Gaining Perspective

You may know the old saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. While the saying isn’t literally true, it serves metaphorical purpose. First Light precedes astronomical dawn and provides the first proof that night is coming to an end. “Political night” has descended in the States, leading many to wonder whether “first light” is right around the corner. Many are hopeful. I’m not so sure. I think we (all of us) need to gain some perspective based on history. The history of humanity has been primarily wars and exploitation.

War, of course, is not new. Tribes went to war against other tribes when they encountered them. Tribes got bigger and became nation states sharing an economy and, typically, religious beliefs. The religious wars in Europe are a good example. Protestants and Catholics had a long, on-again, off-again war satirized by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, in which the waring factions are described as the “Big Enders” and the “Little Enders,” based on how they opened their soft-boiled eggs. The one thing ongoing war does is accelerate the development of weapons, and in the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries, European countries saw a rapid advance in technologies of war. So … when they (primarily but not only England and France) tired of killing each other, they explored the planet to see what they could find.

Not all the exploration was “bad,” of course. On his world tour, Charles Darwin developed our best early understanding of evolution. The part that was less than wonderful was that the European nations discovered that they had better weapons and could thus control people in a lot of other places and exploit their natural resources. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain scrambled to see which could do the most to exploit areas not yet fully exploited by the indigenous populations. At this point it is relatively easy to forget that, before the Europeans arrived and started claiming the land for themselves, North America was reasonably well-populated by indigenous peoples. We now, of course, idealize the time before the Europeans arrived, but, on a smaller scale, the indigenous population had similar conflicts of interest, and the tribes best at warfare took members of weaker tribes as slaves. That seems to be, after all, a natural state of human evolution.

World War II probably set the stage for what has developed into our current situation. We ended up with three major power centers: The West (the U.S. and its allies, with Germany and Italy being added), Russia and the Communist Block countries in Europe, and China. WWII was essentially coincidental with the Chinese Communist Revolution. One thing led to another, and we had the Korean War and the War in Vietnam. As is almost always the case, the wars were fought to control territory and the resources assumed to be there, including precious metals and oil. War is most typically a matter of follow the money. In “olden times,” wars were fought to enhance the wealth of royalty. These days, wars are fought to enhance the wealth of corporations and those who own stock in them. Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” says it well:


The “masters,” are those who promote war for their own benefit. Another song from the Vietnam era, Pete Seeger’s “waist Deep in the Big Muddy” focuses more directly on those who pay the cost of failure in policy.


As has been true in the past, our current situation is also governed by those who profit from it. We are cautioned to stay woke, in the sense of being aware of the ways in which the many are being exploited for the benefit of the few. A quick look at the planned changes in health care provides a general view of current legislation and plans for the redistribution of wealth in the U.S. The history of elections in the U.S. shows that people can and do vote against their financial self-interests with regularity, so something else must be influencing their behavior. In Medieval times, people would fight and die to protect the king. In those days, of course, the king (or queen) was the organizing principle around which the society was structured. While we no longer have a king or queen in the States, we do have “royalty” that consists of the uberwealthy, who are typically treated like royalty.

Whether that can change remains to be seen. In spite of all the wars and revolutions in the past, the basic structure of the rich and powerful on top and everyone else on the bottom has remained the same. That may be saying something about the nature of humanity.

Comments are closed.