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Wish We Could Turn Back Time?

“Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days…” so goes the recent hit song, reportedly one of John Kasich’s favorites and one that Donald Trump has echoed repeatedly in his speeches. It seems the effort to turn back time is sweeping the world. Many Americans want to “make America great again” by turning away refugees, banning Muslim’s from entering the country, deporting Mexicans, building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. to keep more immigrants out, and bringing back lost manufacturing jobs. Britons want to exit the European Union, claiming they have lost their sovereignty to the larger organization and fearing that Europe’s welcoming refugee policies will lead to their own country being overrun by those without the traditional ancestral/racial/religious background of “real” Englishmen. In Europe, similar anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiments are taking hold, as Germans, Frenchmen, Belgians, Hungarians, Dutch and others fear their countries are being overrun by strangers with darker skin who speak a foreign language and worship a different god. Meanwhile, reactionary Islam, of the kind that is sweeping through Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and many other Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia wants to halt the influence of so-called “Western” values, which embrace equal rights for women, openness to homosexuality and atheism.


The idealization of the past and the movement to return to it is not a shared movement among nations, except perhaps in some areas of the Middle East, but rather one that, in the West anyway, enshrines nationalism as part of that hallowed past. In most cases, again more so in the West, it is a sentiment and movement that is not shared by those in power. In fact, the power structures that have been in ascendancy over the last decades have been international in their focus.  They have created a world that, in the words of Parag Khanna, is shaped by “connectography,” the information and supply networks that relate industries, power centers and people to each other. In this world, geographic boundaries, language differences, skin color, and parochial attitudes don’t matter, as ascendancy and survival are a matter of international agreements and communication. It is a global world, in which information is shared immediately from one corner of the world to the other, in which  where something is made doesn’t matter, but how it is distributed does, in which the larger one’s global connections, the more power one has, in which one feels as similar to someone across the world who reads, plays, shops and informs themselves as you do, as to someone who lives in your own country.


Except this idealized connected world exists only at the level of global power structures and not in the minds of the citizens of the world’s nations. At the level of the citizen there is profound suspicion of such power structures and their motives. There is unhappiness with systems that appear to benefit only those who are already rich and powerful, while relegating the common man to stagnation in his standard of living and ability to work with dignity and adequate remuneration. Increasingly, the wars in which those in power get us embroiled look as if they are being fought for obscure reasons, which might well be the furtherance of the power of international arms makers.


But can we really go back to “the good old days?”  The Internet continues to spread ideas across the planet, despite attempts by repressive governments such as China and many in the Middle East to stop it. Its content is as varied as there are opinions in the world. While Saudi Arabia worries that ideas about women’s rights will be spread by the Internet, Western governments worry that ISIS propaganda will create more “homegrown” terrorists. I sit here typing this wearing not a single garment made within my own country. No matter who is elected U.S. President, what trade agreements are signed or not signed, I’m not likely to be using more American made products in the near future. The only way garment manufacturing or electronic assembly jobs will return to the U.S. is when they become automatized and require no person to do them. Americans will not work for the low wages Chinese, Vietnamese, Bangladeshis or Mexicans will. Wars and poverty in distant parts of the world continue to produce refugees and immigrants who know about a better, safer quality of life somewhere else and for whom modern transportation allows them to reach such destinations. And the electronic, Internet connected world we have all become dependent upon will continue to be managed best by mega companies, who can effectively manage worldwide connections.


There is a self-righteous quality to many people’s calls to disengage themselves to the new, global, connected world. Many Americans look with distaste at those who have crossed into our country illegally or have overstayed their visas. Muslim’s, who are plagued with violent radical groups within their religion are easily categorized as unwanted by those who proudly (and ignorantly) claim that their religion is not so primitive or violent, ignoring centuries of history right up to the present, in which Protestants and Catholics made war on one another, in which Mormons were hanged, Jews were put to death, and those of African descent were enslaved, murdered, and discriminated against, often in the name of religion. Even those who are fed up with government and want to form smaller communities, growing their own food, avoiding polluting the atmosphere while replenishing the earth, seem to be putting their heads in the sand by ignoring the plight of those who are poor, poorly educated, jobless and victims of discrimination and inhabit the centers of most of our largest cities. Saving oneself will not solve those other people’s problems and if their problems are not solved, they will become the problem of the whole society. And those who make war will continue to make war… only now they may be nationalistic wars not just wars over ideology or resources.


We cannot go backward. We must devise a political system that can harness global connectivity for human good. And that means the good of all of humanity, not just one country’s. It begins with a battle of ideas. Racism, religious persecution, elevation of one’s own values above those of others without trying to understand what the other’s values really are —these all need to end. There are gigantic disparities in quality of life among different regions of the world and there are people who really are being driven from their homes and need to be safe somewhere. Our planet is warming because of human activities and only a global approach to solving climate change will save us from calamity. These global needs have to be addressed. But there really are sinister global forces that are manipulating our media, our policies, both domestic and foreign, and our perceptions for the good of those who are in power. Rather than turn our backs on them by retreating to some version of the past, we need to take their control from the hands of a small number of powerful people and groups and put it in the hands of a democratically organized system in which people’s wishes determine the policies that governments and those who live under those governments, follow. This is probably not something to be accomplished on the small scale of a nation. But America is right now the most powerful nation in the world and America is still dominant in worldwide communication.  Right now, we don’t even control our own government’s decisions. Powerful businesses and wealthy individuals have taken control of our country’s policy making. But it’s not too late for control to be taken back. It begins by becoming involved in our political process, by shaping the policies of the businesses and organizations we run or work for, by making our voices heard. Retreating to the past is not an option.



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