I have the feeling that the changes that are taking place in my own life keep galloping ahead in the same way that the world is changing. On the one hand, I feel such a small part of our globalized world, and at the same time as I listen to the world news, it feels like a mirror of my own life these days.
As I’m studying political and economic events, I’ve realized that the world has gone through fundamental changes like this before. And it’s not going to stop. It isn’t just the industrial revolution that was so revolutionary. There are events like this as far back as we can see. The Black Death killed somewhere between 30 and 50% of the population. By the time it had subsided, people had lost their faith in the promises of religious leaders and the political power of the Roman Church had been profoundly undermined, eventually reduced to a small country we now call “The Vatican.” And because workers were now at a premium, serfs were freed from their economic slavery, able instead to offer their services to whomever paid them the most. That might have meant freedom, but it was also a loss of security that people had relied on for centuries. Then the confirmation that earth could be circumnavigated changed trade, and introduced a new kind of serfdom, slavery in which people were shipped like bags of coal dumped into the bowels of ships.
Today we are entering into mega-changes brought about by two forces. The first is not, as Trump thinks, the destructiveness of global trade. The movement of multi-national countries returning to their home bases began some years ago. Companies are discovering that with new technological developments, companies that are selling what they produce in their countries of residence are more productive. The force that is going to change things so drastically around the world is technological creativity, not international trade.
Widespread electricity isn’t a century old, neither is the car, but most of us take these changes as old hat. Even the internet feels utterly familiar to millions of people. But the changes that technological developments are going to continue to bring about in the work place and even in our home lives are going to continue to race ahead. The unemployed factory workers of today aren’t going to get their jobs back. But even people who are employed today are going to find that if they don’t keep learning all their lives, they are also going to be in the same unemployable position before they are ready to retire.. Work is changing and it is going to continue to do so at increasing pace.
The second force that is going to change our lives for the foreseeable future is climate change. It won’t go away just because Trump says he doesn’t believe in it. Droughts, floods, temperature changes, rising sea levels, storms are going to bring about changes in the kinds and places where we can produce our food, in the kind of houses we can live in, in our water sources, even where human habitation is possible.
None of us is going to live long enough to see these forces through to their finish.
My own hope is that somehow our creativity will outstrip our ignorance, and that our love for our fellow man will outstrip our impulse to pick up our toys and go home and slam the door.