Terrorist Attacks, Natural Resources, and Humanity
The New Age of Anxiety
This article originally appeared on OrionOnline.org, the website of Orion and Orion Afield magazines, under the feature headline "Thoughts on America".
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by Thomas BerryIn the opening year of the 21st century Americans have entered a new, all-pervasive, Age of Anxiety originating in the terrorist destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, an edifice that might be considered the central expression of western economic dominance over the nations, the peoples, and the natural resources of the Earth. Some might say it symbolized American hubris as its supermarkets spread throughout the nations of the world. To others these towers symbolized the oppression of the most impoverished nations by all of the most affluent nations of the world.
While here in America we have taken an attitude of violated innocence, with a flaming assertion of vengeance against the perpetrators of the assault, we might reflect somewhat on the larger context. While we are indeed a "good-hearted" people, it may be that Americans are under wide-ranging illusions as regards our efforts to "help" the less developed nations. We must begin to recognize that "doing good" is not the simplistic thing we sometimes think it to be.
We seem to forget, for example, that of the all the industrialized nations of the world, we give the least percentage of our national income to assist those nations in need. We have consistently refused to join with the other nations of the world in bringing about a more integral ecosystem, such as that presented in the Earth Charter or the Kyoto accord. (Of all the members of the United Nations Assembly, only our country voted against the Charter.) We have even refused to pay our dues to that organization. We have found difficulties in proposals for a more equitable distribution of wealth throughout the world, lest it bring economic disadvantage to ourselves.
Then there is the question of industrial "development" of the more land-based peoples. To disturb the village life of a people living within the ever-renewing sequence of the seasons by teaching them a non-renewing commercial/industrial way of life, is to impoverish rather than to enrich them. When we lend money to the politically competent entrepreneurial members of a society entering its modern phase by developing their natural resources, we open the way not only to the creation of an oppressive class in the local society, but also to the accumulation of enormous debt to the industrialized nations by the so-called "Third World."
We might also reflect on the damage that we can do to ourselves by our present wrath against those already known as terrorists or suspected of being terrorists. However justified the punishment that must be imposed on those who brought about this sudden slaughter of innocent people, we might suddenly become suspicious of each other. We could terminate the great days of air travel for a prolonged period of time with our reluctance to go through all the inspections that will now be imposed upon us as we resume our travels.
The event we are dealing with could very well precipitate, for ourselves and for the larger community of peoples, a prolonged and all-pervasive state of anxiety. The anxieties of the 20th century were threats that could be easily identified and fought against. The sources of our new anxieties cannot be clearly identified or fought against or terminated. The question of "whom can we trust" takes over our consciousness. Now more than ever we need, not simply to create peace, but to create the basis on which any enduring confidence can exist within nations or between nations.
As the human population of the world increases, the natural resources of the Earth will, proportionally, decrease. They will become ever more precious, and strife over who will possess -- who will control -- these resources, will most certainly intensify. Meanwhile the spiritual resources needed for a true bonding within nations and between nations are being diminished as emphasis on political power and money values increases.
When we looked out over the 50 million persons who died during World War II to eliminate the peril of Nazism, we had thought, and hoped, that a great peace might pervade the world. At the first meeting in San Francisco at the end of the war, we set up the United Nations. This organization, with all its hidden agendas for dominance did at least achieve the transition from colonial status to independence for almost a hundred different peoples; yet world peace has remained beyond its attainment.
The globalization of the finances and commerce of the world through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and, later, the World Trade Organization only increased the control of a few nations, the Group of Seven (now the Group of Eight), over the economic future of the world. At the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, and at other subsequent meetings, a rising protest has been shown against this centralizing of the economic affairs of the nations.
The pathos of the situation is that, along with the exploitation taking place, there is, often enough, a dedicated effort to alleviate the deprivation of needy peoples. The difficulty is that the advanced nations simply do not know how to achieve what is at times a sincere effort. We have hardly begun to appreciate that the human project throughout the world requires something more than money can buy. The planet Earth is something more than a "natural resource" to be used by humans.
Here we might propose that a viable future for the human community rests largely upon the building of a new relationship between human communities and our very planet. Both our physical and spiritual survival depend on the visible world about us. We would have no inner life of mind, imagination or emotion without the wonder, the beauty and the intimacy offered us by the dawn and sunset, the singing birds and the cry of the wolf, by the meadows with all their blossoming flowers, by the grandeur of the mountains and the vastness of the sea.
To preserve all this in its integrity is the common task before us. For while this living world can be severely damaged by us, while an immense number of its most attractive and useful species can be extinguished forever, it is a world that cannot be bought with money, cannot be manufactured with technology, cannot be listed on the stock market, cannot be created in any chemical laboratory, cannot be reproduced with all our genetic engineering, cannot be sent by e-mail.
Here we find not only the wonderworld that we see with our eyes, but also that more mysterious world beyond - the world that is not diminished by sharing but is rather increased the more it is shared by others. As the music of a Beethoven symphony is more meaningful when heard not alone but with others, so too with the Peace of the World. We need to be with others. We need to experience together the wonders in the heavens as well as the fruits of Earth.
In this context we need to live together not in a world of aggression and counter-aggression, not in a world of mutual exploitation, but in a universe that is a reflection of the deeper self of each of us.
As we recover from the sorrows inflicted upon us by the recent destruction of the Twin Towers, as we work to ease the antagonisms that surround us, we need to go further into that deeper identity that we have with each other and with the Great Self of this immense Universe.
Somewhere, somehow, the peoples of the world must come together in that all-embracing numinous presence wherein peace descends upon us all in the dawn of a new day. Only there will we find a remedy for the anxiety that has seized upon us since that fateful day in September.
Thomas Berry is an interpreter of history who insists that the natural and the human worlds will go into the future as a single sacred community or both will experience disaster on the way. He is the author, most recently, of The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, published by Random House.
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