Friday, April 1, 2016


As Paul Simon wrote:

"These are the days of miracle and wonder,
And don't cry, baby, don't cry"

The chorus from "The Boy in the Bubble" echoes a very human refrain. We are constantly fearful of the world we live in and the future we face, but we live in a world of amazing technological achievement. How can we do so many amazing things, yet live surrounded by so much hardship? The chorus seems to suggest that all will be well, that all problems and issues will be solved if we put our faith in the "miracles and wonder". Still, we course onwards, lurching from one problem to another: and we wonder if there is any direction, anyone in control. If we can compare our progress to a bus ride, we seem to be riding ever faster and faster, barely under control ... and we wonder: who's driving this bus?

We, in North America and Western Europe, live in a world of plenty. We have enough to eat, have shelter, clothing, medicine, and expect our children to become educated and live safe, productive lives. We have so much, and we can create more. Yet in so many parts of the world, people suffer terrible privation and have little to guarantee survival. Bare survival and subsistence has been the case throughout history. But privation continues into our current time. How can that be? Surely if we can create comfortable, safe and healthy conditions in our world, we can do the same for others: yet, privation continues unabated.

It's easy to blame the situation on those who, according to our sensibilities, exist only to create evil and chaos. We see armies marching towards us ready to inflict terror and suffering . We grow afraid and suspicious. We claim that the suffering we see in the poor regions of the world grow out of the uncivilized and violent races of people who inhabit these regions. "Life is very cheap there", we like to say in some kind of mantra of complacent superiority. It's easy for us to sweep it all under a rug of denial and contempt. They only know how to destroy and create suffering, we tell ourselves. And they want to bring that to us.

So, we denigrate all of them. And when the terror comes to our shores, we thrash about, looking for a solution. Since we are the "superior" societies, we decide that the only way to solve the suffering and end the evil is to show how strong we are. We mobilize our forces and unleash our technological superiority. We react the way we have reacted for centuries. We cry "havoc" and let loose the dogs of war. This will surely bring the evil ones to destruction and cause those who starve and suffer to become free from the violence and privation and to love us for saving them. And when those who are victims of our bombs and bullets look at us with anger and hatred, we are surprised. "How can they not love us?" we think. "Don't they know that we are trying to save them, to set them free?"

It is sometimes tempting to think that we are in control. By carrying the fight to the enemy, we keep violence, terror, famine, disease, and privation of all kinds at arm's length. Every few years, an element of the horror breaks through to attack us where we live, and this creates fresh terror. We react, we attack and we feel that, somehow, we are winning, although the comfort that should naturally come from winning never seems to be close. As long as the terror is based far from home, though, we feel somewhat safe. We can draw a breath of relief: we sleep at night, although a little fitfully: we can turn our attention to ourselves. And we decide to live crazily, since the terror is only held at bay and can't stay at bay for long.

We seek to live happily. We strive for all the good things that our modern lives can provide. We gather as much as we can, for it could all vanish tomorrow if we are not careful, if we are not vigilant. We believe that by working hard, we earn the right to acquire more. It is ours by right, because we are so intelligent, so virtuous, so entitled. And when we have achieved our goal, we strive to gain more. We see this as our reward for our hard work: the more we gain, the more it proves that we are good. Life becomes more meaningful with the more we attain. And who knows? If the foreign evil ever visits our shores, we might lose all we have gained: better to get more and enjoy it now before it's all gone.

And with material gain, there comes a price. The more we produce, and the more we acquire, the more we discard. We have so much and we cast aside so much. But, with the increasing waste, we develop a unique ability to not see it. We can ignore it because it is taken away from our immediate environment and put elsewhere. But it doesn't really go away. It lingers, like the evil we sought to destroy and contain in foreign lands. The problem is not solved, it is merely swept aside ... for now. How soon before the waste and evil and suffering and privation visits our shores permanently? How much time do we have to come up with a solution?

We like to think that we have the ability to make the important decisions that are needed to provide the solutions. After all, it was we who created all the wealth. It is we who are superior and live such beautiful lives, full of money and material things. Surely we can depend on ourselves to think our way out of the morass. But we are foolish to think this way. Our world has made us venal, and selfish, and subject to temptation. We willingly put ourselves in the hands of a "craven media" who ignore or distort the truth we do not want to see. We are "drunk on popular culture" and think that what we see and hear is the truth. We want to be entertained and kept deliberately silly and immature. Why? Because it's fun. And it allows us to continue as we have always done, not responsible for the consequences of our actions.

We kid ourselves. We believe that, if we are patient enough, if we can keep the bad things at bay, if we can enjoy our little smug and acquisitive world for a few more years, then the solution will be at hand. Technology will be our saviour in the shining new future ahead. Our machines will solve all problems, stop old age and disease from spoiling our lives, end war and hunger and suffering. A brave new world awaits: just live long enough and the machines will save us. Machines are perfect, they do not grow old or sick and they do not fall prey to the temptations and pitfalls of the world we have created. They will save us and will, eventually, become us. And what then? Who will we be? Is there hope for humanity as we ride to the future?

 Decisions made now will have long-lasting effects for generations to come. We look to our leaders for wisdom and guidance. Our leaders must make the right decisions.We can put our faith, as we always have done, in our ability to build things to improve our lives. Or we can realize that these things come with a huge price. Our leaders must find a way to balance technological gain with preserving all that is good about us and our world. Are our leaders up to the challenge? Are they even thinking about this?

The decision they have to make is actually quite a simple one. They must decide if they believe in the innate goodness of people, or if they believe that such a thing doesn't really exist, and that the pursuit of material gain, economic growth and technological progress are the most important goals. One must hope that they have the wisdom to realize that there must be a balance between humanity and gain. They must come to understand that nothing happens without a price being paid. If we pay the price intelligently and without harm, then gain is good. But if we ignore the price and blindly keep moving forward at breakneck speed, heedless of the cost, then we are doomed. Our leaders hold humanity's future in their hands.

And so it goes .... we hope for a victory over all the sham, drudgery, greed, war, suffering and the headlong rush into a technological future of oblivion. We hope we can make good decisions and create a wonderful new world. We hope that our journey forward will be a good and safe one, full of promise and hope. We hope for a good ride.

There's only one problem .... who's driving this bus?

We'd better find out soon. Without a driver, we'll end up going over a cliff. That is not a desired outcome .... for any of us. We need a good driver ... or else the consequences are ....

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