Our Changing World—Where Is It Headed?
SOME changes are having a deep and long-lasting effect on the lives of millions, even on the whole world population and future generations. Violent crime, drug abuse, the spread of AIDS, water and air pollution, and deforestation are just a few of the developments that are making an impact on us all. The end of the Cold War and the spread of Western-style democracy with its market economy are also changing lives and influencing the future. Let us examine some of these factors.
How Crime Has Changed Our Lives
How are the streets in your neighborhood? Do you feel safe to walk outdoors alone at night? Only 30 or 40 years ago, many people could even leave their homes unlocked. But times have changed. Now some doors have two or three locks, and windows are barred.
People today are afraid to wear their best clothes and jewelry on the streets. Some city dwellers have been killed for a leather jacket or a mink coat. Others have died in the cross fire between drug gangs. Innocent bystanders, including many children, are being wounded or killed on an almost daily basis. Cars cannot be left safely on the street without some ingenious device to try to thwart parasitic thieves. In this distorted world climate, people have changed. Honesty and integrity are almost forgotten values. Trust has disappeared.
Crime and violence are a worldwide phenomenon. The following news headlines from various sources illustrate the point: “Cops and Robbers, Gangs and Vice; Moscow Finds Out It Has Them All”; “A New Era Comes to Korea, Followed by Crime”; “Street Crime Hits Prague Daily Life”; “Japan Takes On the Mob, and the Mob Fights Back”; “The Grip of the Octopus—Italy’s Top Mafia-Fighter Is Blown Up.” Crime is a universal problem.
Today’s crime is also more violent. Life is cheap. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, an area of slums on the edge of the city has been “officially recognized by the United Nations as the world’s most violent place. More than 2,500 people are murdered there every year.” (World Press Review) In Colombia, drug lords send out their adolescent sicarios, or paid killers, on motorbikes to settle accounts with competitors and debtors by means of their special kind of swift death penalty. And often, woe betide you if you witness a crime—whether in Colombia or anywhere else. You may be the next victim.
Another big change is that more and more criminals are carrying lethal automatic weapons, and more and more of the public are resorting to carrying guns for self-defense. This escalation in arms automatically means an escalation in fatalities and casualties, whether by crime or by accident. It is now a universal truism that a gun in the pocket or in the house can turn anyone into a potential killer.
Crime and Drugs
Fifty years ago, who even dreamed of drugs as a world problem? Now it is one of the prime causes of crime and violence. In his book Terrorism, Drugs and Crime in Europe after 1992, Richard Clutterbuck foresees that “in the long term the growth of the narcotics trade could prove to be the greatest of all threats to human civilization. . . . The profits not only give enormous economic and political power to the drug barons [Colombia is a clear example], but also finance a horrifying amount of crime all over the world.” He also states: “One of the greatest generators of terrorism and criminal violence in the world is the cocaine trade from the coca fields in Colombia to the addicts in Europe and the USA.”
The prevalent crime wave and the world’s increasing prison population show that there are millions of people with criminal intent and little desire to change. Too many have seen that crime does pay. As a result, our world has changed—for the worse. It has become more dangerous.
AIDS—A Catalyst for Change?
What first appeared to be a disease affecting mainly the homosexual population has become a scourge affecting people of every race and life-style. AIDS no longer has any favorites. In some countries of Africa, it is decimating the heterosexual population. As a result, sexual promiscuity for some suddenly seems out of fashion, not for any reasons of morality, but because of fear of infection. “Safe sex” is now the slogan, and the use of condoms the main recommended preventive barrier. Abstinence is the least-favored safeguard. But how will AIDS affect the human family in the immediate future?
Time magazine recently reported: “By the year 2000 AIDS could become the largest epidemic of the century, eclipsing the influenza scourge of 1918. That disaster killed 20 million people, or 1% of the world’s population—more than twice the number of soldiers who died in World War I.” As one expert said, “this epidemic is of historic scale.”
In spite of the millions of dollars and other currencies poured into AIDS research, no solution is in sight. A recent conference on AIDS in Amsterdam, Netherlands, brought together 11,000 scientists and other experts to study the problem. “The mood was somber, reflecting a decade of frustration, failure and mounting tragedy. . . . Humanity may not be any closer to conquering AIDS than when the quest began. There is no vaccine, no cure and not even an indisputably effective treatment.” (Time) For those presently HIV positive, already likely to fall sick with AIDS, the prospects are bleak. Here, too, change has been for the worse.
Change in World Politics
The changed political climate of the last four years has taken many leaders by surprise and perhaps none more so than those in the United States. Suddenly it finds itself without a plausible competitor in the political field. It has been compared to a highly motivated, unbeatable basketball team that suddenly discovers that nobody wants to play against it anymore. This quandary is summed up in an article in 1990 by the editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Charles William Maynes: “Today the task of U.S. foreign policy is not extricating the country from a disastrous war but institutionalizing the unexpected peace that has broken out between the United States and the [former] Soviet Union.”
The proliferation of nuclear know-how presents new threats, while war with conventional weapons continues to flourish—much to the delight of the world’s arms dealers. In a world crying out for peace, many political leaders are beefing up their armies and their weaponry. And an almost bankrupt United Nations is kept busy trying to put Band-Aids on the world’s chronic ulcers.
The Unchanging Curse of Nationalism
As Communism began to disintegrate, U.S. president Bush popularized the concept of “a new world order.” However, as many political leaders have discovered, smart slogans are cheap; positive changes are much more difficult to accomplish. In his book After the Fall—The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe, Jeffrey Goldfarb says: “Boundless hope about ‘a new world order’ has been followed quickly by the realization that the most ancient of problems are still with us, and sometimes with a vengeance. The euphoria of liberation . . . has often been overshadowed by despair over political tension, nationalist conflict, religious fundamentalism, and economic breakdown.” Certainly the civil war in what was Yugoslavia is a clear example of the divisive influence of politics, religion, and nationalism.
Goldfarb continues: “Xenophobia [fear of foreigners] and personal insecurity have become Central European facts of life. Democracy does not automatically deliver the economic, political, and cultural goods, and a market economy does not only promise riches, it also creates unfathomable problems for those who don’t know how to work in it.”
But it is evident that these are not problems of Central Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union only; xenophobia and economic insecurity are worldwide. The human family pays the price in suffering and death. And the immediate future holds no hope of change in these deeply entrenched attitudes that generate hatred and violence. Why is that? Because the education most receive—whether from parents or from nationalistically oriented school systems—inculcates hatred, intolerance, and notions of superiority based on nationality, ethnic and tribal origin, or language.
Nationalism, called by the weekly magazine Asiaweek “the Last Ugly Ism,” is one of the unchanging factors that continues to provoke hatred and bloodshed. That magazine stated: “If pride in being a Serb means hating a Croat, if freedom for an Armenian means revenge on a Turk, if independence for a Zulu means subjugating a Xhosa and democracy for a Romanian means expelling a Hungarian, then nationalism has already put on its ugliest face.”
We are reminded of what Albert Einstein once said: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Nearly everybody gets it at one time or another, and it continues to spread. Back in 1946, British historian Arnold Toynbee wrote: “Patriotism . . . has very largely superseded Christianity as the religion of the Western World.”
Is there any hope for change in human conduct in the present context? Some say it can be achieved only by a radical change in education. Economist John K. Galbraith wrote: “People are the common denominator of progress. So . . . no improvement is possible with unimproved people, and advance is certain when people are liberated and educated. . . . Conquest of illiteracy comes first.” What hope is there that the world’s educational systems will ever teach love and tolerance rather than hatred and suspicion? When will deep-seated tribal or ethnic animosities be replaced by trust and understanding, by recognizing that all of us belong to the one human family?
Clearly, positive change is needed. Sandra Postel writes in State of the World 1992: “The remainder of this decade must give rise to transformations even more profound and pervasive if we are to hold on to realistic hopes for a better world.” And where are we headed? Richard Clutterbuck states: “The world, however, remains unstable and dangerous. Nationalist and religious fervour will continue. . . . The 1990s could be the most dangerous or the most progressive decade of the century.”—Terrorism, Drugs and Crime in Europe After 1992.
Our Changing Environment
Over the last few decades, mankind has become conscious of the fact that human activities are having a dangerous impact on the environment. Massive deforestation is killing off untold species of animals and plants. And since the forests are part of the planet’s lung system, the destruction of forests is also reducing the earth’s capacity to convert carbon dioxide into life-sustaining oxygen. Another effect is to weaken topsoil and eventually lead to desertification.
Some warning voices have been raised on this issue, and one of them is that of U.S. politician Al Gore. In his book Earth in the Balance—Ecology and the Human Spirit, he writes: “At the current rate of deforestation, virtually all of the tropical rain forests will be gone partway through the next century. If we allow this destruction to take place, the world will lose the richest storehouse of genetic information on the planet, and along with it possible cures for many of the diseases that afflict us. Indeed, hundreds of important medicines now in common use are derived from plants and animals of the tropical forests.”
Gore believes that man’s impact on the environment represents an imminent threat to survival. He states: “As we continue to expand into every conceivable environmental niche, the fragility of our own civilization becomes more apparent. . . . In the course of a single generation, we are in danger of changing the makeup of the global atmosphere far more dramatically than did any volcano in history, and the effects may persist for centuries to come.”
Not only is our atmosphere threatened but, according to Gore and others, our vital water supply is in danger, especially in the developing world, “where the effects of water pollution are most keenly and tragically felt in the form of high rates of death from cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea.” Then Gore cites the fact that “more than 1.7 billion people do not have an adequate supply of safe drinking water. More than 3 billion people do not have proper sanitation [toilet and sewerage facilities] and are thus at risk of having their water contaminated. In India, for example, one hundred and fourteen towns and cities dump their human waste and other untreated sewage directly into the Ganges.” And that river is the liquid lifeline for millions of people!
Gautam S. Kaji, a vice president of the World Bank, warned an audience in Bangkok that the “water supply in East Asia may well be the crisis issue of the next century. . . . Despite the well known benefits of safe drinking water in terms of health and productivity, East Asian governments are now faced with public systems that fail to deliver potable water . . . This is the forgotten issue of environmentally sound development.” All over the world, one of the basic elements for life—clean water—is being neglected and wasted.
These are all aspects of our changing world, a world that is being transformed into a dangerous cesspool in many areas and that is threatening mankind’s future existence. The major question is, Do governments and big business have the will and the motivation to take steps to prevent the massive depletion of earth’s resources?
Is Religion Changing the World?
In the field of religion, we find perhaps mankind’s greatest failure. If a tree is judged by its fruits, then religion has to answer for the fruitage of hatred, intolerance, and war within its own ranks. It seems that with most people religion is like beauty—only skin deep. It is a veneer that quickly peels off under the pressure of racism, nationalism, and economic insecurity.
Since Christianity is the religion of ‘love your neighbor and love your enemy,’ what has happened to the Catholics and the Orthodox of the former Yugoslavia? Will their priests absolve them of all their killing and hatred? Did centuries of “Christian” teaching produce only hatred and murders in Northern Ireland? And what of the non-Christian religions? Have they produced any better fruitage? Can Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam, and Shintoism point to a peaceful record of mutual tolerance?
Rather than serving as a positive influence toward the civilizing of mankind, religion has played its own fanatical role in fanning the flames of rabid patriotism and in blessing the armies in two world wars as well as in many other conflicts. It has not been a progressive force for change.
Therefore, what can be expected from religion in the near future? In fact, what can we expect the future to hold for our present world system—what changes will there be? Our third article will discuss these questions from a unique viewpoint.
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An upsurge in violent crime is another symptom of change
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Nationalism and religious hatred continue to generate bloodshed
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Man’s abuse of his environment is changing the delicate balance of the biosphere
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Hitler greeted by papal nuncio Basallo di Torregrossa, 1933. Historically, religion has been involved in politics and nationalism