannot know; but we can be confident that the next few years will include stunning surprises that dwarf the power of our present imaginings.
And our faith in the future is abundantly justified.