Epilogue: “What the World Needs”

This book is not about the future.  But here we are up to the present – a good time to assess where we are and where we are headed.  I will address a few of what I consider the world’s most urgent priorities, the problems that rank highly in terms of both harm and addressability.  The human race’s Achilles heels are its largest and smallest social units:  global governance on one extreme, family planning and individual health on the other.

Geopolitically, we are at a historical transition between nationalism and globalism.  Many of today’s problems require global solutions, and I believe that the old habits and traditions of us-versus-them nationality hold this kind of progress in check.  The world’s greatest threat is no longer world war, but large regions of instability and underdevelopment.  The international community lacks a clear consensus (or means) for phasing out dictators or stabilizing power vacuums.  With concerted effort, these issues could be addressed over the next few decades or centuries.  Sooner would be better than later.

A shocking number of countries are still run by dictators or single-party systems, most of whom have shoddy human rights records.  There is no longer any justifiable reason to tolerate that.  A firm-handed international consortium would not recognize bullies like Castro or Mugabe.  The EU is setting a good example, offering the carrot of economic community membership for surrounding satellite states to get their act together.  As there are now four superpower zones competing for influence in a global market, let us hope that the competition is a positive pressure.

On the other extreme, some parts of the world are legal no-man’s-lands, attracting organized crime and terrorism.  These regions need law and order first, then economic growth.  Every time there is a crisis, it seems to lead to another panicky flurry of consortium building, slow improvised UN resolutions, and geopolitical deadlock.  When a militant group like ISIS flares up, there should be an international peacekeeping force with protocols in place to stifle the violence immediately.

A global solution will have to be federalized, republican, fair, and simple.  It need not be entirely centralized, but it should be a unified whole.  Ideal world government would be administered by elected representatives who interact with their constituents.  Meanwhile, the ad hoc web of treaties and tariffs that passes for international law today is going to become overly complicated in a matter of time.  Some legislative, regulatory, monetary, military, and fiscal capabilities should be vested in a central world authority.  Economists tell us that the global financial crises of the last few decades would be much simpler to control with a true world bank.  This theory certainly has its detractors, which I’ll come back to again.  In support, I look to the history of the US and the EU as the clearest examples of the power of unification.  The United States emerged much stronger after its civil war, the outcome of which was a commitment to centralization.  The states still have their appropriate spheres of sovereignty while the whole nation benefits from the economy of scale of a strong central government – a feature that made the US outgrow Europe until very recently.  For its part, Europe as a patchwork continent of kingdoms and customs was the battleground of one non-stop war for millennia.  Only since unification in the 1940s has Western Europe known peace.

The historic detriments to global unification were scale and tradition.  Scale is no longer a true obstacle.  The challenge to overcome now is simply the mindset that globalism is unnatural.  This is a specious argument, because the world is already so globalized today that it literally needs structure at the highest levels.

When far-right conservatives envision a world government, they see an evil dictatorship.  Maybe that’s understandable, because empires of the past were formed by conflict and conquest.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Today’s globalism has no precedent.  The 20th century model of international consortium was a great start, but it has serious shortcomings.  It would be exciting to see the UN eventually metamorphose into a new Global Federal Republic.  This is a very long-term solution, maybe a reality for 100 or even 1,000 years in the future.  Meanwhile, the question of how to manage a de facto global world with hundreds of competitive nations needs to be discussed seriously.  The paranoia of the New World Order conspiracists is a distraction.  There is no reason to believe that humans and nations can’t manage their own planet in a (lowercase) new world order modeled on cooperation and respect.  It’s already hard enough without fighting imaginary evil emperors, alien lizards, and devils.

Middle Eastern turmoil is one of the particular situations most desperately in need of resolution.  The central sources of conflict there – Israeli-Palestinian, Sunni-Shi’ite, Islamist-secular etc. – only seem to lead to cycles of violence.   It’s a major quagmire for the rest of the world.  It is time to consider the legitimate grievances of all parties and stabilize the region.  I would propose a single UN forum where all groups who are organized enough to send a representative and a platform are invited to attend, on the condition that they cease fire during negotiations.  A solution needs to address root causes of discontent, and will obviously require compromises.  Immediate peace may require a splintering into many small self-ruling nation states. 1 An independent Sunnistan and Shiastan could go a long way toward mollifying today’s worst Islamist groups.  Maintaining long-term peace will require cultural integration, so that neighboring ethnic groups respect each other, and industrialization, to diversify the economy.  Meanwhile, world leaders need to confront Saudi Arabia and Iran directly about sponsoring organized crime.

To put things in perspective, the worst killers in the world are not the most dramatic or emotional.  War, terrorism, and crime are not even close to the deadliest dangers.  The top causes of preventable death in the world are conditions aggravated by poor lifestyle choices or impoverished environment:  heart and lung problems, strokes, AIDS, diarrhea, and diabetes.  Car accidents round out the top ten. 2 We are our own worst enemies, killing ourselves with drugs (especially tobacco and alcohol), obesity, recklessness, and raising children in squalor.  Any campaign to make the world a safer place would have to start with lifestyle.  It does not make headlines or get people riled up to march in protest, but it is objectively our worst problem.  I feel a special connection to the issue of drug abuse and addiction.  I also half-jokingly rant about left-turn awareness.  When drivers turn left in city traffic, they cause much worse congestion – and more accidents – than they realize.

Poverty and regional overpopulation are growing concerns, and new strategies are in order.  With upward of 30 million unplanned children born each year 3 , and the poorest-of-the-poor now numbering a billion, there is much room for improvement in demographic self-control.  It would be unconscionable to ask couples in poverty to abstain from raising families altogether.  A more reasonable and noble goal would be to prevent unwanted conceptions by any couple.  Then every child would be welcomed into the world with planning and preparation.  This is an article of faith for me, but I think that this alone would seriously mitigate most of the world’s social problems after a generation or two.  To accomplish this goal, obviously birth control should be widely available and practiced effectively.  Couples should be fully educated about the costs and benefits of large families.  They should also appreciate the virtue of waiting a few years before planning children together, to make sure that the relationship is stable and has stood the test of time.

Marriage is a complex, multi-stranded institution.  Monumental societal transformations can occur when the strands of marriage disentangle.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the fabric of society was rewoven when men, and then women, left home for work.  Today’s transition is a growing separation between sex and reproduction.  Compared to previous times, couples are having sex earlier in life and starting families later.  To the extent that birth control is used effectively, it creates a complete separation between sex and parenting.  This is leading to new relationship paradigms, yet we are slow to socially acknowledge and accept them.   Sex and child-raising are two incredibly powerful individual drives often at odds with each other.  Placing both needs in the hands of one spouse can put immense strain on a marriage, and children pay the price with rampant divorce rates.  Universal traditional marriage-with-kids is a model that, for right or wrong, broke down in the 1960’s.  The only way to return to this model would be to force it, and that just isn’t going to happen.  Now we live in a world where parental divorce is easy and sexual dysfunction is its number one contributing factor.  We need socially acceptable alternatives to deal with reality.  Studies suggest that 4 – 5% of couples practice consensual non-monogamy, and that the experiences are generally positive. 4 Should each single have the freedom to select a co-parent separately from a sex partner?  Should we be taking widespread advantage of sterilization and cryogenic technology (sperm / egg storage) as a foolproof form of planned parenting?  Should young couples acknowledge that they will reconsider their relationship when one partner gets serious about having kids later in life?  This is the de facto reality of serial monogamy, a lifestyle common since the 1980s, though it often happens through miscommunication and heartbreak.  These are not just my spontaneous cockamamie musings.  Some similar ideas are already in circulation, not only from commercial websites but even some lawyers and priests. 56

I often say that life is 90% great, 9% imperfect, and 1% terrible.  It always has been that way and probably always will be.  On the other hand, humans have shown dogged determination to tackle their worst problems head-on.  There is plenty of reason to hope for further progress against poverty, violence, and disease.  In this millennium, change need not come from world leaders alone.  It may be up to ordinary people to take care of themselves, raise their children well, and forge friendships across borders.

  1. Leila Hudson, a University of Arizona professor of Middle East / North African studies, agrees with this on the panel discussion “How to Do Better by the World (Part 2),” IllegalKnowledgeTV, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfIZgIuBPQI&feature=youtu.be, at 23:10 – 24:20
  2. World Health Organization, “The Top Ten Causes of Death,” May, 2014, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/
  3. I calculated this based on figures from the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s 1999 report, “Sharing Responsibility,” p. 42.  Of roughly 200 million pregnancies each year, about 40% (80 million) are unplanned.  About half of these (40 million) are aborted – which by itself is a grisly statistic.  Finally, about 85% of the unaborted (30 million) survive pregnancy and birth, based on a widely quoted 10 – 20% range for miscarriages.  Rough figures.
  4. Pappas, Stephanie, “New Sexual Revolution: Polyamory May Be Good For You,” Live Science, 2/14/13, http://www.livescience.com/27129-polyamory-good-relationships.html, accessed 2/08/15.  See also Malarski, Jennifer, “Polyamory – Future Global Relationship Option?” http://www.academia.edu/9857531/Polyamory_Future_Global_Relationship_Option, accessed 2/08/15.
  5. Rampell, Paul, “A High Divorce Rate Means it’s Time to Try ‘Wedleases’,” Washington Post Opinion, 8/04/13, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-04/opinions/41067335_1_lease-real-estate-lifetime, accessed 8/20/13.
  6. Prada, Paulo, “Catholic Church Excommunicates Brazil Priest for Liberal Views,” Reuters, 4/30/13, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/30/us-brazil-church-excommunication-idUSBRE93T12920130430 , accessed 8/20/13
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