If you’ve read any of my essays on this blog before, you’re probably inoculated against the depressive aspects. If not, be ready for a big dose of downer! There is a positive theme in the second half, though, one based on the very-real hope of hydrogen power.
It’s awfully clear that the US Empire is sinking while China rises. It should also be obvious that this is due, in large part, to a transfer of wealth from the US to China. The simplified reason is that a lot of things we buy say “Made In China” on them. Indeed, consumer capitalism has trained the imperial citizenry to focus on shallow-pleasures at low price while ignoring the unseen long-term costs: to the environment and also the moral and economic health of the nation. The neurotic greed of many elites, who hoard wealth, has a counterpart in the rabid buying of the hoi polloi. As the plutocracy gains in proportion to the rest, it becomes more able to dominate the government and subvert the already feeble level of democracy allowed by America's two-party system.
The rise of China coupled with the sad decadence of the USA has tragic ethical consequences. The most powerful country in the world will soon be one that is anti-freedom: of speech, of religion, of thought, of public assembly, and so on. It is heavily sexist, racist, and homophobic. In America, some inroads have been made around equality and professional opportunity. Not so in China. Also, torture is widespread there. An example is placing dissidents into mental hospitals, where they undergo faux psychiatric treatment. People do not vote in China to choose their leaders. Slavor labor in factories, which fuels cheap prices in the US, is an abomination.
It is not as if China is ‘evil’ while the US is ‘good.’ The US tortures “detainees” through “rendition”--effectively kidnapping people in one country to fly them to other countries to be tortured. The word “detainee” is legalese to get around the Geneva Convention. The “detainees” in Guantanamo are also tortured. We can thank George W. Bush for a lot of this. However, for decades the US has been overthrowing democratically elected leaders in the third world and emplacing vicious tyrants who use death squads. The half-million deaths in Indonesia in 1965 are in large part our doing. Vietnam was basically a genocidal campaign, de facto, at the psychological and strategic level (see the book, Kill Anything That Moves). There are many more cases of horrible outcomes like this. Satan-worthy stuff, all excused by ‘the end justifies the means’. US corporations vacuum up profit from government-inflicted atrocity whenever they can (often the atrocity involves installing/supporting a dictator friendly to US business).
Sadly, the US and China are more similar than we like to admit (another example, the US has more citizens incarcerated, per capita and in total number, than any other country by far. Over two million Americans are in jail). And yet, despite its great wrongs, the US has stumbled forward in terms of certain critical liberties--thanks to brave protesters and martyrs, given some protection by Constitutional rights.
In sum, world civilization is slipping backward, into a status that will be significantly more anti-human. We can expect police states to gain in popularity as China ascends. The danger and nadir of this trend is already present in China’s semi-ally, North Korea. North Korea uses Hitler-like prison camps to keep its citizens fanatically worshipping its current dictator, the son of the last dictator (please note: I do not use the reference to Hitler lightly; I know the name is overused, but it is completely appropriate here). This entire nation is divorced from reality into an extreme cult-like status of paranoia and hatred for the USA and other countries. They have developed atomic weapons and soon will have the capability to launch at the United States.
Nuclear war is continously a distinct possibility, especially as more countries gain such weapons. This increases the odds of an eruption of nationalistic frenzy and all-out war--and a chain-reaction of launches extending through many countries, out of reflexive fear. We only avoided nuclar war in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 by the barest of margins, with considerable luck (for instance, a russian sub commander, who lost contact with his superiors, was talked out of launching by the staff medical officer).
A sad corollary to the growth of police-state orientations is the spread of so-called state capitalism, which will continue the trend of huge wealth gaps. This harkens back to an ancient pattern (feudal, monarchic, despotic) of wealth-concentration in a very few hands. The rest struggle at various levels of descending obeisance. You have an artisan class and soldier class; and yet the majority languish at the level of peony. The peony’s education level is kept quite narrow so they can be manipulated easily by propaganda.
The spread of police states and state capitalism heralds grimmest of times for the environment, as both these systems tend to support a leadership of callous people with selfish egos, focused primarily on short-term power/money accumulation. Brilliant demagogues with sociopathic traits tend to do well in these systems, as they are geniuses at manipulating the masses via class hatred, fear of the enemy, patriotic fervor, and so on--and not shy about using the most violent, ugly tactics.
That’s a summary of some of my recent dismal thoughts. On the positive side, electricity that is derived from breaking water into hydrogen is here. The US Navy, in fact, plans to run all its ships on sea water in ten years. Possibly, the effects/fear of global warming will catalyze a shift to reliance on water for powering our homes, cars, everything! The chemical reaction is similar to how plants conduct photosynthesis. One big question is whether the propaganda of oil companies and right-wing magnates, such as the super-powerful Koch brothers, can be overcome. If so, the world can shift away from reliance on fossil fuels to a new energy whose pollution-effects are extremely minor in comparison.
Can this shift to hydrogen power have a moral effect on civilization? Possibly. Greater respect for Earth could engender greater empathy and hope. These, in turn, could propel a social movement toward long-sighted virtue and away from a paradigm of short-sighted ego competition (i.e. more money = better person).
And example of empathy and hope in action: the worldwide women’s movement continues to challenge ancient sexist stereotypes and patterns of violent oppression (e.g. women en masse protesting the engrained practices of rape in India). Again, the spread of equality could bring 'consciousness raising', which can alter behavior on a grand scale. If people realize that culture is more powerful than human nature, they might fight more for cultural change.
Indeed, the global women's movement transcends nationality and class and directly concerns the specific social status of over half the human population. If hydrogen power enhances environmental awareness and empathy, it will not replace feminism or other 'isms' but will rather work with them to modify the psyche of the 21st century. It will encourage people to spread their care over a large holistic field of geography, ethnicity, gender and time.
As technology rushes ahead, so do those who are masters of exploiting it for their own gain--but each advance (e.g. the internet) also offers new opportunities to re-think our role, to gain more freedom (from the oil companies, for example), and to generate empathy for Earth, animals and the oppressed.
These are critical times, my friends, in which idea-systems struggle with each other, within the arena of mass psychology, to determine the vector of civilization and--because humans are so pervasive and transformative--the state of the planet Earth for a long time, if not permanently.