Is it possible for the human race to evolve beyond war, extreme income inequality, corporate money’s control of political systems, and other anti-democratic trends? Some people say even hoping for such evolution is too idealistic, even impossible. Others have said if humanity doesn’t evolve it will soon self-destruct. Martin Luther King once said society has to begin to either “love or perish.”
The U.S. today is rapidly becoming more an oligarchy than a democratic republic, and this oligarchy is polluting the environment, siphoning money from the poor and middle class, and dismantling civil liberties and democracy at an ever-accelerating pace. This trend won’t end well.
As our politicians hurtle downhill, the U.S. will experience many disasters and an eventual fatal crash. Many citizens feel their corrupt politicians of both major parties have taken so much power that the people can’t possibly play a significant role in improving the U.S. political system today.
Ordinary Americans often say we oppose our government’s perpetual wars, regressive tax system, extreme income inequality and other ills, but many say it would be impossible to reform the present system. I think meaningful change is possible based on what history has shown us.
The world has always included people who think it’s possible for the human race to evolve and others who say fundamental change isn’t possible. We’ve always had war and greedy politicians. Still, in some parts of the world at given moments in time, human beings have taken sudden leaps and left behind certain inhumane practices. If that weren’t true, we’d still have rampant blood sacrifices, witch burning and the same widespread use of slavery in the same areas of the world where they once existed.
Today some populations still practice those things, but many have evolved beyond them. The changes that happened started with a sort of “tipping point” where enough people acknowledged that a social ill such as slavery should end.
The more enlightened views, anti-slavery, anti witch-burning, etc., picked up speed, and the public took action to move beyond the old way. In a sense, the condoning of slavery, etc., became obsolete and unthinkably cruel. There is no reason to cling to the belief that the U.S. today can’t make perpetual illegal war and other egregious political abuses obsolete.
During the 1860s in the U.S. more and more people began to acknowledge slavery was unacceptable and started to challenge the power structure. Once the public conscience was awakened, people organized abolitionist groups, created the Underground Railroad, and spoke out publicly. Influential writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau spoke out often against slavery. A slave, Frederick Douglass, wrote prolifically and gave passionate speeches.
If those abolitionists and writers had not believed a big leap in human evolution was possible, they would never have made the effort to organize or speak out. Their action started with their confidence that abolishing slavery was possible, and it’s not that they didn’t know what they were up against.
In his May 11, 1847, speech before the American Anti-Slavery Society, “The Right to Criticize American Institutions,” Frederick Douglass talked about the country’s entrenched pro-slavery power structure. He acknowledged that the U.S. government was then so committed to maintaining the atrocities of slavery for financial reasons that he would need to appeal to authorities outside the government to help end slavery.
There are relevant parallels in America today. People who want to help end our country’s continual illegal wars and corporate money’s control of our political system are in a position similar to the one Douglass described.
Douglass said, “Where, pray, can we go to find moral power in this nation, sufficient to overthrow Slavery? To what institution, to what party shall we apply for aid? . . . [Slavery] is such a giant crime, so darkening to the soul, so blinding in its moral influence, so well calculated to blast and corrupt all the human principles of our nature . . . that the people among whom it exists have not the moral power to abolish it. Shall we go to the Church for this influence? We have heard its character described. Shall we go to politicians or political parties.”
He added that instead of helping end slavery, the church, politicians, press and political parties were “voting supplies for Slavery—voting supplies for the extension, the stability, the perpetuation of slavery in this land.”
Today, U.S. politicians, press, political parties and most spiritual leaders keep voting for (by supporting or passively tolerating) perpetual war, income inequality and other injustices. Average citizens who see we need to evolve beyond these maladies feel they have nowhere to turn, just as Douglass did.
However, in the same speech, Douglass also said that although the pro-slavery government was very powerful, there was one thing it couldn’t resist. He said, “Americans may tell of their ability, and I have no doubt they have it, to keep back the invader’s hosts . . . of its capacity to build its ramparts so high that no foe can hope to scale them . . . but, sir, there is one thing it cannot resist, come from what quarter it may. It cannot resist truth. You cannot build your forts so strong, nor your ramparts so high, nor arm yourself so powerfully, as to be able to withstand the overwhelming moral sentiment against slavery now flowing into this land.”
It turns out he was right. It wasn’t that public opinion alone ended slavery, but it was a game-changing factor, just as strong public sentiment against the Vietnam War played an important role in its resolution.
At various points in history, when the people reached a tipping point and became fed up with given injustices, they started to be vocal and organize to move humanity in a healthier direction. Their collective efforts did change things for the better. Humanity evolved.
Even though U.S. politicians have unprecedented power to do evil and squelch dissent, the public can step up its efforts to speak, write and organize to help us evolve beyond perpetual war, devastating income disparity, and the country’s anti-democratic drift. Writers and other public figures can help by clarifying what is going on and urging the few politicians with conscience to join us in finding solutions.
Throughout history the big evolutionary leaps, including moves away from slavery in certain parts of the world, started with the widespread public attitude that change was both imperative and possible. It is imperative and possible for the U.S. to change its war-for-profit paradigm and its condoning and allowing the other government corruption covered here.
A fitting excerpt from the Declaration of Independence says: “Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” People will put up with a large amount of abuse from their government before they make any effort to change it for the better.
It could be the U.S. public hasn’t yet reached a tipping point and will give in to a feeling of powerlessness. There is never a shortage of “can’t do” dialogue, and the pessimists have a point. We’re faced with daunting challenges.
However, as one of my favorite “lefties,” the late historian Howard Zinn once said, “To be hopeful in bad times is not being foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of competition and cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, it energizes us to act, and raises at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Can humanity evolve beyond continual war and rule by the worst among us? Yes and no. We can do it if enough of us begin to see we need this evolution in order for our species to survive, and if we start to believe change is doable and take action. We can’t evolve, and probably won’t survive, if most of us stay in denial about the need for change, give in to a sense of powerlessness and do nothing. Frederick Douglass’s idea that powerful evil political forces can be overcome via the truth and public moral sentiment, and Martin Luther King’s view that humanity must ultimately either love or perish, are keys to sorting out which path we should take.
Carla Binion is an Intrepid Report contributing writer.