photo credit: iStock.com/skodonnell
Exactly one year ago, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech to the United Nations office in Geneva, entitled, Work Together to Build a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind. It was collective in its vision: “China is ready to work with all the other UN member states as well as international organizations and agencies to advance the great cause of building a community with a shared future for mankind.” And it was long term in its perspective: “Building a community with a shared future is an exciting goal, and it requires efforts from generation after generation.” The sentiment would later be enshrined in a formal resolution at the 55th UN Commission for Social Development, as “a human community with shared destiny”
Jump ahead one year to January 26, 2018, and United States President Donald Trump spoke to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at its annual conference of the heaviest of the heavy hitters in global politics and business. The man elected on the simple platform of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA), like Xi Jinping before him, delivered his vision for the future of the world.
Trump opened with the warning that “I’m here to represent the interests of the American people…” And, as expected, most of the speech was devoted to his personal contribution to “helping every American find their path to the American dream.” Specifically he spoke to the surging stock market, job creation, small business confidence, deregulation, and, of course, “…the most significant tax cuts and reform in American history.” (Which, on a side note, is not true.) As you would expect from the MAGA president, it was all about America, and, not surprisingly, him. After all, MAGA has everything to do with individuals, he being the biggest and most powerful “I” among them, and almost nothing to do with “human community,” as President Xi described it.
Trump’s would have been the perfect speech had it been delivered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fellow Republican, in the 1950s. It would have been even more appropriate, in fact, given Eisenhower’s military fame, and the fact that the only references Trump made to the US’ role in the world had to do with our self-appointed role as the world’s policeman, and “making historic investments in the American military”, already the world’s largest, costing $1,900 per year for every man, woman, and child in America, at a time when 80 million Americans have little or no health insurance.
Other accomplishments noted by Trump were “eliminating 22 burdensome regulations for every new one,” “…no longer turning a blind eye to unfair economic practices overseas,” and “lifting self-imposed restrictions on energy production,” even though all restrictions are self-imposed and according to the laws of the universe energy is not produced, but merely transformed (and thus fixed in quantity). And, of course, insuring that all nations “contribute their fair share” to the cost of the American agenda.
All told, Trump’s individualist agenda was summed up by this simple claim: “When the United States grows, so does the world.” Perhaps unconsciously, it was the exact same sentiment that Charles Wilson (1890-1961), the CEO of General Motors, made during his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower. When asked about a potential conflict of interest between the interests of the US and GM, he is rumored to have said, “What is good for GM is good for the country.”
The world of today, however, is not the world of the 1950s. The world’s population has expanded three fold, from 2.5 billion people at the end of World War II to 7.5 billion people today, even thought the world’s land mass and its inherent ability to sustain life have not changed at all. As a result, the earth’s climate is changing, in less than desirable ways, and clean air and clean water are among the world’s most precious resources, and disappearing fast.
Technology has made the world smaller and virtually eliminated the concept of local communication and debate. Information flows to a far wider audience but is transmitted by global super-monopolies like Facebook and Google, who rule the world by algorithms that are developed with their own inevitable bias but remain virtually unregulated.
In short, this is not the 1950s. And any desire to turn back the world clock in search of that era is sure to fail. People and technology cannot simply be put back in the bottle. That would require the type of totalitarian dystopia that Orwell wrote about and the Great Generation had just sacrificed countless lives to vanquish.
The U.S. Constitution, one of the most famous documents in global political history, begins with the words, “We the people.” Yet it is “Me the individual,” that Donald Trump embodies and best represents the America of 2018. My identity, my rights, my tax cut, my income, my freedom—whether it’s my freedom to own assault weapons or my freedom to marry who I like—are at the heart of both the conservative and liberal political agendas.
The conservatives want to pull the rest of us along through individual exceptionalism. The progressives want to push us along through the acceptance and inclusion of all micro-group identity. Neither, however, will work, because both are built on the notion of an individualized world that simply doesn’t exist any more. Both would have been legitimate competing worldviews in the 1950s. Both are obsolete today.
Whether we want it or not, we will face the “shared future” that President Xi Jinping referenced more than one year ago. We will not have the option to choose who will be a part of that community. We all will. Whether you are a Dreamer, a Tea Party supporter, a member of the Rainbow Coalition, a misogynist or a feminist, a white supremacist or a believer that Black Lives Matter, will not matter in the end. We will be forced to live as a single, global community, consuming resources that are fixed by the laws of the universe.
We really only have two choices: 1. We can kill each other. (Or die trying.) 2. We can turn “Me” into “We.”
We have, of course, been here before. Eisenhower and the Great Generation faced the very same dilemma. And, unfortunately, following the great tragedy of World War I and the even greater human tragedy that followed, as the victors sought revenge on the losers, the “we” side of the option ultimately morphed into brutal forms of fascism and communism. They, in turn, gave us the Nazis, the Holocaust, the gulags of the Soviet Union, and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge.
As a result, many of today’s most ardent individualists believe that any form of collectivism is, as the 20th Century seemed to show, inherently flawed and will only lead to brutal totalitarianism. That, however, is simply not true.
More importantly, however, it doesn’t matter if it is or not. Whatever form of individualism we pursue, the elite, however that is defined, will be forced to squash the many in the fight for limited resources. One percent of the world’s population already controls more than half of the world’s wealth. What will happen when it controls 90%? (And it will, if nothing changes.)
What will happen, in contrast, if the coalition of oppressed micro-identities overthrows the oppressors? All will be well, of course, if the former oppressors all accept a new micro-identity. But what if they don’t? And what about human psychology suggests that they will?
We may not agree with Presdient Xi Jinping’s politics. We can’t, however, plausibly deny his vision of a shared future. An economically and militarily elite America will not and can not pull the world along. A progressively elite America, even if elected, and even if it is truly inclusive, cannot push the world along.
We’re not in Kansas anymore. And the sooner we realize that the less pain we will be forced to endure.
Note: Author Gary Moreau was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader for Tomorrow in its inaugural class of 1993.
You may contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com
Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks
Summary for We, Ourselves, and Us:
In this new guide to American politics and economics, Gary Moreau wants to turn the “I” into “We.” As he argues in We, Ourselves, and Us, Americans’ cultural sense of individualism is hindering rather than helping the country. Moreau instead argues for a change to political, economic, and social systems to refocus them on the collective good. As he proposes this important change, Moreau argues that
- both major political parties are offering ineffective solutions to the problem,
- the model America was based on is no longer realistic for a modern society,
- both communism and socialism fail because they are still based on the idea of individuality,
- the unequal flow of power is responsible for a prejudiced and unbalanced society,
- the concepts of obligation and self-interest are intrinsically connected,
- individual advancement means nothing without collective advancement, and
- all of society is interconnected in nuanced and important ways.
Moreau does not equate collectivism with communism or other political movements. He isn’t arguing for the elimination of private property or other drastic changes. Instead, he simply gives you a new way of viewing systems of power and important suggestions that could lead to satisfactory results for the entire nation.