As some readers might know, I've recently been reading a lot of essays by the late Sydney J. Harris. Mr. Harris was an elegant writer and a very intelligent man. Reading his columns is a pleasure.
However, one of the things I've noticed while working my way through several anthologies of his works, is that he often takes a tone of Gloom and Doom when it comes to the future of Mankind. It's a bit off-putting to read an article written in the early 1960s, for instance, in which the writer opines about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the US/USSR Cold War.
One of the dangers of prophecy-assuming that the prophet doesn't really have The Gift- is of being wrong. And I'm certainly glad that Mr. Harris has such an abysmal record when it comes to soothsaying. But still, I have to wonder what leads him to such ends.
I suspect that it's because, being a Liberal (in the best sense of the word) he wished for an Ideal World; one in which things like nuclear weapons don't exist. Fair enough. But they do exist. And he was always reflecting on the danger to everyone, and how many millions of people would die in some unknown future war.
One of the columns I just read was about how the reality of war has changed since 1945 (again, bear in mind the essay was written sometime in the '60s, during the height of the Cold War). In it, he spoke of how, prior to Hiroshima, war was largely limited in area, and that civilians were largely safe.
Of course, to anyone with any knowledge of history, this assertion is almost laughable. Anytime before the 19th century, any civilians caught in a "war zone"- which I'll define as an area in which armies are marching and fighting- were liable to lose their crops, their livestock and their woodlands (armies needed fires for cooking and heat). If it was a "friendly" area, the men would often be taken as soldiers or laborers. In a hostile zone, the men would often be killed, buildings destroyed, and the women would be.... "recreation" for the invading soldiers.
By the way, this also held true in 1945, when the Soviets moved into Germany.
But in the view of Mr. Harris, this is untrue. Okay, we're all entitled to a misguided Utopian view of history. But he also mentions that in "modern"- meaning nuclear-war, millions of innocent civilians will die, and we humans need to adapt our ethical system to prevent that. None of this is new, in an intellectual sense. And none of it is inherently wrong, either. It's merely naive.
What liberals like Harris don't take into account, as many have said before me, is that Mankind can adapt to changed circumstances. Yes, nuclear weapons can kill millions of innocent people. But they have to be delivered somehow. The easiest way to do it is to use missiles. But missiles, whether nuclear armed or not, need to be accurate. And as you increase the accuracy, you also make it easier to destroy a target without nuclear bombs. A cruise missile can take out a factory or government building, so there's no need to drop a giant nuclear bomb on it. Remember, in WWII, when the atom bomb was created, aerial bombing was still very primitive. Claims from the various air forces aside, a bombing raid on Berlin, for instance, was going to be a smashing success if the majority of the bombs hit the City. It was necessary to send 1000 bombers, if you only expected 500 of them to hit the target.
Besides, any rational person knows that there's nothing to be gained by destroying the entire world. A nuclear war would be fairly limited. Nothing like what my Political Science professors called "Spasm War", where the Button is pushed and everybody launches all their nukes at everyone else. Nuclear war can be "won", with the proper exercise of strategy, an idea that the Soviets were very aware of. Nuclear weapons are a terror tool, and at this point, any country-including, of course North Korea-knows that if they were to launch nuclear weapons at another country, the retaliation would be far worse.
And human rights have progressed by a vast measure today. A hundred or more years ago, the "abuses" of Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib would have been ignored, in light of more important issues. Today, they are a major concern. Clearly, we have a better world when these non-existent scandals take center stage.
Well, at least the Western World is better. In many areas of the world, civilisation hasn't progressed too far. But a true liberal must view these areas as better than ours. The Law of Multi-culturalism says so.
Again, I don't hold Mr. Harris up for ridicule. I don't expect him to be able to see 30 years into the future, and know that in 2007 we can destroy individual buildings in the middle of a big city, without damaging any other structure. Nor do I hold him responsible for knowing that we can even use technology to ensure that the building is empty of people before we strike.
But he often spoke of his fear that if we don't get around our traditional ways of acting, mankind would be doomed. And this attitude still seems to prevail in the liberal community of today. Doom-sayers predict that Global Warming- sorry, "Climate Change"- will destroy mankind.
But, even if we assume-without basis, in my opinion- that this is correct, we still must consider that there are ways to prevent this catastrophe. Much of the Netherlands is below sea level. How? They use dikes to keep out the water, just as we do in New Orleans. (Of course, the dikes in Holland are actually maintained, which is one up on the latter). Sure, there might be problems, but they can be overcome, with innovation, technology, and effort.
So if the sea level rises by 10 feet or so, why is it impossible to somehow protect coastal cities like New York or Miami? If the Dutch could do it 300 years ago, I don't see why it's impossible now.
Too many trees being chopped down? There's a simple solution. Plant more. It's being done by lumber companies in the US today. And it's working well.
Wildlife in danger of extinction? There are ways to ban hunting, and also ways to track down poachers. Not to mention the ability to breed them in captivity. The American Buffalo (or Bison, for any pedantic folks out there) is a prime example.
Drought? It's possible to cause rain by seeding clouds. I'm not sure how effective it is, but if it helps some, that's better than nothing.
Ditto for the potential shortage of fresh water. I don't mean to play this down, because it does have the potential to be a crisis. Here in Michigan the levels of the Great Lakes are down, and it's well known that the Western US is always in danger of running out of water, which is why many western states, and even Mexico, want to take water from our Lakes. Which would be disastrous, I suspect. But still....
Isn't there anyway to draw water from the oceans, remove the salt, and use it? I would think so. It might not always be drinkable, but perhaps a system could be devised to use it for irrigation, plumbing, etc. I've been out west in the past, and the water that comes from the water system in desert cities is often undrinkable. In any case, I know that companies and scientists have to be hard at work on this problem. If someone can come up with a fairly cheap and effective way of converting salt-water to potable, fresh-water, they'll make billions of dollars. That's what we call "incentive".
So all these crises-or potential crises, to be more precise- have the potential to be solved by human technology. I see no reason to believe that we won't be able to find answers to virtually any question that arises, if we try hard enough. Maybe not in 2007, but perhaps by 2020. Or beyond.
I guess that's the advantage of being a conservative. I see where we've gotten, how we've mastered our environment, and think that almost anything is possible. No, we probably won't convert the entire earth into a Garden of Eden, but we can live, thrive, and survive, to quote the Blues Brothers.
But for a liberal, the world must be a perfect one, inhabited in strict accordance with liberal dogma. Working towards perfection isn't enough. It must be achieved, and quickly. And the very term "perfection" must be defined in accordance with liberal values. Nothing else is good enough.
But this idea flies in the face of all logic. It's in the striving for perfection that we achieve greatness. And what we've got today, especially in the United States, is greatness.
And everyone except a liberal knows it.