On this Independence Day, I'm thinking of the birth of our nation. Not a peaceful enterprise. So what?
We were having a nice conversation -- you know -- the kind that stimulate thinking, beget opinions and reactions, and possibly even amplify voices. As my father once asked of my mother and me, "would you please stop arguing?"; to which we both replied in unison, "we're NOT arguing!" Anyway ...
So my brother-in-law posited that increased global communications would inherently bring about greater conflict. I challenged by suggesting the opposite -- increased multi-cultural exchange of views, presented by the people rather than by institutions, could actually reduce conflict by wearing-down our parent's (and societies') stereotypes and prejudices.
Upon reflection, I believe it was only a semantic argument. And here is why. What the internet brings to the 21st century seems to me to be as influential as oceanic steam ships and intercontinental jet planes to world travel; as revolutionary as Johannes Gutenberg's printing press to mass communication; and as transformational as the transistor and ultimately the PC on which you are reading this blog. What that translates into is Change, with a capitol "C". The internet provides the means (which of course can be exploited or denied) to give voice to individuals all over the globe. True, it represents only the developed, interconnected world, but surely this is orders of magnitudes larger than each of us practically had available before hand. And an extremely diverse set at that. And those nations, tribes, peoples that do not have access, will likely be given at least an occasional voice, or at least a distant whisper, by those that do.
So what of change and conflict? Charles Darwin said,
"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."It seems to me that what the internet, and global communications in general, really brings to our species in the 21st century is Change. And taking the long view, evolution's "interest" in this change is our adaptability. If we adapt to this change, we may survive to evolve further. If we do not, we may extinguish this flame. But my point is not apocalyptic.
I believe there will be increased understanding, and the growth that naturally follows from exposure to different ideas and new information. AND, I think there will be conflict from those that cannot -- or really choose not -- to adapt, and try with all of their might to interrupt our slow, steady, increased planetary integration. Because that is what is really underway, is it not? The world is getting smaller and smaller by all measures. Fewer resources (and more people). Exposure to cultural differences developed over millennia -- instantaneously. And in some, perhaps very few, a growing awareness of the only constant when seen from above (or within): Change.
So will there be conflict? Yes, indeed there will be. Because some of us will choose to embrace this change, and others will (literally) choose to fight it. Is that good/bad, right/wrong, just/unfair? You know -- it is none of those judgments. It just is.
So expect (continued) conflict as the world adapts (or not) to the continual change, amplified by noteworthy advancements like the internet. You may be asked (or feel the need) to take up arms (physically or mentally) to defend this new reality from forces that wish to deny it. Can conflict be avoided all together? I doubt it. I think that is Life. I think that is Evolution. I think that is Reality.
Is there another way? I think there are many ways -- Christ showed one, Gandhi showed another, as did MLK. You cannot deny there was conflict there -- but that does not imply that violence is the only answer. However, do not be too sanguine -- consider their personal outcomes. And of course there was Buddha and Lao Tzu. So beliefs and behavior in the face of change have been modeled for or explained to us.
So what of this reflection on change and conflict? Only this: that both will surely continue. The more we take advantage of this change (global communications), the more we can adapt as a species to a more integral view of life. In the end that may reduce conflict, but that will require that we take the long view. In the mean-time, do not be discouraged by conflict. Accept it as reality, and decide how you will deal with it. Wishing it away will not help. Believing it can be forever avoided, or willed away, will only result in a fool's paradise. So embrace the change, and begin to adapt.