We are now at the scale of current events, things that have happened within your own lifetime. Though the time-scale is short, this is one of the most interesting and eventful chapters of the book. This reflects how rapidly change is happening today. The most recent history does not lend itself well to a chronological timeline treatment. Many major themes, trends, and events are unfolding simultaneously and interdependently. This is also the most difficult chapter to write and read objectively, because this is our temporal home land. Everyone has an opinion about the world around us today.
The chapter opens with the development of computer technology from the personal computer to the world wide web to real time, mobile, smart information flying through the air everywhere. I believe this to be the single most important force of change in the world today. Information technology has revolutionized everything, from individuals to global institutions and all echelons of vertical relationships in between.
From there, the discussion turns to geopolitics. The political world map has undergone a tectonic shift, from the bipolar Cold War era to a lukewarm coexistence among the US, EU, an aging Russia, and rising star China. The nations of the New Second World are figuring out their own place on this new globe, while simultaneously exerting a fair amount of influence of their own. The end of the Cold War led directly to the War on Terror, with Afghanistan as the gateway. The Arab World surprised everyone with populist revolutions. Financial crises have swept the globe with unprecedented regularity in the last few decades. This chapter will explore the causes and effects of these crises. I also find it important to devote attention to some of the more silent forces shaping the world today, such as poverty, obesity, and demographics.
Another of mankind’s worst enemies is the HIV virus. The AIDS epidemic is a recent phenomenon of just these last few decades. It came at a very interesting crossroads in time. Smallpox had just been cured. The science of molecular biology was just getting to the point where it could help fight viruses on their own terms. Personal morals and family life were going through explosive reinvention. AIDS dampened the sexual revolution while fostering a gay civil rights movement.
Meanwhile, shifting gender roles and ideas of personal choice have led to a much wider diversity of family structures. Following the shock wave of divorces in the 1960s and 1970s, this is the age of unmarried cohabitation and single parenthood. These alternatives are more widely recognized in an age where children come later in life, the world is urbanized, and religion plays a decreasingly central role in family life. In the context of freedoms and responsibilities, the new lifestyles have pros and cons that are all worth discussion. The climate of family law is shaped in part by a legal concern for privacy, a very interesting word in a world that is now characterized by instant self-publication on the web. Privacy also butts heads with security in this age of the War on Terror.
The last section of the chapter discusses the newest flavor of religion, conspiracism. Conspiracy theories bring together all of the challenges and anxieties of the age, from increasing globalization to personal privacy. Growing out of conservative fears during the French Revolution, the body of conspiracy theory has exploded and consolidated in the internet age. Its immediate purpose is to redefine the devil, the source of all evil, in modern secular terms. The devil’s newest name is the New World Order, a secret conspiracy of the rich and powerful, and its Armageddon comes in the form of a single global dictatorship. This subject is worth exploring not only for its modern relevance, but also as a readily observable case study in the development of religion.
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