Created May 13, 2022
Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.
One of these scenarios is very easy to visualize. It’s the downside scenario of war. We’ve seen the way this works and are extremely familiar with it. We can picture it, including sitting under a mushroom cloud ourselves, something I’ve been visualizing all my life.
The upside scenario is not nearly as easy to visualize. We as a race have not expressed much about that scenario. We seem morbidly attracted to dwelling upon the negative.
And yet we seemed to be making some progress there for a while.
In 2003, the late Mark W. Zacher, a pioneer in the study of global governance, wrote a paper published by Cambridge University Press called “The Territorial Integrity Norm: International Boundaries and the Use of Force”. In it, he cited nearly 100 academic authors in establishing his case that “coercive territorial revisionism” was on the decline since the end of WWII. Many of the scholars he referenced indeed painted the same picture.
Alas, today we see that this relatively halcyon period appears to have come to an end. WWII-size battles reducing beautiful cities to rubble in Europe are now happening again. Do we have to go back into the old game? Is it built into us that there will never be an end to people fighting for ground?
In the development of species, the hardwired instinct for territoriality behavior goes back at least as far as the first reptiles and perhaps even further back. But humanity, possessed of more obvious intellectual credentials than other Earth species, in discovering what instincts are, could use its brains to conquer instincts – or can we?
Why is it that Putin and his supporters feel the urgent need to own more land when they already are such a massive piece of geography? Opinions in the press suggest that he is driven to re-establish the U.S.S.R. And why would that be what drives him? Why would he not set equally lofty goals for leading the human race into space, or building larger particle accelerators than the west, or some other goal that is more original? The goal of simply taking over the neighborhood goes way back, it’s imitative behavior, it may make us remember a person in history but not necessarily in a positive way. It’s been done before. Why not show off by doing something new?
Why would China place such importance on taking back Taiwan which had previously been called Formosa? There are so many other things for China to do, and they are already doing most of them, and doing well at them. If the specter of war were swept off the table China should be among the most confident and hopeful nations on Earth. Why bother with adding another small swath of land to their country? When one takes land by force it’s only a matter of time before someone else is there attacking you to take that land back. It’s almost guaranteed to become a perpetual motion machine keeping war in the lives of your descendants for many generations if not forever.
The human race has so many better things to do rather than return to the old bullying game. It’s gotten so old. First, we have to bring the pandemic down to permanent containment, which implies far-reaching progress in being able to anticipate the directions mutations could take, and getting the jump on them before they go there. Then we have to bring everyone up to par in quality of life. Then we have to bring education up to an unprecedented level that is individualized to each person’s gifts and aspirations, lifelong education that starts in the home from birth and lasts throughout the individual’s lifetime. The list goes on and on after that, so many things to do to make us all feel a sense of purpose, of meaning.
Underneath everything else all of us are driven by a search for meaning. We didn’t make it any easier for ourselves when we made it unhip to allow for the possibility of God. Even in a world that avoids God like the devil, a person can still live a meaningful life by simply bringing her/his gifts out for the enjoyment of others. Putin and Xi each have huge canvases on which they are free to paint beautiful pictures the world can adore, why settle for the bad guy role, even if lies and censorship can make people keep their mouths shut? Why is that the way that Putin and Xi can make themselves the happiest?
If we didn’t have such a rich roster of activities into which we could happily throw ourselves, then maybe I could understand playing the war game, but that game has worn thin its welcome. We’ve had a good run since the end of WWII – not without enough violence for anyone with a taste for that stuff – but staying away from major wars. Why break the winning spree now? Just because they can? I suspect that is the real explanation.
But no one’s hands are clean. The rest of us have not done enough to paint the picture of what life could be like if there is world cooperation on the broadest scale. Dystopias have more drama in them, and more opportunity for action scenes, while utopias are easy to put down because cynicism is hip. So few if any utopian movies or television series or novels. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” came as close to a utopian vision of a united Earth culture as we’ve seen on television. Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933) was a novel and then a movie which showed how a sequestered culture could live in harmony (the story of mythical Shangri-La).
When Joe Biden was elected, I wrote a series of fictional stories here in Pebbles in which Joe reached out to Vlad and Jinping and detailed how cooperation could be attained and how lovely that would be for everybody, with me hoping that was in his plans. My c dream soon collapsed, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. If we don’t detail the upside scenario we will continue to slide down into this downside scenario we’ve been stuck on for too long. Someday soon we may never again have the option of revisiting this upside visualization opportunity, there may not be a someday if we don’t start now.
Love to all,