"We'll never live to see it" is a common pronouncement. It's a kind of surrender. We spout that while pondering ideas for change - ideas too ambitious for the reality at hand.
When I was younger, I naively saw this world as a place that would get better and better because of the unstoppable march of progress with the help of enlightened thinking and a public will to work toward righting wrongs.
Part of that thinking had to do with the United States of America, which I regarded as the good-intentioned agent that would ably direct the planetary change: end hunger, clean up the world's pollution, make education possible for all, foster basic health for every human and spread democracy by example.
Certainly, some of that came from school textbooks that defined the American experience as the golden march of civilized man toward manifest destiny. Never mind slavery, the vanquishing of American Indians, the greed of robber barons in industry and deeply flawed, cunning political leaders in every generation. With the collapse of most of the communist bloc almost 20 years ago, we heard talk of unstoppable advancements and resources freed up to fulfill ancient dreams for Planet Earth. Instead, it allowed new despots to emerge and menace. Unfettered capitalists gained political favors to divide up the world's resources on land and sea.
But surely God, with more than 90 percent of people believing in him, would guide all his religions to collaboratively bring about order and peace, we believed.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in the heady days of the late 1960s, I thought I was an agent for transforming the world for democracy and the self-realization of people. A nasty dictator dominated Paraguay at the time and so much of his human rights violations were excused because he, at least, was a bulwark against communists.
Sometimes, as I watch church friends, especially, advance into their last years and months, I wonder: At what point do they intentionally or unintentionally let go of wondering about what will happen when they're gone: Who'll be the next president? Will that war ever end? What will the world be like for their great-grandchildren, given the unstoppable forces of war, disease, economic chaos and a climate collapse? Typically, these senior citizens' slide into indifference is gradual. For many, health crises divert them from matters of the world, and the fog of dementia encroaches. We see former ardent and fierce champions of thought and reform reduced to senescence. One more fighter for the cause is gone from the ranks.
So much has been written of the paralysis of government. Polarization equals gridlock. We are aghast how policy makers can wantonly spend when existing debt is already in the trillions. We precariously make China our banker and consumer goods producer and hope, at great risk, that this communist holdout will come around in treating humans with basic dignity.
At 62, I am amazed at how many times I have come to realize how much won't change in my remaining years on this Earth. "I'll never live to see it" has become part of my thinking, too.
It is as if I have given up, or that my idealism has been compromised, or that I have lost confidence in what we can - or will - do. Much of it, of course, is a much better understanding of human vices, especially the ruthlessness that comes to those with power and money. Politicians especially have both. It's that way across the world. Corporate interests have so permeated the public agenda, as well. They seem in a headlong quest to harvest all they can, right now, before the market turns on them.
Things have gotten so increasingly out of balance. The wealthy and powerful are having their way in all sectors of life. So it's difficult to see the nation's and world's lower and middle classes ever having a chance. My pessimism grows with the mantra of the security-at-all cost crowd. Civil liberties and freedoms no longer seem worth protecting by those who seemingly once championed individual rights and self-determination.
A great tragedy has been how the fear-of-terrorism drumbeat has so perfectly silenced so many. This week, a longtime friend sent me his favorite bumper stickers and emphasized the one quoting Ben Franklin, "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither." My friend is nearly 70 years old and graduated from the Air Force Academy in its earliest years. He ended the e-mail sharing this litany of woe: "The massive debt, the weak dollar, high oil prices, a war that can't be won, no respect from either our allies or our enemies and extremely low confidence by the consumer and voting public."
Global warming seems to be leading us to a tipping point of no return. Even with the steady cadence of the chipping away at our rights and liberties there is little public protest. Big media, with its pundits and stables of "experts" with thinly veiled agendas, incessantly "analyze" each day's campaign trail statements and misstatements. Keeping turmoil and controversies going days and weeks with headlines like the Barack Obama "pastor flap" are supposed to be regarded as promoting a robust debate in the public arena. Free elections are in jeopardy because of the high stakes of politics. Powerfully revealing books exposing the treachery roll off the presses weekly, but with minor impact.
I wish I could say people of faith, through prayer and trust in God, won't let the bad happen. But I fear we have become too divided to willingly discuss together the common great threats of tyranny and to act.
In the 1950s, I imagined fleeing from nuclear war - or being drafted into the Army - by finding some kind of refuge in northern Canada. During the Vietnam War, I was drafted and did my two years of Army service and was trained for Vietnam infantry duty. But Uncle Sam discovered my typing skills were needed more. So, for the rest of my two years, I pushed paper for the mindless war effort like Radar in "M*A*S*H."
I imagine my being 70 or 80 or 90. I wish I could believe we can turn things around. At what point does the heart give up one's personal hope and quest for resolution of the daily madness?