Fabled Facts for the Future

E. D. Hirsch Jr and others have bemoaned the lack of a common framework of American culture. Up until about fifty years ago, everyone knew all the stories in the Bible, Aesop's fables, and much ado about Shakespeare. This shared wisdom provided a common ground for social discourse and easy ways to make allusions to known truths through common stories: Slow and steady wins the race. Beware the serpent. Those are sour grapes.

Books such as The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy have correctly identified a serious occurrence -- the dying of a common American/Western European culture. Unfortunately, their efforts at reviving, with modifications, the older cultural model is doomed to failure. Fortunately, failure in this case is actually progress.

Nationalism is dying across the globe. In its death throes, various wars are being fought, but eventually nations will both unite into a common world government and dissolve into various complementary subcultures based on geography, natural resources, and indigenous biology instead of the traditional basis of hatred of a common enemy.

For those who fear a world government, I say, "Too bad." We've had partial world government since 1493 when Pope Alexander VI split South America between the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors. We have taken faltering steps toward a true world government with grand alliances, the League of Nations, and finally the United Nations. Eventually, we'll get it right.

For those who think a world government will solve our problems, I say, "Don't get your hopes up." Government, even that by dictators, kings, and czars, is always done with the consent of a large segment of citizens. If we can't solve our own problems individually, then no government will solve them collectively. Even if we quit warring amongst ourselves, we will still have to avoid destruction of the earth through overpopulation (which causes pollution, death of biota, and scarcity of resources). And we will have to keep an eye on the government to ensure it doesn't get arrogant and powerful. To paraphrase Wendell Phillips and John Philpot Curran, the price of good government, like the price of liberty, is eternal vigilance.

The new government is going to arise out of the new culture. Many people think there will be no common culture anymore. Although the Bible is a holy book for four major religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha'i Faith, that still only covers perhaps one-half of the population. And despite the popularity of television, even Baywatch is only seen by one billion people each week, just one-sixth of humanity. This comes as great relief to pundits who worry about forming a world culture based on soap operas and sitcoms. And although the web is worldwide, it fosters miniclusters of common interests for a single individual facing a monitor, not global concepts useful when discussing concepts with other humans wherever they may be. But something my daughter said a few days ago made me realize that the new culture will be based on science.

She made an allusion to her brother already being seven years old when he was pretending to be a one-year-old dog. At the age of six, she knows about dog years and can make analogies and jokes using this bit of knowledge. She also knows about the spectra of light, a concept that is amazing in its breadth of variation across a single unity. As she learns more about science, she'll be able to allude to other concepts, how cultural standards are relative depending on where you sit, but some things are absolute standards like the speed of light. And her thinking patterns, parables, and stories will evolve (another highly advanced concept known across the world thanks to Darwin). Science will provide the basis of our common understanding of each other. But we will have to rely on each other to provide the humanity that pure science lacks.