All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day
I have a friend who always challenges my thought process. We'll call him "Scott," because that is his name. I have enough trouble keeping track of the necessary truth without having to generate unnecessary fiction. Scott and I often have wide-ranging discussions, arguments, and explorations that take me to places I'm not inclined to travel. A few weeks ago, we got into a wrangle about immigration, diversity, and democracy. Part of that was inspired by my thoughts about John Polkinghorne's goofy take on quantum physics and metaphysics, part was inspired by my cultural bias against anything that isn't democratic and "progressive." As usual, we ended up leaving the conversation with an outrageous number of things to consider and a ridiculous collection of new ideas to assimilate. At least I did. Scott's mileage probably varies.
Somehow, our conversation about cultures, politics, and tolerance turned into something anthropological for me. While a giant wad of folks on this planet have devolved into a fantasyland of metaphysics, I don't swing that way. All evidence (fossils are evidence, magical myths are not) points to evolution being the sole factor in the development of life and, currently, the existence of humanity on earth. A few tens of thousands of years ago, anthropologists speculate that there were likely a variety of human prototypes (herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores, big, little, and middle-sized humanoids, and so on). Ecological catastrophes, disease, and competition reduced the variety to what we are today. There is still a fair amount of specialized human diversity, but we're pretty much all the same species; able to freely interbreed, digest the same food, and be fooled by the same politicians and weight-loss scams.
The modern economic model claims that, with minimal evidence, capitalism and mild forms of democracy are "the best" social systems. The 20th Century, the "American Century," provided a moderately convincing argument for that claim, but one hundred years is not a significant test in evolutionary time. Even compared to the standard set by the Roman Empire, 100 years is insignificant. You could expand the argument, or limit it, by claiming that democracy and capitalism were not the dominate survival trait of the last five hundred years. In that period, you could make a pretty convincing argument that being European, or even being "white," was the dominant trait of dominance and, therefore, survival. Five hundred years out of fifty-thousand is still pretty insignificant. Our sun is predicted to stay relatively stable for at least a few million more years, so even making a superiority claim for the last two or five thousand years isn't particularly impressive. So, in this conversation I'm not thinking about the next fiscal quarter, the next election, or even the next generation, but the next 1,000, 10,000, or even 1,000,000 years of human existence
A variety of dinosaurs (remember the fossils?) roamed the earth for for as many as one-hundred-and-fifty million freaking years, so humanity's total fifty-thousand year run is pretty insignificant. At our current rate of degeneration, we'll be lucky to even leave recoverable remains that will establish our presence. So far, we've populated the earth for a blink of the geological eye.
Diversity was the dinosaurs' secret to longevity and, if we're going to have a secret to extend our existence, we're going to need that same tool. Hence, my personal discovery from the conversation with Scott. Diversity, not globalization, might be the key to humanity's survival.
Not only does it make us (the United States) enemies when we try to pervert other countries' social systems to resemble ours, but it may be endangering the survival of the species. Unless you're hearing voices telling you otherwise, it ought to be obvious that the United States social system is in decline and that our ravenous appetite for the world's resources is harmful to the planet, living things, and to the long term survival of the species of animal that we are. If you are hearing inner voices to the contrary, you're crazy and should seek psychological counseling and medication.
Technical skills may not be the panacea to all social, environmental, and disease tribulations. It's possible, even likely, that jamming large populations into small geographic areas, feeding that population from the same trough and well, and diluting the gene pool into one "melting pot" is a formula for species disaster. Even the dumbest corporate executive should know that developing and spreading "suicide seeds" is not a survival tactic, but corporate executives are drifting in the sands at the bottom of our breeding pool and they are unlikely to have the foresight to consider business plans longer than their next bonus payout. In many ways, technology is working as hard to end humanity as it is to enhance corporate profits.
I suspect that every culture has some survival value. Even the ones that we westerners hate, pity, and/or misunderstand probably have a survival value. "Probably" is the key word here. Unless you have some insight into what the next catastrophe will be, your guess as to which culture will survive is as bad as mine. Maybe believing in one of our many fantastic religions will put a group on exactly the right mountain top at the right time to avoid the bird flu or the monster asteroid? Maybe militant atheism will keep that group from marching off a cliff with the majority of human lemmings. Maybe technology and science will finally be the savior that, so far, it hasn't been for the majority of humans on earth. And on and on the scenarios go without any of us knowing which one is the "right" one to save the species.
So, if every culture, every language, every political system, every race, and every bad habit may be a saving grace, what does this do for the United States at this moment in time? Something valuable, I hope.
We have a culture in the United States, outside of our nutty ruling class and their insane tendencies toward monopoly and social inbreeding. (England has mastered those skills, so there is no point in duplicating a dying class society.) The United States has a culture of equality, justice, public education, technological and artistic and political creativity, non-secular government, and democracy. There may be no other place on earth with these traits and we should treasure and nurture them. That means we must decide how we want to develop these traits and how we want to refine our particular survival skills.
In a rational world, that would mean that we'd stop trying to export our corporate world view, since it is antithetical to the ideals of this country, let alone the rest of the world. We would leave the rest of humanity to develop their own survival tactics, interfering only when one of those tactics puts us at risk. I don't mean when their defense of their natural resources inconveniences our ruling class or an international corporation's bottom line, I mean we should be concerned when they present an honest danger to our survival.
It's also true that if you worship a god so devoutly that you want your government to "represent that god," there are already a world of nations ready to welcome your beliefs. The United States should not be one of them. We got where we are by avoiding the mix of religion and government and we should hold to that philosophy as if our species' life depends on it. It might.
Immigration has been a key component of the success of this nation, too. In the past, simply leaf blowing, coal mining, meat cutting, ditch digging immigration did the job, because those were middle-income, mid-tech jobs that attracted immigrants with skills and aspirations. Today, the majority of our immigration seems to be attracting a subsistence, servant class and, again, I think there is no shortage of countries who have created a slave class to do the work their own citizens "won't do." The United States has a different obligation to its ideals.
The United State's success came from the happy accident resulting from the belief that education is something due to every citizen. The middle and lower classes provided the fuel for every substantial technological leap the United States has enjoyed. For two centuries, whenever our ruling classes "took over" the country a massive depression quickly followed. As in every other nation in the world, the inbred elites are incapable of providing anything but status quo. Maybe the status quo will be the ingredient necessary for survival, but it might not be. There is, again, no shortage of conservative cultures and there is only one of us, the United States.