Sunday, January 14, 2007

McCarthy's Optimism

Picking up from last night, I read and reflected on John McCarthy's response to the Edge Question for 2007, which is: What are you optimistic about? Why?

John McCarthy is known for his optimism about the sustainability of human development, so he decided instead to respond about world peace and politics.

McCarthy says that what we have is world peace, that there are only minor wars, and that only Africa and the Arab world are in bad shape. He contrasts this with the period between 1914 and 1989 when there were serious attempts at world domination and three (presumably the Armenian, Jewish and Cambodian) genocides .

He knows that something bad and surprising could happen. He thinks that Arab jihadism will soon be outgrown as a function of a younger generation questioning their parents' slogans, but if not we'll kick their ass in war. McCarthy isn't that plain about it, though. What he does is write, “If not” and then inserts an 1898 line from Hilaire Belloc,
Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.
McCarthy takes heart in the fact that virulent, militaristic nationalism with one-man rule doesn't exist in major countries today, but concludes by agreeing with Stephen Hawking about mankind's chances being increased by migration from Earth.


I'm sorry to say I did not find McCarthy's response persuasive. I didn't think it was an expression of optimism as much as a nod at hope. At least McCarthy's response wasn't framed in terms of his technical field, in which I'm sure there is much reason for optimism.

I think McCarthy is wrong about Arab jihadism. It's not Arab jihadism, it's islamic jihadism, which implies a much wider, and faster-growing, demographic and geographic scope.

He takes heart in developments in “major” countries, but I wonder if he's thought about what constitutes “major” in this new era of asymmetrical conflict, bathtub nerve agents, bioengineering, nuclear proliferation and loose radioactives, resource depletion and globalism (not that there's anything inherently wrong with bioengineering or globalism).

That the former-Yugoslavian and Rwandan genocides, and the ongoing catastrophe in Sudan and Chad, have occurred since 1989 may mean something.

I certainly don't mean to be disrespectful of McCarthy. I just disagree. Your mileage may vary, and I hope he's right.

Maybe something good and surprising will happen.

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