When all has been said and done, the 20th century will be remembered as the century where humanity failed in its every respect. More people died in genocides, ideological wars, under the reigns of both capitalist and socialist tyrants, and of disease and hunger than ever before in recorded history. From the World Wars to Global Warming to the collapse of western democracies in the wake of rampant capitalism, the 20th century will be doomed to be remembered as the century of failure.
What none of us are old enough to remember is that even as it was becoming clear a global war that would engulf most of the populated world was on the horizon, the western world had intense optimism coming out of a bloody 18th century. The rational, literate, free thinking French and English and German and Japanese had freed themselves of the oppressive chains of the nobility and the church. No longer would Kings be ordained by the pope, no, the government would be the will of the people! Science had already solved just about every problem of the medieval world, including smallpox, and soon it was going to take us to other planets and onward into utopia. Clearly evolution had cumulated into this great entity, the industrial European/American, and these people took up the "White Man's Burden" and spread their so-called enlightened literate European democracies across the planet.
Then of course, everything fell to shit in Europe again, dragging all of the European colonies in Africa, Asia and South America into five years of freestyle slaughter. A spanish flu epidemic immediately filled the evolutionary niche that smallpox had previously occupied, and killed between 50-100 million people. The global market came to the natural end of its cycle and crashed, and overfarming created drought conditions across North America. Soon everyone started to doubt just how smart they thought they were. That could not do, so soon populist movements sprang up across the great enlightened nations of Europe and North America. Communists, Socialists, and Anarchists, my oh my! So of course, the frightened majority turned to the reactionary "blame-everyone-but-us"es, as human nature is so inclined to do, and thus Fascism, backed by industry, the media it owned and the ignorance of the masses, far too depressed with reality to actually pay attention, overtook numerous countries. And so humans had to go have another global war that dragged everyone into it.
You see, humans are primates. Because of this, our natural social behavior is to either appoint a leader of the pack, or follow one that more or less takes the roll. When more than one person wants that job, you have what is known as a power struggle. Most mammals do this in some manner or another. Our advanced transportation and communication technology allows us to now have tribes that could potentially span the globe, but still we use that technology to create the same social circles and societies we always have. We still pick "heroes" or "leaders" or "gods" or whatever you want to call them, instill our own values onto them and then expect them to solve all our problems for us. Our loyalty to this structure and the beauracracies it spawns oftentimes overrules our good judgement because, simply put, making serious decisions is quite often scary.
So, after another six years of freestyle slaughter, and the first known nuclear reactions - previously only known to occur on the surface of the sun -to have happened on the surface of the earth, we'd learned our lesson. As the Russian socialist dictators, pretending to be the people's guardian against the rich, and American somewhat democratically elected presidents, pretending to be the people's guardian against dictators and anti-human socialism, postured and boasted, both had reached a standstill. It is both a beautiful and a horrible thought to realize the greatest accomplishment of this century was that we managed to NOT nuke ourselves into oblivion.
However, we felt that we'd learned our lesson, and so rather than nuke the human race into extinction, the two new superpowers did as all superpowers have done in the past and assumed that they knew everything and started to meddle in everyone else's affairs, just as the European nations did in the lead-up to and the first part of the century. So the United States overthrew elected socialist governments and propped up corrupt, bloodthirsty dictators that would sell them cheap resources like oil and coal. The Soviet Union installed and supported Communist governments across the planet, which then almost always outlawed other political parties and killed or imprisoned any political dissidents.
Scientists of course continued to believe they were on the verge of something big. Men were walking on the moon. Plastics would soon make every natural fibre obsolete, oil would allow us all to drive Mustangs and Capitalism would lead us all to live like kings. Flu vaccinations would prevent any epidemic from ever occurring again. Polio was even looking like old news.
But all was not well in the two gems of civilization, and they both dealt with their problems remarkably similarly. Russia committed massive genocides on rebels in many of its satellite countries, and the United States assassinated numerous political figures involved in the civil rights movements, the hippie movements and anti-war movements.
Nations that were supposedly "freed" after we learned our lessons from world war 2 of course found themselves increasingly forced to choose a side or have a side chosen for them. From the 1950s to 2000 there were wars in almost every nation that had been brought "civilization" by the Europeans, and the western world immediately looked at them condescendingly and attempted to avoid any responsibility.
Near the end of the century the Soviet Union's top-heavy system had run itself out and it collapsed, ending a conflict of ideas. The western states grew smugger, even as Scientists realized that not only had they found something, they discovered we were creating our own destruction with the prosperity we thought we were having. But by this point no one believed the scientists anymore. The world was too depressing, so no one wanted to pay attention to it.
It was around this point that the United States decided it was the most enlightened, bad-ass and intelligent society around and that it ruled the planet. For the rest of the century and this day, close allies of the American way of life, including oligarchs of its former enemy Russia, would benefit from the globalized, americanized, civilized market thanks to such great inventions as the satellite and the internet, while in many countries water is privitized and taken from the people that rely on it to drink and bathe, and sold to people in stadiums half around the world. People now believe the scientists, though few seem especially eager to do something about it. Now, no one believes the leaders or the media, perhaps rightly so.
Today, oddly enough, the problems of the human race are remarkable similar to but far worse than before; global epidemics of cancer, malaria and AIDS are killing hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The planet is, according to both scientists examining weather patterns and shamans communing with spirits alike, about to open up a can of whoopass on us. We are facing a global water shortage in the wake of the global water market. The last president of the United States was not elected, and his foreign policy decisions will be influencing events for at least two decades. Fear of yet another genocide, this time in Sudan, is being met yet again with a blind eye from the global powers we have instilled with our lives.
Why does it seem we aren't really going anywhere except towards self created oblivion? Most humans today seem to recognize that society is fucked because most humans today cannot deal with reality in its entirety. Most people cannot consciously deal with the burden they now have thanks to a century of "enlightenment." So they don't bother.
Clearly we missed the mark on what being an enlightened society and an unenlightened society is. There were plenty of cultures that were doing just fine before Western Cultures went in and gave them "civilization."
The problem is in part the aforementioned natural social order. Because we are naturally hardwired to create these organizations, many of us will often believe an alpha male even if he is lying to us, and no amount of facts seem to be able to shake that loyalty. If we are unconscious of this natural reaction, we follow it without question. When we examine this reaction consciously, however, we often logically override it.
Few people who supported George W. Bush on his march to Baghdad will still stand by him now that its impossible to escape the fact that his whole reason for going was completely bogus from the start.
No one remembers Hitler the way Hitler wanted to be remembered.
But hindsight is always 20/20. How do we stop ourselves from fucking up history while its happening?
Most humans on the planet have managed to get a hold of the natural reactions of "Hot - Must Fuck Now" and "He insult me kill." While an enormous amount of literature and mythology exists to placate these instincts, the day to day of civilization is relatively peaceful. It is when the culture that placates these reactions collapse that they begin to quickly re-assert themselves. Perhaps this is an inevitable part of human nature.
But perhaps there's another answer, perhaps if we, as a people, come to realize that we are all equal, and that no powerful figure exist without the support of his followers, and that most people, when require to be so, are intelligent and reasonable people, perhaps we can create a society that replaces our traditional alpha-male of the pack society with something truly democratic.
This can only happen when each and every one of us is willing to rigourously examine ourselves. We need to teach ourselves to handle democracies properly with critical examination of the facts, not selecting our leaders on the mammalian politics of the past. We each need to understand how our emotions work, what they were designed for, how they play into modern society, and how we can control them to improve ourselves and not let them lead us on their own trails. Only then I think can we escape the madness we are currently in.
We have a nearly 6000 year record showing the results of a alpha-male dominated society. We have a 6000 year record showing the results of letting our emotions guide our decisions. We have a 6000 year recording showing both the genius of our brains and the follies that result when we choose to not use it.
I think the results of the experiment are pretty conclusive. Its time we tried a different experiment. But that has to begin with individuals like you and me. No government, corporation or public society can make us enlightened for us. You must learn who you are, and why.