Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The Ides of March:

Something I might usefully do from time to time is to try to figure out what's wrong, and whether there's anything we can do about it. That there is a great deal wrong, that we in America, and the world at large, are in more than usual trouble, is not an argument I think I need to make, even as an historian with a long view of these things who's seen, thankfully from the proper physical and historical distance, a whole lot of trouble. I was a child during World War II and WW II was bad, really bad, and I was too old for Vietnam even though I had the proper skill set as an ex-artillery officer, and that was bad, too, though not as bad; but the turmoil now seems more basic in a way, more threatening; there are more fundamentals involved. It's a fundamental for instance that there are too many people in the world--far too many already, 6,906,773,912 to be precise (as of this minute; tomorrow it will be more), and projected to reach 10 billion by the time my grandchildren are middle-aged. That in fact is the first thing, the primary thing, that's wrong:



It leads to poverty, starvation, overfishing and the resulting species extinction, overhunting and the same, pollution of all kinds, the depletion of every kind of resource; it exacerbates the problem of illiteracy and lack of education (we'll get to that later); it creates political turmoil which in turn creates dictatorships; it is virtually synonymous with suffering on a truly massive scale. It also raises all kinds of difficult philosophical questions about the purpose of life. Are we here merely to breed? Is more better? How do we convince the Catholic Church that they have it wrong, that even the Church fathers didn't think life began at conception? And what if it does, what kind of difference does that make and when does that difference reach its tipping point? How do we explain to the poor, living in a world where the more children they have the better the chance that at least some of them will survive, that this is not a healthy situation for Planet Earth?

How, to put it another way, do we get human beings to think farther ahead than their next meal, beyond their own neighborhood, to think in century lengths and see the Earth as an organism, now getting sicker by the minute?

The only answer is, one by one. By which time it will be too late.

This can get you down, this business of thinking big.

But we have no other choice. The hardest thing is to think outside our own boxes, to get past the proscenium arch behind which our own little dramas take place, our own little lives to resign, even, from our political party of choice, or else think larger than it thinks and see things over a time frame of more than one or two presidential terms. Very few people in politics or in life are capable of doing that, but we all have to learn or we're sunk as a species; the world will shrug us off.

That is what I'm going to try to do here, think a little longer than usual, and do it from time to time, and see where it leads. This is just a kind of introduction. I have to go cook dinner now. We have a guest coming. More later, when I'm not working on my book, which, by the way, is another attempt to think longer than usual.