This past week has been a week of devastation for our nation with wildfires raging in the West accompanied by temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 200 homes were incinerated in California. Today is Sunday and the fires still burn. In the South and Central parts of the country powerful storms with hail and tornadoes flattened whole towns leaving a death toll of at least 35. West Virginia was swept with historic floods that destroyed more than 100 homes causing over 20 deaths. This scale of catastrophes is not normal! In this we get a preview of what is in store from the effects of Climate Change. Although scientists now agree that humans are in a large part responsible, there are still people stubbornly denying that human activity is the cause in order to continue to avoid facing the need to change our patterns of living.
As a culture we seem to have lost our taste for long-term thinking. Since we became the ‘NOW generation’ in the 60’s and 70’s more and more we seem to have replaced deep thought with an obsessive drive for quick fixes, instant answers (instant gratification?); but more than ever the world needs careful analysis and solutions that point to a sustainable future. Our world is in crisis. Throughout the globe humanity seems to be moving relentlessly toward self-destruction, either slowly by environmental degradation or quickly by wars that promise to unleash the weapons of mass destruction that we have amassed and which continue to be produced.
I believe the tensions of that unspoken fear is given a voice in the increasing violence that is bubbling below the surface and erupting suddenly and relentlessly in terrorist attacks, mass shooting of innocent strangers, violence flaring at sporting events, and in public gatherings that degenerate into riots . . . I see it also in the expressed dissatisfaction with the institutions that are needed to keep order in society.
Not for a moment do I suggest our institutions aren’t flawed and in need of repair—be it the economic systems, health care services, religious institution, educational systems and yes, governments . . . but total rebellion against the established institutions will not bring a ‘quick fix’; rather chaos with new and different problems.
The week of environmental disasters was topped off by the shocking vote by Great Britain to exit the European Union. The EU was established after WWII to bring greater unity and harmony between those close nation neighbors and lower the dangers of Nationalism, exclusive self-interest and xenophobia.
The great visionary Teilhard de Chardin (1881 -1955), foresaw the inevitable movement of civilization toward globalization and he was acutely aware of both the promise of and the dangers that movement held. In his book, Building The Earth he states: “The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not parish, is to build the earth.”
The world has not yet embraced the fact that we are an interdependent global world and we must build the earth together, transitioning from exclusive self-interest to consideration for the greater whole. This is a difficult but necessary change to make. The reality is that the world we now occupy IS a global one. Communications, transportation and trade have made it that.
A global world must prioritize differently and use different decision-making methods—from demands and threats to cooperation and negotiations. For many, rather than giving serious consideration to how to accomplish the integration, there is a pulling back, a retreat to the former ways. Tensions arise, polarization occurs and issues become only black and white, “my side is right, his is wrong”. This polarization has swept Great Britain into opting out of the European Union. That choice has worldwide ramifications.
It has often been said that progress happens by two steps forward and one step back. Unfortunately Great Britain has taken the step backwards, lured by Boris Johnson’s rhetoric that fanned the Nationalism of ‘taking our country back’, his firm stand on anti-immigration and the promise of more money for health care by not paying into the EU.
We in America face a similar polarization. Soon we face a national election. I can only hope and pray that we don’t also confront the global challenge with a backward step to fanning nationalism, choosing exclusive self-interest and embracing xenophobia; thus re-defining progress as ‘one step forward and two steps back.’