What's holding mankind back? Let me count some of the ways.
To all apparent purposes, evolution is a very slow process. Yet, mankind has evolved with lightning rapidity in the past twenty thousand years, not so much biologically as socially and technologically. Man has gone from cave to skyscraper, hunter-gatherer to consumer of processed foods, from small tribes to huge concentrations in cities and nations. Men have walked on the moon and are now planning to harvest asteroids. Yet, mankind still has immense problems: war, politics, unemployment, poverty . . . heck, you know what they are if you’re human (if not human, you shouldn’t be reading this.) The purpose of this incredibly intellectual paragraph is to set the stage for the big question:
Can mankind evolve a stable, peaceful, and prosperous society? My answer is, and I’ll bet yours too, is: not anytime soon. So a better question is: what’s holding us back?
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but I’ll list a few features of mankind that I believe put the brakes on progress.
Tribalism: This is a big one. Tribes are particularly important to Arabs. The overall conflict between Sunni and Shia drives much of the strife in the Middle East. These are just major groups, there are actually dozens of tribes listed in Iraq alone: Arab Tribes in Iraq.
While Westerners no longer classify themselves into tribes, we have groups that act in a tribal fashion, based on such things as political and religious beliefs, ethnicity, geography or political entity. Tribes work on the principle of “screw you, we want ours.”
The political spectrum: There are several spectra: communist to libertarian; government control to personal freedom; nanny state to self-reliance; controlled economy to unregulated capitalism. The Left favors the first named of the above, the Right the second named. The Left is always trying to move society to the Left, and the Right does the opposite.
The religious spectrum: Is there a God, or isn’t there? Is His name Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, or something else? What book did He inspire: Koran, Holy Bible, Other, or none? If you are Christian, should you be Catholic, Orthodox Greek, or Protestant? If Protestant, should you be Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, or ??? If you aren’t religious, should you hate people who are? What to do about heretics? Muslims? Infidels? Jews? Historically, the answer has often been: kill them. Religion has created endless strife, and it seems it always will.
Egocentrism: It seems that every society, every group, feels superior to every other. The Japanese, for example, refer to foreigners as ‘gaijin’ and look down on them. The Romans of Caesar’s time referred to anyone not Roman as barbarian. Hitler’s Germans considered themselves ‘Aryan’ and everyone else as totally inferior, and killed millions because of it. Europeans often think themselves superior to Americans. Caucasians feel superior to Blacks, who feel the reverse.
Languages: Outside the United States, the more than 500 languages remaining in the world constitute, I believe, a barrier to understanding. They also serve as a booster for egocentrism. You cross from Belgium into Germany, Germany into Poland, Poland into Lithuania, and language changes totally at each border. I think English should be the one language spoken. It is the largest language in terms of words – more than 500,000 – and I believe the most expressive. It’s already the 2nd language of most countries, and is the first language in several. Heck, even the British speak a form of it.
Lack of intelligence (also known as stupidity): This problem is major. Apathy, ignorance, and dogmatic beliefs are byproducts of stupidity. The “I don’t know and I don’t care” crowd shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Stupid people are gullible. That’s why demagogues (people who appeal to emotions and prejudices, such as Obama) do so well in elections.
Complexity of the issues: The issues are so complex few politicians understand them. (See lack of intelligence, above)
Lack of consensus: Humans can never agree on what the problem is or how to fix it.
Rotten human character: A male orangutan is more honest, on average, than the average human. The ape is less vicious than some humans; less inclined toward violence. Humans lie, cheat, and steal. People are greedy, easily corrupted, and jealous of each other. A politician who acts from noble motives and works for the good of the people is rare these days. The average character is so bad that no human-run institution works fully as intended, because of cheating. Example of programs riddled with fraud and cheating: Medicare, Medicaid, disability claims, immigration, food stamps. Can you trust the average citizen to do the right thing? Not unless there’s a tough penalty if they’re caught cheating, and a high likelihood they will be caught.
If people had better character, it would go a long way to curing the other faults. It has become fashionable to disparage Christians and Jews, but they have ideals of morality and ethics sadly lacking elsewhere. Maybe they’re the last bastion of character in the world.