We each experience periods of uncertainty in our personal lives,
most of them awaiting the decisions and assessments of others
about our jobs, our own medical conditions and those of family and
friends,, grades at school, political and business outcomes and, of
course, how others feel about us. Uncertainty is a constant in daily life.
There are also episodic times when the uncertainty is more intense
and widespread --- as happens when there is a crisis or emergency faced
by a community or locale --- or the nation as a whole.
It obviously occurs on those rare occasions, when a threat is historic,
such as occurred in Great Britain in 1940, facing defeat and invasion, or
in the U.S. in the days that followed December 7, 1941 --- or November
22, 1963 --- or September 11, 2001.
There are also moments which, while not provoked by events as
dramatic as those just cited, still produce a pervasive anxiety.
I think this is what is happening just now --- precipitated by a
confluence of various events and circumstances that only appears
infrequently, and which accumulates in varying degrees in our
daily subconscious, as well as our more fully conscious awareness.
Let me list only some of the most unsettling recent events and likely
circumstances that produce perhaps the most uncertainty:
The growing insertion of artificial intelligence and robotics into all
of our lives., and the inevitable massive job displacement that will
The unconventional and disruptive new president of the United States.
A nearly worldwide populist and nationalist “revolt of the masses”
bringing about sudden political change and upheaval.
The astonishing velocity of the computer/internet/smart phone
revolution in technology that now affects virtually everyone.
The emergence of China as a world economic and military power.
The chronic implosion of the solidarity and cohesion of the “old
world” of Europe. The reemergence of an imperial Russia.
The decline and demoralizaton of public education in the U.S. into
many issues of political correctness and ideology.
An ongoing and unresolved public debate about the validity of
prognoses for current climate change and environmental conditions.
The recurrence of serious epidemics and pandemics of new and
contagious diseases for which treatments are unknown or limited,
and for which global containment is problematic.
The growing assault on representative democracy, free enterprise
and free speech.
There are also numerous short-term events which contribute to
public anxiety, including “shutting down” the government, a declining
stock market, bad weather conditions, natural disasters, etc.
There is, however, a ”glass is half full” way to look at our present
First, in response to sudden change, disruption and transformation,
we can remember that life on earth, at the local and global levels, is
always changing. Many think they live as if the world were a
photograph, a fixed moment in time and not moving. Instead, it is a
four-dimensional film. Adaptation is vital in the world we live in.
Second, technology can be unsettling and disruptive, but it also
expands our human capabilities, cures hitherto incurable conditions,
extends life spans. enlarges our consciousnesses --- and its challenges
lead us to create, adapt and innovate.
Third, nations and regions historically take turns in rising and falling.
Old Greece, Rome, Persia, China, India, Turkey, Spain, France and
Russia have had their turns and their empires. A small island nation,
Great Britain, created a global 19th century worldwide empire.
Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union briefly tried to dominate their
regions in the 20th century. China and India today dwarf all other
nations in population size, but their roles in the world will also
depend on innovation and non-industrial production --- activities
which smaller and creative nations can and do also successfully
Fourth, the recent weakness and failures in U.S. public education,
combined with their high and rising costs has provoked new
approaches and countermeasures. An education system is only as
good as the results it produces. Teaching and learning in the U.S.
are undergoing a transformation.
Fifth delays and unfairness that result from bureaucracies, public
and private corruption, and the endemic lack of public scrutiny are
now being increasingly contested by demands for new public
transparency in government and the private sector.
Sixth, many frequent emotional claims of inequalities ignore the f
act that the fundamental economic and social levels of the world
have risen dramatically in only a few generations. Deprivation,
starvation, violence, unemployment, lack of freedom, famines
and natural disasters still plague humanity, but the extreme
inequalities of the past are no longer viable, and are diminishing
globally (if unevenly).
In short, life in our time, as in all previous times, is a work in progress.
As always, it is hard work, no matter how many devices we create to
make it easier. Young generations, accustomed and conditioned to
current circumstances, generally don’t truly understand what previous
generations went through or struggled against. There are, of course,
no guarantees that some of what we worry about won’t occur., but if
we treat each day, good or bad, as a way forward, it is inevitably
better than only looking backward into what we think we fear.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.