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The World 50 Years Hence

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My wife, April, has been hired to help with a book project in which dozens of people famous for their thinking or for something are being asked to address the question: What do you think the world will be like in 50 years? No one asked me to contribute my thoughts, but here’s what I’d say.

First, I’d say that what I want to talk about is the future I hope for. I don’t necessarily expect it.

Indeed, my expectations about the way our civilization (American, global) will be steered, by the kinds of decisions that we as a nation and we as a species make, have become very modest. I think that the performance of the world –in the squandering of the opportunity presented by the end of the cold war, and then with the rise of an evil regime here in the United States, and the failure to institute a truly adequate global policy to address the problem of climate change—is a shameful chapter in human history.

This recent performance --by America, certainly, and the world as a whole-- is as bungling and corrupt as the way the nations of Europe allowed themselves to be dragged into World War I and then to remain locked in a deadly embrace until an entire generation of young men from the combatant countries had been decimated. That’s the moral and spiritual and intellectual level of how America lately has made its major decisions about the shape of our future and the world's.

But I can still imagine that humankind will make the kind of shift toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. I can still envision the kind of turning toward the wise and the noble that has made some eras of history memorable for their great accomplishments. Like the way FDR brought this country more together amid the wreckage of the Depression. And like the way the United States dealt with its vanquished enemies in the aftermath of World War II.

I can imagine that humankind might start rising to its challenges.

I can imagine our becoming a civilization where the willingness to restrain ourselves for the sake of the health of the planet has become general in the world, in place of the short-term, self-centered, quick-buck mentality of today.

I can imagine a civilization where the ideal of respecting the truth, and the willingness to work hard to find it, have replaced the present day “Assault on Reason.”

I can imagine a civilization that has made great strides forward to institute the rule of law at the global level, toward the elimination of armed conflict as a way of resolving disputes between nations.

I can imagine a civilization in which the predominant ethic even of the rich and powerful is that the needs of the poor and the weak must be looked out for, and that the embodiment of justice is more important than the gratification of crude and selfish desires, like the desire to dominate and exploit.

Yes, I think humanity has the potential eventually to create a civilization like that. Indeed, I think that in the long run, only such a civilization is going to be able to survive. The wages of sin really do turn out to be death.

But it is far from clear to me that the current generation has what it takes to make that turn. I see a lot of delusion and corruption and deception and laziness and self-indulgence and primitiveness of thought. This may be the generation that fumbles the ball and makes the coming crisis still deeper.

Nonetheless, I do not give up hope. The ways the spirit moves through history, with its vicissitudes of degradation and renewal, are beyond our ken. History is full of surprises.

These past six years we have been living through a surprise on the downside.

But we should not let the intensity of that hope-crushing experience to lead us to forget that history can also surprise to the upside.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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