We are in the third decade of the 21st century, yet most Americans continue to view it as just an extension of the last century. While there were lots of positive accomplishments in the 20th century, particularly in advances in technology and health care, let's not forget the horrors of two world wars, the development of nuclear weapons and the seemingly continuous conflicts that still exist. By contrast, at the turn of the previous century, most Americans felt positive about the new 20th century, and gladly bid farewell to a chaotic 19th century. Of course, at the beginning of the 20th century, Americans had Theodore Roosevelt…and we had George Bush...at the beginning of this century. Although Roosevelt was born in the 19th century, he was a 20th century man. One could argue that the events of 9/11 and the rise of violent ideologies perhaps stunted America's look forward. However, it's time to take a serious look at what conventions we want use to guide future decisions.
Don't Trust Anyone Over...
During the turmoil of the 1960's, a common phrase was "don't trust anyone over 30". Yes, a little idealistic and naive, but the concept is somewhat true. The people that created the conventions don't want them changed. So what are these conventions? The 20th century conventions include: government is defined by economic growth indicators, consumption is good and foreign entanglements are OK if they are defined (by the leaders) as a "national interest." So the question is, are these conventions still acceptable? Is unconstrained economic growth sustainable and at what cost to the planet's limited resources? Is unrestrained consumption of goods the only way we can sustain our economy? Is constant conflict in order to sustain these conventions worth it? Perhaps it's time to question whether these 20th century conventions are really what is important.
Is It Too Hard?
So what are the alternatives? After all, we are a capitalist nation, who's security and way of life depends on economic success. A start would be to analyze what industries contribute to that success and if they are sustainable. I would argue America's dependence on fossil fuel needs to change. It is a limited resource and that will not change. That industry needs to apply more energy towards renewable energy sources. Unnecessary consumption needs to be curtailed. Yes, it is true that there is a worldwide chain of people that depend on America's consumption of goods in order to make a living. But if the cost is slave labor like working conditions and further contribution to destroying the planet, is that worth it in the long run? We also need to challenge leadership when they insist on using the military as the only element of national power in a crisis. What do we have all these diplomats and advisors for if their first option when a problem arises is deploy the armed forces? A county that put a man on the moon…50 years ago…can surely apply some brainpower to address these 21st century challenges.
What Can We Do?
First, we need to challenge the political conventions and ensure our elected officials are 21st century thinkers. Don't be duped by those that preach we need "experienced" or "brilliant" elected leaders. Johnson and Nixon were arguably two of the most "experienced" presidential candidates ever, yet two of the worst presidents in history. They hired "geniuses" like Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk, who ended up being befuddled dopes. A democratic republic does not need these sorts of people. It needs leaders that are willing to challenge the current conventions and change them if beneficial in the long run. It will not be easy, but twenty years in to the current century, it's time to start.