Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Fifteen

“The Next Half-Century,” pages 136-144

This chapter of a book concerning new hopes opens: “The twentieth century so far has not been a credit to the human race [p. 136].” The welcome demise of emperors led to an unwelcome succession by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, with enormous human costs, including some specific mass atrocities, involved in the transition. As bad as the twentieth century has been so far, the second half holds a much worse prospect, that the world and all its people can be destroyed at any moment.

Western leaders need a sober appreciation of the dangers, but the current fearful response leads nowhere. Western policy, of course, must start with the military might necessary to protect western Europe. The security thereby achieved will lead to a renaissance in France, West Germany, and Italy – and this will prevent world war, if the US will be mellow. A mellow America, in turn, might allow the Russians to put aside their understandable fears that they are threatened with conquest by the West. The internal regime in Russia will soften, permitting the negotiated establishment of a world government by the end of the century.

Asia and Africa need economic development, lest envy ignite violence. It is in the interest of rich countries to devote considerable resources to raising living standards in poorer countries – even in their direct economic interest, as prosperity, as well as poverty, tends to propagate across borders.

The economic development of Africa and Asia requires, as Russell argued in Chapter Five, population control. Though many westerners perceive religious and other barriers to contraception in poor countries, these barriers can be overcome. “I do not think any reasonable person can doubt that in India, China and Japan, if the knowledge of birth-control existed, the birth-rate would fall very rapidly [p. 139].” Africa, too, could see its population checked by the availability of medical clinics that would disseminate the relevant information, though the US will be unlikely to aid such clinics because of Catholic political force. The British and French, who have more substantial interests in Africa, eventually could fill in for the Americans, however.

The history of imperialism renders suspicious any activity of the US, Britain, and France, in Asia or Africa. The Russians, no less imperialist, nonetheless are not perceived as a similar threat. It is a very delicate matter for the West to engage Asia and Africa where such engagement is fruitful, while avoiding the excesses of imperialism. “It will be very regrettable if the cessation of Western imperialism prevents the spread of what is good in Western ways of life [pages 140-141].” Western scientists and technicians of a philanthropic bent can be the unthreatening vanguard in helping export economic development, educational progress, and improved healthcare.

Religious and nationalistic fanaticism (recall Chapter Thirteen) continue to threaten future prosperity. Even legitimate interests in national independence, as in Iran, are premature given the political realities of the Cold War. Nor can lingering dreams of isolationism be maintained – humanity is an interconnected, global family, and like all families, we can quarrel or maintain harmonious relations.

International cooperation requires that people be educated in a broad manner, not in the crude, nationalistic style that generally holds sway. The history books should be as impartial as possible, perhaps by having scholars from neutral countries write the history of other places (like Olympic judging?). “Children should from an early age be made aware of the modern interdependence of different groups of men, and the importance of co-operation and the folly of conflict [p. 142].” They should know of freedom and possibility, and not be led to think of the past of prohibitions and wars as if it is the present.

Intolerance towards the prejudiced teachers of hate and hostility is called for. Violent conflict is almost always an inefficient means for securing change: Britain has peaceably progressed in recent years beyond anything achieved by the bloodbath of revolution in Russia and France. Hatred doesn’t dissipate just because the object of hatred has been overcome; rather, it seeks out new horizons. Social reformers primarily should stress, when possible, the future benefits, not the negative features of the status quo. A focus on negative features also risks missing the deeper causes when ameliorating the intolerable conditions – and hence makes recurrence likely.

“The world could within a couple of generations be made to consist of men and women who would be happy and sane, and because they were happy and sane, would be kindly in their impulses towards others, since they would have no impulse to regard others as their enemies in the absence of positive evidence [pages 143-144].” Our knowledge of the development of character should be put to use in inculcating this kindliness.

Mankind would survive a third world war. (One year later, Russell was less certain.) Such an event, however, would bring to a standstill the process of advancing global peace and sanity. Eventually, however, our duty will be to reignite that process. (Russell employs in passing what became Reverend Jesse Jackson’s signature line, “keep hope alive.”) Mankind learns slowly, and through suffering – perhaps more suffering than they have already endured – even when the material to be learned points the way to future wellbeing. There must be some individuals today whose sanity and hope will provide the guide to others. The more sane, hopeful people there are, the better the chance that the result of suffering will indeed be the insight to drive us forward.

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