There are many reasons to be pessimist today. Everybody is talking about it. There is a world economic crisis for already 10 years and it is not going anywhere. The rich continue to buy influence, corrupt politics, set the rules, exploit and rob working people and the poor. It seems that the poor working people, instead of uniting to fight for their rights, are turning against each other, as we see from the rise of the Populist Right demagogy against minorities and immigrants in the West and from sectarian civil wars in the Middle East. And when people are fighting for their rights they are confronted with bloody oppression and nobody will come to their rescue, as the people of Halab (Aleppo) have just learned.
But for me Optimism is not a mood but a systematic studied approach. If we want to make the world better, we must concentrate on those processes that show the Human potential for improvement. And when you start looking for reasons to be optimist you can find plenty. Here are some to cheer you up as you go to celebrate a new 2017.
My grandma told me that she didn’t know anyone from her family that lived more than 60 years. So she naturally expected to die as she became 60. She was surprised when it didn’t happen. Finally she lived to 93, most of it a healthy life.
Today we see a great tragedy in every family that lost a child. It was not a long time ago when most families suffered the death of babies and children. Actually, historically what kept the balance of the human population was the natural death of most children. When early death stopped to be natural, the world’s human population inflated. Only now we are approaching a new balance based on the conscious choice to have fewer children.
Similarly the main problem that was daunting humanity till recently was the search for food. My mom used to tell me: We are farmers, so we will never go hungry. As a child I was advised: Eat bread with every meal to fill your stomach. Now if anybody goes hungry it is not because the lack of food but because the failure of the distribution system or the greed of merchants and speculators. The problem of excess eating is now becoming a major health hazard around the world – until we will find a new balance in a world with plenty of food.
Bringing decent healthcare to everybody around the world is not a dream – it is something that is technologically possible and economically affordable.
Education and Knowledge
It is not so long ago that even the most basic education was the privilege of the few. The spread of general basic education is an ongoing revolution around the world. Now we witness a second wave of the education revolution where high education is becoming available to ever more people.
But formal education is only a technical detail. The real issue is the availability of knowledge and the ability to use it. Today as we chat at the family reunion my kids check online for historical and scientific facts. As we stroll in the forest we take a picture of a flower and can reach its botanical file… And the knowledge revolution is only at its beginnings.
I’m not sure at all whether Trump is more disgraceful or ignorant than previous US presidents. But what is sure is that now the news about his every fallacy is more ubiquitous and spreading faster than ever before. The same go for the facts (and some false news) about the corruption and servitude to big business of his nominees as those of Hillary Clinton. Part of our disgust at current politics is a result of being more enlightened. It should be a force for good in the longer run.
The reading revolution is centuries old, but just recently less than 1% of us ever wrote anything that other people would read. Actually it was Facebook (launched on 2004) that gave everyone a wall to write on.
I still remember the times when an intelligent person would read one and the same paper every day. When speaking with a person you would typically find that he holds the views of the paper that he reads, and knows the set of facts that the paper supplies to support these views.
Now that everybody have a voice we see all kinds of nonsense, insults and prejudice coming out – but they were there in peoples’ minds much before. The fact that people speak up their mind and the lively discussion that ensues will make people think better, as now what they think makes a difference and they get much more feedback.
It is a new process that can hardly be evaluated. Just think about the development of a child, how much time and experience is required between she starts speaking and until she can express herself clearly or present a case about complicated issues. Now remember that it is only a few years since hundreds of millions of people started to speak up and try to figure out how to make sense out of the ensuing noise.
After a period of enthusiasm about the rise of social movements and leftist governments in Latin America, we see a backlash with the election victories of conservatives and rightists and some suspicious power-grabs. Yet, comparing with previous rightists onslaughts just a few decades ago, this time governments are changing mostly peacefully and it is just possible that leftist governments will come back peacefully in some next elections. The same trend of changing governments peacefully is taking root also in much of Africa and other parts of the world.
The benefit of changing governments by elections is not only the avoidance of violence and destructive wars. After repression everywhere, and after a leftist wave almost everywhere in Latin America, now those government that succeeded more in fulfilling their promises, like Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador, may keep their leftist regimes. The left in other countries will have to reorganize to regain public trust and work harder to give their voters what they really want.
Democracy is not only about changing governments by elections. Actually we are still looking for the real thing: How to enable people take control of their destiny. Bottom-up democracy is the more promising model, as people may be involved on a daily basis with the essentials of their lives as they see and understand them, and improve with experience.
In many places around the world, people are experimenting with new types of popular involvement and control. Some of the most amazing experiments of self-rule come amid the harshest conditions. In Greece, as the traditional economy stopped functioning, people were building democratic cooperatives. In Syria people experiment with popular democracy in Kurdish Rojava as well as in some liberated cities and villages in other parts of the country.
Travel and Immigration
Just where progress faces the harshest resistance – we may be making a real breakthrough. The technological progress that drives travel and communication is a one-way process that interconnects our world and transforms it into one global village. The national state is an anachronism that runs counter to the direction of the economy, our culture and the spirit of the time. Whoever will try to resist it will do it at his own peril.
We can celebrate as more people travel around the world, choose their place to live by what is better for them and not by where they were born, and mix together into one beautiful human race.
Gender equality and Personal Freedom
Some of the greatest achievements of the last decades were the progress in women’s rights. We also experienced some breakthroughs with the social recognition of different sexual choices and gender identities. Of course, there are battles ahead before we would be able to declare full victory over misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia and bigotry.
Every achievement on this road is a relief and blessing to all humanity as there is less social oppression, violence, prejudice and hatred. It expands the limits of what one can do and what you can be. With every obstacle that is removed, there will be more options to explore new ways of life and social interaction.
Unlike political and social development, which goes through conflict, ups and downs and upheavals, technological progress is mostly a one way process. Many of our problems can simply be solved by the right technical solutions. Energy can be produced from renewable sources like sun and wind without much pollution. Food can be produced using much smaller land and without harming animals. Water can be desalinated. Self-driving cars can prevent most road accidents. Biotechnology may prevent or cure most diseases.
The knowledge that all these technologies are here ready to serve us should make us wake up and remove the current obstacles that stand in their way.
Less Work More Life
One danger that scares many people is the disappearance of jobs. As most people’s work life is only slightly better than slavery, we would expect people to celebrate the falling of their chains. Really, it should be the best of news that all humanity’s needs may be supplied with a fraction of the work that was required previously. This is the inevitable result of technological progress.
Looking at the current economy, much work that is done is actually a burden and not a benefit for society. Armies around the world are getting huge budgets that are more likely to cause war than to protect the people. The police, courts and prisons are doing more to perpetuate crime than to prevent it. A single political decision to legalize drugs may abolish at once most of the criminality around the world. Bureaucracy is a burden over the real economy and constant stress over ordinary peoples’ lives. Much of the white collar tasks can be replaced by computers just as blue-collar tasks were replaced by machines.
The economists that portray the current capitalist order as the law of nature say that people are becoming redundant and are destined to poverty because they are no more required for the economy. It is a simple question of political power: who serves whom. If the economy is ours to serve people, it is our time to take control of it.
The recent experiments, in several places around the world, giving basic wages to all people without connection to work, is an overdue first step to break the yoke of wage slavery.
China and Vietnam
International bodies agreed about the millennium goals of reducing poverty and
improving human conditions in essential fields like health and education. The greatest contributions toward fulfilling these goals are due to two countries: China and Vietnam. Over the last half century they demonstrated an unprecedented spell of economic development, starting from the harshest levels of poverty and mostly working against hostile obstacles from the dominant world powers.
China started by leading the world in the production of most goods. Cheap Chinese products improved the standard of living of consumers all over the world.
Now China also leads the efforts to develop clean energy, stop climate change, bring high quality education to wide masses, develop fast trains and electric cars and much more. Within 15 years China built new modern cities (no slums there) for 300 million people that had to leave under-productive village life and became part of the modern economy – building the equivalent of a whole new USA or Western Europe all at once.
Just 15 years ago most third world countries were subject to different kinds of sanctions by Western powers that were supposed to “educate” them but actually served to subdue their economies to the interest of imperialist multinational companies. Now China builds a new world economic order, based on unconditional cooperation and mutual development.
It is mostly due to China’s role that the balance of world economic power started to change, over the last 15 years, to the benefit of the third world.
The rebellious human spirit
In the development of Human society there are always measures and counter measures. There are long term consistent trends like technological progress, the spread of knowledge and the interconnection of the world. But politics are working in many different ways, many times producing the reverse of what their initiators wanted. One force that is constantly working is the rebellious human spirit inspiring billions of people to try new ways to improve their lives…
The two world wars, the biggest clashes between imperialist powers in their quest to control the world, brought immense misery. But they ended with two big waves of decolonization and the formation of alternative socialist regimes. Today, as the Western powers are becoming hostile to immigrants, more people from the 3rd world will try to build their future in their (or other 3rd world) countries – and the decline of the western powers will accelerate. Iran, which tried to force strict religious behavior over its people, is now probably the Middle Eastern country with the most free-wheeling population.
They say: “If it is not broken, don’t fix it”. But now it clearly is!
As fragile human beings we look for security and are afraid of change. Those who are most disadvantaged by the current order are the most vulnerable to any disturbances. But they also have the most to gain from fundamental change. And the majority of humanity is disadvantaged by the current world order. Palestinians in particular are denied basic Human Rights or any decent place in the current order and their plight is not going to change until there will be major changes to the rules of the game, at least in our region.
Change may come faster in our age than ever before. Almost a hundred years ago Britain occupied Iraq and faced stiff popular resistance – the Iraqi Revolt (1920). With air bombardment and the systematic burning of villages they succeeded to consolidate their rule over a nation that was mostly composed of illiterate peasants. The US occupation of Iraq in 2003 had even bigger military advantage, but the cultural gap almost disappeared. It ended up with the US spending a devastating one trillion dollar on the military adventure, with no political gains to show for its money.
The Arab spring is a social and political movement on the scale of the democratization of Europe that started with the French revolution in 1789, or the fall of the Soviet Union and its East European block in 1989-1991. But it is the first great revolutionary wave that uses social networks and new media. Till now it proved, at least, that no amount of force and no level of cruelty can assure the forces of the old order the suppression of the will of the people.
Respect All Lives
I was raised as a vegetarian, a relic of my grandma’s Tolstoyan tradition. I still remember the times when most ordinary people didn’t eat meat on a regular basis, simply because they couldn’t afford to buy it. I remember old people in the neighborhood saying how lucky they are – they eat meat on every holiday… (It was a cynical refrain to Islam having only two holidays a year). Later it became harder to be a vegetarian as people started to eat meat every day. Friends from the new generation would wonder: what do you eat at all if you don’t eat meat?
But now people everywhere are starting to reassess their behavior out of conscious and not out of necessity. When we invited our friends to a vegetarian wedding party, we heard everywhere stories about people trying to be vegetarian or thinking about it.
I must admit that when we decided, just a year ago, to make another step toward healthier and more moral life as vegans, one consideration was that it is easy to do it these days. Now, even in the most commercial supermarkets, there is a lot of choice of vegan alternatives for people that don’t want to give up spoiled tastes.
Technological progress and consciousness help us all make the moral choice and respect all lives.