Humanist Perspectives: issue 172: Asimov's Next Revolution

Asimov's Next Revolution
by Yves Saint-Pierre

I remember, back in 1979, in the context of Einstein’s one-hundredth anniversary, the famous, brilliant scientist and prolific science writer, Isaac Asimov, long-time vice-president of Mensa International and, incidentally, president of the American Humanist Association, was being interviewed on the radio. To be honest, the only thing I remember about that interview, because it really struck me, is the last question: “Einstein’s work revolutionized the world of physics. In what area of human endeavour do you think the next revolution will occur?” He gave a one word answer and the interview was over. He said: “Economics”.
Later, in the Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney period, I observed a significant and widespread change in the socio/political/economic agenda. Fiscal responsibility and paying down the national debt became a priority. Now it had never been a campaign issue, nor was it part of the mandate given to Mulroney by the people he served. Shortly thereafter I came to realize that this thrust was driven by the unelected, privileged men at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, not by the tax-paying electorate of the countries in which it was applied. And when Mulroney rammed through the F.T.A., in spite of wide-spread and very vocal opposition and in direct violation of a pre-election promise not to do so, I began to understand. And later, when I saw that education and health care and the prison system were on the agenda of the N.A.F.T.A talks, it became clearer. What better way to make the private option attractive than to starve these state funded services of public monies, and what better way to do that than to suck all available monies into debt repayment and the balancing of accounts. All of this went under the guise of fiscal responsibility and all of it was being driven by the I.M.F. and the W.B.
Capital drives and controls every area of human activity in much the same way the Medieval Church did in Europe and with much the same disdain for the plight of the common man.
I don’t want to stray too far out of my comfort zone. I am not an economist. But I don’t think anyone can quarrel with what has been said so far. I recall these events simply to establish how I became aware of what, by now, should be absolutely obvious to anyone paying the least bit of attention. The real power in the world today is the power of capital. It drives and controls every area of human activity in much the same way the Medieval Church did in Europe, and with much the same disdain for the plight of the common man. It lies behind the foreign and domestic policies of practically every government in the world. And it is driven by one imperative alone, to increase the immediate profits of the small minority of extremely rich men in the interest of whom the entire economic edifice of the world now operates. This is neither paranoia nor conspiracy theory. Look around you carefully. Read some of the position and policy papers of the W.B., the I.M.F., the W.T.O. the O.E.C.D. available on line. Consider what lies behind the verbiage and the pretence. It doesn’t take a genius.
I have no idea what Asimov was thinking when he made that remark in 1979. But what seems absolutely obvious to me is that until global economics are made to rest first and foremost on one standard, on the sustainable health of earth’s soil, water and air, we have got it mostly wrong. And I know, as well, that the nature of power and the power of capital are such that a radical change over to that standard will not occur without a revolution on a massive scale. Our best hope is that it occur rapidly and peacefully as a result of a global change of consciousness. There are encouraging advances on that front daily. But I fear that such a huge change is unlikely to occur peacefully at the speed that most environmental science warns us is needed to avert disaster. I fear it may occur only in the wake of catastrophes and conflicts of unimaginable proportions. For the sake of our children and grand-children, it is incumbent on us to do everything in our power to avoid that.
And we do have leverage. It lies in this: while, de facto, sovereign states and their representatives retain only risible vestiges of power, they remain essential as masks for the real power. They can not be exposed as being devoid of all sovereignty without discrediting the real organs of power. In order to keep operating effectively, the organizations mentioned above must appear to be respectful of international law, benevolent and measured in their attitudes and actions. For these reasons we can and must apply pressure and the pressure we apply may have an effect. Think of Seattle. I feel viscerally and strongly that the only significant responsibility endemic to us humans is respectful stewardship of the earth we tend for our children. Such respectful stewardship can not be driven by the capitalist imperative. The time to take action is now. The young and energetic would do well to look into and to join the most effective and creditable group in their area opposed to capitalist-driven globalization. Dramatic and vociferous demonstrations have an impact. That is a proven fact. And all of us can use the “pen”. And we should. The Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment are employed and paid by you and they work for you (or must appear to). Demand accountability. At Copenhagen Canada was persistently obstructionist. Demand to know on what science this position was based. These people were acting on your behalf; it is your right to know.
…until global economics are made to rest …on one standard, on the sustainability of earth’s soil, water and air, we have got it mostly wrong.
While I advocate action, I confess I often feel hopeless. The rapacious greed that fuels the progress of capitalism is supported by the most powerful institutions and the most powerful military in the world. But the courageous philosophers, scientists and artists of the Renaissance struggled against what was, at the time, equally entrenched opposition. Yet within a relatively short period they were able to shake off the shackles of a universally oppressive church. And philosophy and science were once again able to flourish. It took the sustained courage of countless independent and responsible people guided by the light of free thought and human self-respect. Those forces are needed again, more now than ever before. The health of earth and the future of humankind are at stake. Nothing less.
My hopelessness is also alleviated by placing things in perspective, particularly our absurd arrogance. This tiny planet of ours had been circling that star in the far reaches of that galaxy in the unimaginably vast universe for billions of years before evolution spawned our bizarre species. And for well over ninety percent of the short time we have been here we were hunter/gatherers with no concept of money. And I would further like to remind the financier, in his tower, and the general, in his war room, that ever since we evolved we have breathed, eaten, drunk, defecated and fornicated in much the same way. We have danced, laughed, suffered, cried and most of us have died and all of us will. And each of us was born of a mother whose mother is Earth. So, gentlemen, screw you and hello.
By the measures evoked in the previous paragraph, my life is absurdly insignificant, but its insignificance is matched only by its consequence. It is my one chance to be an integrated earthling. In that bond with earth, at once individual, collective and universal, is the only sacredness I can sense and recognize. Like religion, capitalist economics tends to trivialize when it doesn’t vilify the sacredness of my humanity, the sacredness of life. So, yes, let me echo the prescient Asimov and say vehemently, the next revolution…“economics”.
In this issue, we offer something of a mixed bag. Mehra Furminger explores the complexities of forging an identity for a mixed race Canadian woman. Susan Frome looks into the influence of Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle on Emerson and Thoreau. Dr. Khalid Sohail considers Darwin from the perspective of his conflict with his beloved wife over the issue of religious faith. Morgan Duchesney, long time martial arts practitioner, looks into the humanistic benefits of martial arts discipline and practice. Goldwin Emerson who offered us a reflective piece on science and morality in the last issue continues his exploration of the question, this time addressing the roots of morality.
We also introduce the Featured Letter. Not quite a feature article but more than a regular letter, the Featured Letter provides an additional forum for reader responses to issues raised in the magazine, or simply for opinion on issues of interest to our readers. We are pleased to introduce this new feature with an interesting letter from new reader Chuck Shamata. Many of you will have recognized in Chuck Shamata the name of one of Canada’s finest and most beloved actors of stage, television and film. Also a producer and screen writer, Chuck Shamata reveals himself as a thoughtful and entertaining writer on the subject of humanism.
We also include an external document. In the interest of keeping our readers updated on happenings in the non-theist world as they come to our attention, we include the manifesto of a new atheist group. David Rand, a founding member and signatory provides an introduction. The environmental theme is picked up again in the very amusing satirical piece, Lawn Care, found and sent in by reader Dan Morrison. It’s not easy to get a laugh from environmental issues these days.
I hope you find much here to inform, enlighten and entertain you. As usual, we look forward to your responses and suggestions.
—Yves Saint-Pierre