This article comments on two fundamentals of our time. On the one hand the present reality we face as a species on this earth is discussed. On the other hand, the tremendous opportunities and realities of the expression of calls for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa are addressed.
Readers for the first are all of you who are interested in how you can play a greater part in determining how your own life is led.
Readers for the second part are those who are active in creating democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and those interested in reading about it.
A New Reality for Humankind
To any one who takes the long view of human development, there are two basic strands to our development. You can, as an individual, have a personal view of that development but its truth is undeniable as it affects all of us, one way or another.
We, all of us, live in the present world and have to accept it as we find it. There is no going back. There is no undoing of the past. Whether nuclear power is a good thing or bad, we live with the consequences of the choice that was made some decades ago in adopting it as an energy source.
And that is our future. We live with the consequences of previous decisions. To industrialized, to colonized, to enslave peoples, to displace peoples, to dispossess peoples, to relocated peoples, to destroy cultures and civilizations, to proselytize our religions, to impose our laws and ways on others. We can apologize for each and any of these. But, we, all of us, live with their fruits, bitter or sweet, or an unblessed mixture of both.
The one strand of human development is itself inexorable. Whether you believe it to be evolutionary or creationist doesn’t matter. Because your view will not shape how it has and will evolve, only in the detail of the story we tell of its evolving.
We, humankind, came out of Africa. The evidence is clear. The line of development is there in the fossil record. Irrefutable. Austalopithecus at 3 million years ago were succeeded by Homo habilis at 2 million years ago, followed by Homo erectus at 1 million years ago, finally leading to the species to which we all belong, Homo sapiens, at around 250,000 years ago. Not long in the historical record. Not long in the timespan visible to us; the age of the earth, the age of the universe.
This story is incomplete. We have only a skeletal outline but more than sufficient to provide convincing proof. You can deny it. That is your choice, but you join those few who still view the world as being flat. The evidence does not support such views.
I do view us, Homo sapiens, as being, in some way, diseased. We are not at ease with ourselves and our surrounds. We, unlike every other species on this earth, do not live in harmony with either ourselves or our environment. We gratuitously slaughter each other, we rampage unheeding and unhindered across the face of the earth, despoiling, destroying and wantonly exploiting all that we come in contact with to feed our interminable and insatiable appetite. How we can be seen to be the product of some benign being or higher power defies truth or logic.
More likely, in a narcissistic way, we invent, and have invented, such entities to justify our own behaviour. We have, throughout our history, invented gods who are as irrational as we are and as cruel.
We are now reaching a point as a species when we finally are facing the consequences of the decisions we have made over the course of our history on this planet. The cumulative harm that we have done to our home, this earth, this Gaia, is finally coming home to roost.
Increasingly, in the decades ahead we will be facing the results of our folly and mindlessness. We can deny it but it won’t go away. We can attribute it to the forces of nature. And there may be some truth in that. But all around us is mounting evidence that we are making of our home a living hell.
For the first time in the history of our species, we face forces far bigger than ourselves, many of our own creation. The evidence is mounting daily. We face living with the consequences of our utter historical irresponsibility.
We can put off for a while accepting finally our responsibilities. But deferral will only result in greater pressure to change our ways, fundamentally change our ways.
We have never, as a species, weighed cost benefits. We have never sat down to weigh the effects of our decisions, our acts.
Our behaviour, if continued on its present course, is simply unsustainable. That much is obvious. And each passing year will make it more and more obvious.
Of the many, many examples we could consider, take the case mentioned above, that of nuclear power. The decision to harness the atom bomb into peaceful means of nuclear power generation was made without a full cost benefit analysis, as indeed much of our behaviour is still. We can say that, at that time, when decision were being made on our behalf, that we were being lied to, that we were only told half the story. But we were willing connivers in that lying, that half-told story. We wanted to believe in the benefits. We did not, and we still do not, want to fully weigh the costs involved.
The events in Chernobyl were an early warning sign. The recent events in Japan to the nuclear power station there point to an ill we have created for ourselves which we cannot wish away. The complexities of the problem we have created for ourselves are mind-boggling. That they are so is all the more reason for addressing them. Their sheer complexity is no excuse for us to not address them.
We singularly failed to appraise their cost when we first started on the path of creating nuclear power. We abjectly denied our responsibilities. I do not offer answers, however. That is not what this writing is about.
But the alarm bells are ringing. Everywhere. In every aspect of our lives. They are calling for us to pay attention.
What has me write is not so much to add my voice to those other voices on the planet attempting to draw attention to the dire straits that we are creating for ourselves.
What my voice adds is to say that politically we must change. That we must evolve our political institutions to reflect these realities. That we each of us is responsible. We each of us must hold ourselves responsible. And we must hold others, all others, responsible. We cannot tolerate a situation henceforth where any decision, large or small, is made on our behalf. We, each of us, has henceforth to be a party to that decision making process. How our political decision making process will change is what I have been writing of for some months.
I perceive no recognition from any reader as to the truth of what I am saying. I offer no prescriptions. But I do say we can do it. I know we can do it. Have we reached a point where we are exercising the will to do it? No, we have not. The calls to do so are few and isolated.
Certain fundamentals are involved. Recognize those fundamentals and we are well on the way to answers and to the finding of ways that will implement the recognition of the realities we face.
One fundamental is that the distance between decision makers and those affected by the decisions made is too great. That distance needs to reduce to an immediacy.
I see a need for us to evolve political institutions that are inclusive, that harness and include us all. We cannot go forward in a world where we allow others to make decisions on our behalf without real and proper consultation with us.
I do not imagine I am a lone voice. What strikes me, though, is that the problems we face are, of their nature, such that they require more of us than our present institutions are capable. Most importantly, the decisions we are faced with making, require from us unprecedented levels of expressions of responsibility.
As we move forward we will begin to realize that we face problems which require extraordinary levels of sacrifice. The inevitability of this is what will drive the process.
What is at the heart of all this? That is easy. Truth.
Let us take up the example we have been exploring so far. What is the truth of nuclear power?
We, as one writer put it, face the prospect of creating sacrificial areas of our planet, exclusion zones. We have created one such zone with Chernobyl. We potentially are creating a similar zone in Japan. How many such zones are we going to tolerate in the future? We already face desertification in wide areas of the globe.
Then the question of decommissioning of nuclear power plants raises its ugly head. Here we are faced with a tremendous conundrum. Decommissioning takes years. And nuclear waste is created. None of us has solved the question of nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants, by their nature, are big power producers. They are not easily replaced.
That leads us, again, to questions of cost benefit. We in the West have long lived with cheap power. All power, however generated, has been produced without true attention to its costs. We have never held others or ourselves responsible for those costs. Our institutions we have not held responsible for the costs. Nuclear power plants, for example, are not fully insured.
What I point to is the fact that each of us has a part to play in the decision making process. Up to this point we have neglected our responsibilities.
At the heart of all this is the capitalist process itself. Which does not hold itself fully accountable nor do we hold it fully accountable.
We arrive at the point that this writer, at least, has only begun to explore the ramifications of. The logic is inescapable. It is not communism, or socialism, or any other form of left or right wing thinking that says that the capitalist system, as presently constructed, is not satisfactory.
It is possible that here is the heart of the problem, though I profess myself unable to fully answer the question: to what extent is capitalism flawed? Is capitalism itself at fault for our ills? I doubt that it is the agent alone responsible.
That the question is radical I accept. That capitalism exists at one level to create goods which nobody wants and which, in turn, spends vast amounts of money persuading people that they should buy. But that is only one level of capitalism. It is not the whole of it.
At the base is the question: what do we want? What do we, as people, want? It seems to me that dialogue on this question has barely begun.
But, asked it will be. And more and more on a global scale.
The West and the Middle East: An Unbroken View
The other strand of human development is the advent of agriculture. With the rise of agriculture as a human activity came the creation of surplus foodstocks. With the creation of surplus foodstocks came specialization of humankind. With it came the rise of the city state and of record keeping.
Out of record keeping came writing. The invention of the plough allowed the creation of surplus grain. With the invention of writing came civilization.
We in the West look back on an unbroken line of development to the cities of Sumer. The actions and thought I am at this moment engaging in tie back to places in the present Middle East. What Sumeriologists refer to as the Near East.
We trace that line through Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Italy and the Renaissance, and finally to the Reformation, which separated state from religion.
What is significant to me about the present events in the Middle East and North Africa is that we are witnessing that same separation occurring with peoples who, for seven hundred years, have lived in our midst and who have not enjoyed that separation. They are now embarked on an endeavour that will.
In so doing, they join the rest of the people on the planet.
That religion has acted as a barrier to how the West sees these people. The peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are now asking to be seen in a different light. We are barely becoming accustomed to this view.
For so long a mutual suspicion has pervaded relations between what I am probably erroneously referring to as the West and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.
Since the call from the region is an empiricist view of democracy, not they nor us can say where it will lead.
We can help or hinder in its realization. If we recognize overwhelmingly that the process is wholly mutually beneficial, we can embrace every single opportunity to help.
What is ironic, to my view, is that the process of democratization in the Middle East and North Africa is being wrought on the back of American technology: the internet, the cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, American developments all.