Fanciful Thought and Real Fantasy

The Baby Boom Generation in the U.S. grew up believing that the United States had developed into an irrepressible force in technology, among other things. We were taught (brainwashed might be a better term) that U.S. innovation and commitment were unparalleled in the world. Our country was better than every other country and would always be so. The United States of America was both the world leader in everything worth leading and held and exhibited the moral authority in all things. We wielded our power only for good. Any political structure that differed in significant ways from our own was dangerous and inhuman. If we weren’t perfect, we were so damn close it was impossible to tell the difference. There was no room for disagreement with our world view nor was there any space for philosophies that varied from the ones that drove our unquenched thirst for development. It was our way or the wrong way. Somewhere along the line, though, compassion and humanitarianism and morality lost focus.

I remember many years ago assuming that only the U.S. had large, modern cities. Only the U.S. built skyscrapers and invested in technology. I assumed people in other countries, notably in China and Russia, lived under constant fear of repression and, moreover, their lives of repression played out in dingy flats with no heat, no air, and inadequate plumbing.

Today, I believe the U.S. is staking its claim to becoming a failed state. At the same time, China and Russia are thriving, if deeply flawed in some respects. But, then, so are we. China is making incredible strides in artificial intelligence (AI), leading the world in both its development and its application. A study by the Boston Consulting Group (Mind the AI Gap) puts China ahead in AI, with 85% of companies actively involved in AI, compared to the number two U.S., with only 51% of companies so involved.

It’s not just technology, though. It’s the degree to which our respective populations are developing intellectually and collectively prospering. China has its share of extremely rich people against a backdrop of extreme poverty. But so does the U.S. And I think the evidence may suggest China is lifting more people out of poverty at the same time the U.S. is forcing more people into it. I don’t know of a way to compare the shift in wealth between the two countries, but anecdotal evidence shows a growing middle class in China, coupled with a huge increase in demand for consumer goods. That’s not necessarily a good thing, in my opinion, though.

I wonder whether, in China, the value of compassion and humanitarianism are given sufficient attention? I wonder whether the growth in technology is occurring at the expense of human decency? For years, I’ve felt deep admiration for many eastern philosophies that seemed, in my view, to value compassion to a much greater extent than they valued consumerism. But have I been wrong? Or, if I’ve been right, is the focus on technology robbing eastern cultures of the bedrock values upon which they were originally based or from which they grew? I’m just thinking with my fingers. I wish I could take a peak ahead two hundred years. I think the U.S., by that time, will have long since witnessed its decline as a major contributor to the world. If it remains a player at all, it will be one that struggles to save face. Instead, it will try to bask in its fading glory as the “founder” of modern democracy. China and Russia and perhaps other eastern “powers”  (but mostly China) will have emerged from the limelight as world leaders.

I don’t look upon the decline of the U.S. as necessarily negative; it is simply a “natural” metamorphosis of society. But, if I were able to snap my fingers and make the world a more just and livable place, I would merge societies into a global family committed to taking care of the planet and its inhabitants…all of them…with an objective of peace and tranquility. China’s emergence would wash over the world gently. A new global language would emerge so that all people could communicate, directly, with one another. But the old languages would be preserved and honored. Artificial borders between countries would disappear because such borders (which have never had any justifiable purpose) would finally be exposed for what they are: blatant expressions of mindless nationalism.

Yes, I’ve skipped over reality into fantasy. I’m not able to focus my mind sufficiently on reality…or I’d simply rather not, because reality is too painful…so I’m wishing with tears in my eyes that the world might actually live up to its real potential.

I contributed to the lies of the Baby Boom Generation. I accepted them. I allowed them to enter my brain and take up residence there. I wish I could sit with someone who shares my sensibilities and discuss these matters over cups of coffee and savory breakfast treats. But there is no one who shares my sensibilities. I am alone in this world. I am alone, living in my mental cocoon, sucking the oxygen out of the air while desperately trying to break through to the outside. Whether I make it is anyone’s guess. I may crack the fragile edges of the cocoon just in time to see Chinese world dominance wash over us, but maybe it won’t be dominance. Maybe it will be compassion.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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