A Capital Idea Part 138: The Future is Here; How is it Looking?
I have started wondering how our current situation would look to "The Founding Fathers" of the United States. I believe they would be astonished by the technological progress that humanity has made, by the increases in life expectancy and world population, by the amount and variety of both necessities such as food available as well as high tech products and "luxury items" available to consumers. As future oriented as they might have been, and as imaginative as they might have been, it is doubtful that such products as telephones, radio, television and computers would have entered their thought processes. Sure, they probably dreamed of horseless carriages and even flying machines, because they already had horse-drawn carriages and they knew about things that flew through the air, such as birds. But they probably knew little if anything, about the amazing, invisible information carrying waves of energy which permeate our world -- and the entire universe -- or about electrons dashing along metal wires carrying detailed information. We take these things for granted, these forms of energy which make telephones, radio, television, computers and the internet possible, but these all exist in a realm of phenomena which our senses are unequipped to detect. Yet, scientists were eventually able to detect them indirectly using instruments, and learn about how they work. In fact, even our brains' activities send electromagnetic signals into our environment.
Thus, a future they almost certainly never imagined is here. Equally a reality, is a social, cultural and political future that "The Founding Fathers" almost certainly never imagined. I will concentrate mostly on the political realities that "The Founding Fathers" might perceive if they could be transported to the present. In contrast to the wonders of modern technology, I suppose "The Founding Fathers" would find a mixture of progress, stagnation and even regression in the political/economic realm. In terms of social issues, they would find great political progress. No longer are people sold on the open market, no longer are women or minorities denied the right to vote. There are minimum wages and minimum ages for workers, and some safety oriented regulations. Frankly, some of the sociopolitical changes that have taken place might not only startle "The Founding Fathers" but given the ethos of the times, many of them might be disturbed by the equal rights being given to all human beings. But that's progress. People are in large part, products of their times. Culturally, "The Founding Fathers" might find some of our current "free to do as you wish" (especially when it is adolescents doing it) and "melting pot" trends not only startling but perturbing as well. No doubt, for the most part, they viewed a proper society as more restrained and constrained in behavior than what our society has become. Many of them probably would object to the racial intermixing that has been occuring, too. As far as "freedom" is concerned, freedom is good, but it needs to be tempered with self-discipline. The "Melting Pot" of cultures and intermarriages, not only is inevitable in modern society, but it is progress as well.
However, in the economic realm, "The Founding Fathers" would be rightly perturbed. They would note, I think, the rise of corporations and de facto, if not actual, monopolies. More disturbingly, they would be alarmed by the rise of corporate power in government, not only nationally, but globally. Now, every adult citizen in good standing can vote, but what good is that if corporations are running the show? "The Founding Fathers" would most likely be wondering what has happened to our democracy. Not only the rise of corporatism would be a great disappointment to them, but also the relative stultification of the political process itself. There are still differences among politicians and political parties -- important ones, to be sure -- and democracy still lives, but in many ways, the similarities outweigh the differences in ways that the public does not necessarily consent to. Of course, agreement on general principles that serve the democracy is good, such as holding regular elections, but agreeing that money or global military power is more important than the public welfare, are horrible ideas which have come to fruition.
I am sure that "The Founding Fathers" would be happy the the United States still exists and in fact, has thrived, but I doubt they would care an iota about their nation's military might, and in fact, would probably be greatly upset at its military conquests and its global military empire. This is not the America that I suppose the likes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Benjamin Franklin had imagined. For that matter, they would probably be very disappointed in the continued occurence of wars in the world, and the escalation of their destructiveness, as they would find the carnage of the Civil War, and the two World Wars appalling, as well as the numerous genocides which have taken place since their time, and no doubt, they would find the United States' role in the carnage, disturbing. They would also note the role of the American military-industrial complex in the process. In fact, war if anything (as groups which study such things have noted), have become less common as humanity has evolved, but there are differences in the types of conflicts that humans now engage in, compared to the time of "The Founding Fathers." One difference is the corporate profit motive, as corporate war profiteers exploit potential conflict in order to translate conflict into profit. Thus, as long as the military-industrial complex remains active, they will continue to stoke the flames of international or civil conflict, stunting humanity's drive toward self-actualization. Second, the weapons and potential weapons have become far more powerful, more deadly, more impersonal and anonymous, and more indiscriminate as murderers of human beings. Also, power differentials between nations or between peoples have increased exponentially. It used to be that although people with better technologies had a military advantage, that advantage could be largely offset. Guns are more effective killers than are bows and arrows, but "primitive" peoples armed with simpler weapons could still defeat those with superior weapons oftentimes. Such is not the case anymore, sparking a global arms race and the absurd lengths the United States goes to, in order to keep its weapons advantage over all other nations -- an advantage which is destined to be short-lived, from a historical perspective. How long do you think we can get away with dropping bombs from drones on foreigners, hoping to kill somebody our government doesn't like, but probably killing innocent families instead? How long will it be until we have to worry about bomb-dropping drones over the skies of the United States, if we fail to repudiate such policies? But I digress.
The larger point is that I think "The Founding Fathers" would find progess in most areas, even if it was not what they had expected or even hoped for, but in terms of economic justice and representative democracy, they would appalled by not only the lack of progress, but even the regression toward a sort of global feudalism run by a small cadre of wealthy individuals, with the nation they founded leading the way toward corporate control. They would also be appalled by the continuation or even increase in real poverty (lack of sufficient resources to take care of even basic needs) even alongside the splendors of wealth and technology available to some. This is not what the children of the enlightenment would have wished for the world. We can, and must, do better, a fact that more and more people around the world are realizing.