Retreat from the Future

Retreat from the FutureThe Marlowsphere Blog (#133)

There we were in the second half of the 20th century, having experienced the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan that ended WWII, and watched in the late 1970s a pivot towards the west by Communist China following the 1976 demise of dictator Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), and in 1989 even as we watched the horror of Tiananmen Square, we also watched the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We saw the creation of the European Union, the death of South African Apartheid, the shrinkage of nuclear weapons on a worldwide scale, the expansion of democracies, the diminution of illiteracy to about 15% of the world’s population, and the increase of global trade, so-called globalism.

We also saw a further exploration of space and the rise of a few non-governmental organizations investing in the exploration of space. The Higgs Boson, the so-called “god particle” was confirmed and the “repaired” Hubble Telescope peered closer and closer into the origins of this universe. The future of generations to come appeared to be bright.

But here we are in 2016 and the reverse appears to be true. In 2001, on 9/11, Al Qaeda terrorists took over two commercial airplanes and destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City (this wasn’t their first attempt). There are now terrorist groups in BREXITAfrica, e.g., Boko Haram, and in Russia, and in the Philippines, and in France, and in Belgium, among others. It has taken over eight years for the United States and other contingent countries to recover from the “mortgage crisis of 2008.” Britain has just voted to leave the European Union, the so-called “Brexit,” and in the United States the upcoming national election pits a politician, Hillary Clinton, with decades of regional, national and international experience, against an entertainer, real estate magnate Donald Trump, who has decades of experience on reality television. His vision of the future is to retreat from it by building walls between the United States and Mexico, to undo our trade agreements with other countries, and to (possibly) use nuclear weapons against our enemies (whomever they might be).

Elsewhere in the world, terrorists’ attacks have governments and peoples nervous about open borders and immigration issues resulting in the loss of jobs in one place only to turn up for less pay in other places. Local and regional wars have made millions of people homeless. The disparity between the so-called 1% (the haves) and the rest of the world (the have nots) grows deeper with every year. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting screwed.

Further, the Internet is not creating a level playing field. It is allowing those with the technical know-how and marketing imagination to create platforms wherein users create content for free and the owners of the servers housing the platform very rich.

It is a gross irony that while some countries, like the United States, parts of the European Union, Japan, and China are exploring space both within and without our solar system, several tribal cultures, such ISIS and the Taliban, are more concerned with what women should wear in public, women’s subservient role in their society, and a strict adherence to the word of Allah. Also, in the Middle East extremist Jews and extremist Palestinians are at war over who should own what territory. In Saudi Arabia, despite their ostensible acceptance of western trade, there is an adherence to an anachronistic extreme form of Islam, so-called Wahhabism. The so-called Kingdom funds this form of Islam with millions of dollars and proselytize their point of view wherever possible.

Headline: Civil Rights Bill Becomes LawAnd in the United States, the chasm between predominantly white police forces and young mostly unarmed African-Americans appears to have exploded into the headlines and into television and radio news broadcasts in the last several years. The Civil Rights Acts were passed decades ago, but the blatant racism expressed by the shooting of unarmed black males by white police officers appears to have become a common occurrence, even in the historical context of an African-American president in the White House.

Q: Is America, is the world retreating from what seemed to be a        brighter future a generation ago?
A: Yes, it is. Or that’s the way it seems.

My view is that the world is experiencing a period of retreat from the future into a period of tribalism. And it is not recent. It has been building for some time, perhaps ever since the commercial introduction of the telegraph in 1844. This was the world’s first electronic communications medium that could transmit information from one point to another at the speed of light. In the mid-20thcentury photonic technologies were introduced (these are technologies based on photons as opposed to electrons). These combined technologies have bumped up the speed of communication and transport of goods and services and with them cultural values on a global basis. Cultures around the world where the literacy rate is lower and much lower than it is in more developed nations are repulsed by this invasion of outside cultural values. It is anathema to their entrenched cultural values. And, in turn, we are repulsed by their reactions, such as when we hear about honor killings in remote parts of India, and the mutilation of female genitalia in parts of Africa.

Even in places that are so-called developed nations there is a retreat into tribalism. The Brexit vote is one example, the rise of neo-fascism in Germany, and the increasing rejection of Islamic leaning peoples in France are other examples. It is a retreat borne out of deep fear—a fear that one’s family and community values are being tested, challenged, upended, and revealed as untrue or unfounded.

People don’t want change even when it is beneficial in the long-run to the greater whole. The speed of light technologies that now are increasingly circling the planet have thrown opposing cultural values into the same economic pot and have created such fear among the members of opposing tribes that it is engendering violence.

Global DiversityAnd this phase of planetary cultural evolution will not go away quickly. It will be with us for a while, perhaps a generation of two. Until peoples of different cultural stripes begin to accept that the future is about the integration of cultural values, even the loss and rejection of some values—such as religious and political beliefs—there will be a retreat from the future. Accepting that change is the constant, that change is the way of the universe, a universe we are just beginning to learn about, is a deeply painful process.

This view parallels the structure of scientific revolutions. First, there is rejection of facts that contravene the prevailing view, then there is anger and battles over what is true and what is not true, then ultimate acceptance of the new factual context. We are looking at a generation or two of battles over what is true and what is not true. If world history is any arbiter, progress will prevail, but only after many more have died for their antiquated beliefs and many more have died defending the values of the future.

Eugene Marlow, Ph.D.
September 5, 2016

© Eugene Marlow 2016

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