Brave New World

My housebuddy talks about why he always folds clothes when he empties a drier, even if it’s not his stuff. “You mean, there’s an option?” He grew up in foster homes and was well-trained. You don’t just throw other people’s stuff in a pile. You handle it with care.

Folks in far away places with strange sounding names are looking at the phone in their palms and finding out that there are options of which they never dreamed. So are some folks down the street and around the corner, a few miles down the road, or across the state line. Little out-of-the-way towns wake up to find out that they are just in the way. Globalization has come to every Middlesex, village, and town across the globe. Not everybody is happy.

Viewing the earth from space at night tells most of the story. The dark spaces, which take up most of the globe, are not uninhabited. They are full of people in small, rural communities, most of whose ancestors have lived there for anywhere from a couple of hundred to thousands of years. Rural communities are famous for the virtues of family, community support, and traditional values. They are also famously suspicious of change. They don’t necessarily like options.

Maybe they have worked out a “way of living” with African-American neighbors, which isn’t really equal, but it seems to have worked (better for some), so why change? Perhaps they were brought up in a church or a culture that sees homosexuality as thwarting God’s will (or the will of the gods), and they just can’t get their heads around any other way of looking at it. Maybe their women wear modest clothing and don’t go out of the house without a male because sometime far back in the past, women were commodities that could be stolen, like sheep. Perhaps to this day, a woman with her head uncovered is so unusual that it sparks unusually strong sexual reactions in young (or not so young) males, and the outcome goes without saying. Maybe, in a world where the paterfamilias no longer lays down the law, where the law comes from outside the family, outside the community, the little things get doubled down. Honor is only attainable through what is, to much of the rest of the world, unthinkable.

If you have a copy of Sapiens, go to page 359. That’s it in a nutshell.

The result has been a surge of alt.right movements across the face of the liberal democracies, Islamist fundamentalists wherever traditional Muslims feel threatened or wherever alienated Muslim youth search for relevance, evangelical resistance throughout the rural United States, and push-back of various sorts from cultural back-waters the world over.

But it’s not just the backwaters. All those splashes of light? Those are the cities, the cosmopolitan centers of civilization. And they aren’t immune from fear. Right now there seems to be a general impulse to draw in the perimeter. To re-establish borders. To build walls between us and not-us.

But it’s not going to work.

Never mind the infinite markets available to the corporations, or the possibility of infinite corporatization. Those subjects are considerably above my paygrade to pontificate about. Except for the fact that, if nothing else, those factors are already in motion and will ensure that globalization is here to stay.

In the meantime, everyone, and that includes those who resist, those who think they are opting out, are globalizing as fast as they can. The Chinese peasant’s daughter is a business woman with a limo. African entrepreneurs are exploring infinite markets of their own. I have Facebook friends in India. We are emigrating and immigrating, outsourcing and starting-up. The culture that used to live over the hills and far away is now as close as the phone in your hand.

Mistakes will be made. Adjustments will be painful. Terrors of all kinds will abound. Think of the Wars of the Roses. Everything that meant the world and all to York and Lancaster was dead and buried within the space of less than 50 years. So much pain and bloodshed. Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward V, dies in 1492. Columbus is on his way across what will become the Middle Passage. There was more pain, more bloodshed. But a different world was aborning.

I think a different world is aborning today. I won’t be here in 50 years, but my heart and my hopes are with those who have the making of it. Walk softly on the earth and have compassion for its people. Be kind, generous, and funny. Fold other people’s laundry. Make the next world a work of art.