An Optimistic Pearl Harbor Day Message From Bill Stott (continued)

Could a rogue group—ISIS, say—steal nuclear weapons—from Pakistan, say? We’re doing what we can to prevent this, but even if it happens and several nukes go off, unthinkable as that would be at most several million people die. Humanity’s not threatened. And as the Middle East scholar Juan Cole says (see for example his article here), ISIS is a pipsqueak bunch, not an existential threat. As the French president put it, Our democracy has triumphed before over adversaries that were much more formidable than these cowards.

Our threats:

Overpopulation? It’s licked. We know prosperity and the education of women shrink family size. Many European countries and (would you believe?) Mexico no longer have enough births to replace, one for one, those who die. In his last decade the economist-historian Walt Rostow was concerned about what the developed world would do when, in the 2080s and following, there wasn’t population pressure driving home construction.

Global warming? We know the answer— clean electricity—and we’re making enormous strides toward developing it. There appear to be natural, cyclic warming taking place uncaused by humans and unstoppable by us. If so, there will be large-scale displacement of people; South Pacific islanders as well as Floridians may wind up in our Midwest. The process will be less fraught than the coming of Southeast Asian populations to our shores after our abandonment of Vietnam—and many times less awful than the current refugee crisis in southern Europe.

Wealth disparities? Some having too little money while others have much more than they need? The obvious answer is a more progressive tax structure.

When I hear the ludicrous apocalyptic talk of the ludicrous (overwhelmingly Republican) politicians, their despair about present-day America, I am annoyed and ashamed (certainly of the job we American history teachers have done!). As I am when I read the following on a conservative website,

A group of “Wal-Mart moms” in a focus group was asked to describe the state of the country. They answered, “unrest,” “frightening,” “downhill,” “going to hell,” “awful,” “horrible.” [See Twitter item here]

We’re better than this, guys. Grow up. Look around at the relentless innovation—much of it worthless, granted, but this is always true—our society is producing; look at the explosion of people affirming who they are (the NYT has a thrice-weekly columnist who’s proudly black and bisexual, and a twice-monthly columnist who’s a transgendered woman with a wife), their stories, their loves; look at our African-American president and women presidential aspirants; look at our having provided health care to 16 million of our citizens who didn’t have it. Hey, people, we’re the nation that invented revolution, beat Hitler and the Great Depression, created the personal computer and the world’s largest middle class.

I’m reminded of a passage in Henry Adams’ Education in which Adams, who was private secretary to his father, Charles Frances Adams, US ambassador in England during our Civil War, when much of England supported the Confederacy, which sent cotton to the industry, textiles, that began the industrial revolution. Henry Adams quotes from a Parliamentary speech by the great nineteenth century British radical John Bright and then comments on it:

“Privilege thinks it has a great interest in the American contest,” [John Bright] began in his massive, deliberate tones; “and every morning with blatant voice, it comes into our streets and curses the American Republic. Privilege has beheld an afflicting spectacle for many years past. It has beheld thirty million of men happy and prosperous, without emperors–without king (cheers)–without the surroundings of a court (renewed cheers)–without nobles, except such as are made by eminence in intellect and virtue–without State bishops and State priests, those vendors of the love that works salvation (cheers)–without great armies and great navies–without a great debt and great taxes–and Privilege has shuddered at what might happen to old Europe if this great experiment should succeed.”

An ingenious man, with an inventive mind, might have managed, in the same number of lines, to offend more Englishmen than Bright struck in this sentence; but he must have betrayed artifice and hurt his oratory. The audience cheered furiously, and the private secretary felt peace in his much troubled mind.

As regards the future of the US and the West, my mind is similarly at peace.

Love, Bill


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