Whether history teaches us to be optimistic or pessimistic is only a matter of when and where you choose to look.
There have been wars at least as long as there has been civilization – which of course continues to today.
Empires have risen, Persian, Chinese, Mongolian, Ottoman, Aztec, Inca, British, USSR.
Some lasted for centuries, some covered the majority of the world (that the culture knew of).
Every one of them fell, for one reason or another, eventually.
That could give hope that the US, which is extending influence both culturally, politically, and militarily throughout the world, will inevitably follow – but its seems obvious that it will be replaced by another – no matter the ideals it begins with, it will inevitably grow corrupt.
They all do.
In the 3rd century BC the Egyptian library/museum at Alexandria contained the collected knowledge of the Egyptian and Greek civilizations, the largest in the world. While the circumstances of its destruction are debated, it was apparently due to some combination of war and religious fundamentalism.
The civilizations of the Mediterranean created, among other things, plumbing, calculus, and democracy (but only for white male property owners) – and at the height of the Roman Empire, a popular spectator sport involved watching humans fight to the death, and eventually flooding the coliseum to create mock sea battles – but with real weapons – for the entertainment of government and the wealthy.
In the Dark Ages, as Rome fell, much of the infrastructure was allowed to fall to ruins, and everything from libraries to aqueducts was lost – along with the education and intellectual development that had accompanied it, and much already acquired knowledge and technology was lost.
Then came about the forced conversion of people in Europe, Asia, and Africa to Christianity and Islam, as well as wars between the two (the Crusades) – ultimately spreading throughout the world, and, of-course, lasting to the present.
Europe’s renaissance consisted largely of no more than the re-discovery of things which had been previously known, but lost.
For every Ghandi there has been a Hitler and a Mussolini. For every Roosevelt and Carter we’ve had a Regan, A Bush, and a Bush Jr. Lenin’s “people’s revolution” turned quickly into Stalin’s purges.
Che failed to start a revolution, and after all of Chavez’s work, today immigrants still work in pesticide laden fields for far less than minimum wage while middle class Americans with far more comfortable lives advocate criminalizing them for it.
For all the noise the anti-war movement made, American troops pulled out because the North Vietnamese won.
In fact, the non-violent success Ghandi seemingly had happened to be at a time when the British Empire was already in decline with Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Egypt, and Iraq becoming officially fully independent in (or around) 1931, and their military over extended worldwide – a guerrilla war with Ireland, the aftermath of WWII, and calls (and actions) for independence throughout the British Empire in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
For 40 years India had sought independence, but it was not until these – often violent – worldwide events came along that it was finally granted.
Then, almost immediately, (as British representatives had predicted) the country split, and the potentially violent stand-off between newly formed Pakistan and India (both of which have nukes) has lasted to this day. So much for non-violence.
There have been advances in the Western World in civil rights, and yet they are also under constant attack, and undermined in complex and creative new ways.
Spirituality offers some personal growth, health and happiness, while the largest portion of the world knows it through organized religion, the most powerful (Christianity and its estranged twin Islam) are anti-science and reason, anti-democratic, anti-individual, anti-sex, and, basically, anti-happiness.
The caste system, subjugation, and untold amounts of violence are attributed to “God(s)”. In the past the strength of religion has risen and fallen, and we may well be in an up cycle once again, as Islam and Christianity move towards stronger fundamentalists bases – the latter being the larger threat, since it affects the worlds only super power.
It should come as no surprise, for one very simple principal:
Evil (or those who are more than willing to bring harm upon others for personal gain), will always be willing to do anything it takes to get ahead, to secure power, to gain wealth.
Whatever rules there may be, evil will break. What ever morals society may have, evil lacks. How can anything or anyone compete with that?
If someone with good intentions stays within the rules, they are not only at a severe disadvantage from the start, but if they become too successful, they are risking assassination.
He who does not accept corporate campaign contributions is never heard of by the general public.
When one takes the tactic of evil to defeat it, one becomes that which is being fought.
If good, caring, progressive, giving people bend the rules a little for the greater good, the slippery slope snowballs oh so quickly, and they end up just a competing faction of evil.
Our “democracy” works perfectly, because we have the illusion of distributed power, so that no one feels, on principal, repressed, and citizens have an abundance of material goods, which they fear losing too much to ever risk revolution. It makes the system stable. Change will never come from within – not unless things get much much worse first.
Why, then after so much seeming historical negativity, did I begin with the claim that there is equal optimism to be found?
The answer is as simple and clear as the argument that evil will always win;
Life is not, and never has been, about the large scale political and social details which are the focus of so much attention.
Life is about the warm sunshine on an early fall afternoon.
Life is about cold ice cream or a juicy orange on a hot summer day.
Life is about sex and affection with one’s partner under the covers at night while the rain or snow falls cold outside and makes little patter patter noises outside on the roof and windows.
Life is an engrossing book, or coming home tired but satisfied after a successful day of work.
Its the extra attention you get when you’re sick, and the feeling of getting better again, the smell of dinner just before that first bite, unexpected good fortune, and games on the weekend.
Life is friends, music, sport, relaxation, children, learning, conversations, all of these little tiny things that fill up each day that seem to pale in comparison to the significance of war and famine – but in truth those things are only important because they interrupt those little things for a while, those little things which are, in fact, everything.
Of course it would be nice were it possible to end all war forever.
But there has always been war, (even before there were mammals) and there always will be, because it will be to some people’s advantage to take from others, always. But after its over, and new lines are drawn on the maps, the sunshine will still be there. Love, which exists only inside of us, will exist so long as a human is still breathing on this planet.
Saving the world is futile. The world has been as it is (for all practical purposes) forever, and there seems to be no good reason to think it will not continue to be. This is not reason to despair. Just the opposite.
For this entire time, everywhere, there exists happiness. Happiness is not merely a reflection of the political system one lives under, or income. Happiness is an emotion that we, as sentient beings, are capable of experiencing. And so we do.
If you can not save the world, if one person can almost never make a real and lasting difference, it gives good people a little more flexibility. One does not fault them self for not stopping the eruption of volcanoes or earthquakes.
At most we may try to predict them, perhaps minimize the damage, but we recognize that its going to happen sooner or later, that no individual or group has the capacity or power to “fix” or eliminate the threat. So to with the nature of humanity. Violence and greed are a part of human nature, as they are a part of nature, as we are a part of nature.
Do good if you can. By all means; most certainly; why not?
Do no harm. If you know better, if you feel a morality based on living things capacity to feel (as opposed to the more common version based on what a book or the community dictates), live your own life in such a way that you do not make things worse.
If it works out well for you, since you must work anyway for you own sustenance, work in a field that in some way, makes things a little better for someone. If it is something you enjoy, volunteer.
These things are noble, admirable, and only good can come from them.
Just don’t expect miracles. Don’t sacrifice your life to a cause. We have only this one life (probably) and a life not enjoyed is a life wasted. A life not enjoyed is the most tragic thing imaginable.
Have the courage to change the things you can, but also accept the things you can not change.
Do something good for yourself.
Go out and enjoy the sunshine.
But that’s ok.
Whether monarchy or republic (“democracy”) a small group of wealthy elites rules, with privilege inherited instead of earned.
Yes, evil must inevitably win in the long run, every time.
It’s sunny out today.