by JD Adler…
Leaders of Ego
In the face of recent terror attacks in France, Pakistan, Libya and Nigeria, the fall of the Yemeni government, a thwarted attack in Belgium, continuous drone strikes in the Middle East and Africa, Russian incursions into the Ukraine and the never ending cycle of Israel/Palestine; one has to wonder about the people ordering all of this bloodshed. Imagine believing that it was your job to make the world better for democracy, or Islam, or whatever cause de celeb. Consider the arrogance required to believe that you know a) what is best for the world, b) how best to implement it, c) that you are the best person for the job, and possibly d) the creator of the universe has appointed you to the task. Our leaders and their leaders both believe this, and that’s why there is war between us. This is also why our leaders, and theirs, are willing to strip freedoms from their own people in pursuit of the cause. After all, if god has anointed you to fix the world, what means would not justify the end? Yet, from down here in the cheap seats, it seems like the battling egos of our collective leadership is the primary source of our problems. If not for men like Bush, Obama, Putin, Bin Laden, Khameini, Netanyahu, constantly trying to control the behavior of others, would the children of poor people even have wars to die in?
What is “Great”?
This New Year demarks two thousand and fifteen years into the Common Era, 200,000 years since the evolution of Homo sapiens, 4.5 + billion years since the birth of the Earth and Sun with another 5 billion years remaining till our solar system dies a spectacular, fiery, implosive death. Each human exists for roughly 100 of those years, playing host to trillions of microbial life forms all the while. No individual could be less significant against the landscape of space and time, yet ego drives civilization. Iraq was invaded for familial ego. The Hebedo newspaper massacre was about tribal ego. The World Trade Center, which was erected for ego, was brought down for no strategic purpose other than ego points. The mid-west militants don’t like being told what to do, so they bomb the Oklahoma federal building; ego. The federal government doesn’t like a religious group in Waco, TX successfully living off the grid, so they burn them down; ego.
Our leaders are inevitably people of tremendous ego. It takes more than simple confidence to see one’s self as the best person to run a nation or lead a divine crusade. History books teach us that the “great” figures of the past are those who conquered and built empires. When you think about those things most important to our lives: cures to disease, the toothbrush, anti-bacterial soap, refrigeration, asphalt for our roads, the ability to test water for contaminants; how many of these were provided by presidents, generals or martyrs? Everyone knows the name of Alexander the Great, but no one knows the name of the Greek engineer on Crete, most likely a slave, who invented indoor plumbing. Which of these people have a greater affect on you today? While the great conflagrations make sensational stories, we live longer and more comfortably because of scientists and inventors, not warriors and politicians. From our own time, who will affect the future most? Will it be the presidents and jihadists who lead our modern conflicts for philosophical control of the earth? Or perhaps the socialists and corporatists babbling at each other incessantly on TV? Or will it be the entrepreneurs working on solar panels and 3d printers, trying to make self-sufficiency and technology compatible ideas?
Just over 100 years ago, the first phone calls across the nation would be made, as well as the first wireless communication from a moving train to a platform. In 1900 the first international call would be made from Key West, USA to Havana, Cuba by John Atkins. The American steelworkers would successfully strike for the 8 hour work day we now know, May 1, 1886. The early 1900’s also saw the sinking of the Lusitania, which ultimately brought America into WW1. In Russia, the Czar’s efforts to control his people would eventually result in his regime falling to the Communists a few years later. Less than a century later that Soviet empire would collapse just as the internet and World Wide Web were being released as a result of the work of scientists at CERN and DARPA. Today, which of these events most affects you? Which do you believe was of greater concern at the time?
200 years ago, the first steam powered train was invented by George Stephenson and the steam powered, cylinder press was invented by Fredrich Koening. The cylinder press not only automated printing, but also allowed for printing different information on both sides of a piece of paper simultaneously. This directly led to the growth of newspapers and novels and a significant increase in public literacy rates. At the same time, Napolean retook and re-lost France, and General (eventually President) Andrew Jackson won the final battle of the War of 1812 (after the war was already over) in New Orleans. Everyone knows the names of Napolean and Jackson, but few are aware of Koening or his invention. Yet who really has a more direct impact on your life today?
Doomed to Repeat?
The great debates in our nation now are over who will run for president next, and whether Islam is a peaceful religion or not. At the same time, satellites allow smart phone access in third world nations to free university classes online. Inventors are developing 3-D printing, green energy tech, de-salination systems, and crowd funding networks are opening doors of opportunity outside the corporate monoliths. 100 years from today, will it be Clinton v Bush or some new invention that has changed the world? The history books will denote the Terror Wars and the egotistical personae responsible for killing thousands and altering maps. For the people reading those histories, will that really be our most important legacy?
Perhaps it is time to reconsider what we label “great”. Is conquering and controlling others really something to be praised in history books? Should it be Alexander the Great or Tesla the Great? Maybe we should remember Stephenson for inventing the train rather than Mussolini for making them run on time. When presidents and Imams call us to do battle to benefit their power base, perhaps we should dismiss them in favor of those who actually improve human society.