Evolution won’t let us turn back the clock to those ‘good old days’

By James W. Dolan, Special to the BIR

The global economy is inevitable. Efforts to block or derail it may succeed for a while but an evolving world is destined by demographics, technology, travel, and the aspirations of humanity to eventually function as a gigantic partnership. The amalgamations so evident in the 20th century will be dwarfed in the 21st; better to accommodate and manage them than try to resist.

Nationalism as it was practiced in the last century gave us two world wars, the Cold War and numerous lesser conflicts. The process of globalization offers at least the hope of avoiding or controlling future conflicts. It is, after all, nothing more than an acknowledgment of the need to cooperate to resolve issues peacefully for the benefit of all. Trade policy must balance the interests of all sides; the haves and have-nots. Protectionist measures must be considered in light of their impact elsewhere not just at home.

Evolution is the irresistible force. As attractive as it may appear to some to turn back the clock, it can’t happen. Like a slow-moving river, evolution will sweep away those settlements that try to stem the tide. We see in ISIS a version of Islam that has failed to evolve. Being on the wrong side of history, it can cause much pain and suffering, but it will not prevail. The river will eventually reach the backwater it occupies and submerge it.

Pope Francis acts as a change agent within a church that has long resisted evolution, a church that is gradually coming to grips with the need to adapt some of its teachings to an evolving reality that is, after all, a reflection of God’s will. Tradition, while important, must not stand in the way of our improving capacity to know and understand.

Those misguided voices that preach isolation, protectionism, and a return to simpler and allegedly more prosperous times are blowing in the wind. Sure, somebody who is 70 would like to be 30 again, but it just ain’t happening. One must adapt to the times and new policies must be formulated within the context of a changing reality. The naysayers are destined for extinction, but in the meantime they can do a lot of damage.

Conflict avoidance in an age of nuclear weapons demands cooperation, compromise, and the realization that deep, consistent, and mutually beneficial relationships are necessary not just for prosperity but also for survival. Trans-national issues such as human rights, terrorism, migration, health, trade, global warming, and space exploration must all be addressed.

Those who say they can bend the arc of history and return to simpler and more prosperous times are either charlatans or oblivious to the problems that beset each generation. What may have been a good time for some was devastating for others. I was young in the 1950s and early 1960s, often considered the best of times. But not if you were in Korea or Vietnam, were black or gay, or living in Europe, Russia, the Philippines, China or Japan, all recovering from a catastrophic war.

Globalization is the embodiment of our mutual dependency. With all its stresses and complexities, it fosters a spirit of cooperation within an all-encompassing perspective that takes into account the interests of all parties. You might think this too idealistic, particularly in light of the inability of our own national government to function effectively.

If we can’t function efficiently as a country, how can we expect the nations of the world to cooperate? How can we globalize if we can’t even nationalize? If for no other reason than national or global survival, the slow, inexorable force that is evolution will compel changes in our governance. As we develop through science and technology the means to do more, we shall develop the capacity to better understand our responsibility to one another.

That seems a long way off, given Brexit and this presidential campaign. I agree, but hopefully evolution will one day replace perceived self-interest with wisdom, a far broader and more comprehensive form of knowledge.