Friday, January 10, 2014

Societal Changes – Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in a series about the changes I’ve seen happen over my lifetime (from the 1940s to the 2010s). See my introductory comments in Part 1.

Increased sense of vulnerability and fear

When I was a kid there was always the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over our heads, but otherwise we felt pretty safe. Now I long for the good old days of nuclear annihilation and mutually assured destruction when I see how vulnerable we are to all kinds of threats, some of which didn’t even exist years ago. Even without nuclear annihilation, the US and possibly large parts of the world could be seriously crippled in any number of ways. So this sense of fear and vulnerability is understandable, but we can’t let it overwhelm us or dominate us.

(1) We’ve seen terrorism in the US, England, Spain, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq and many other places. Terrorism can take many different forms, and they could do a lot of damage if a terrorist organization acquires any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Nobody’s safe, but we can’t let that fear keep us from living our lives – then the terrorists win.

(2) There is a real risk of cyber warfare that could knock out the power grid, electronics (computers, cars, TVs, phones). This could come from an enemy or from a burst of radiation from the sun. It could be localized or widespread.

(3) I believe there’s a risk of economic collapse because all economies are tied together in the global community. Fortunately we weren’t seriously affected by economic problems in Greece, Italy, Portugal, or Ireland. Moreover, with our deficit spending, heavy debt (governmental, consumer, and student), and unfavorable balance of trade, we might not need any outside influences for our economy to collapse. It almost happened in 2008 – hence the bailout.

(4) There’s a risk from rogue nations: North Korea and Iran being the biggest threats right now, but Pakistan, which has nuclear capability, could be a future threat if it comes under the control of something like the Muslim Brotherhood.

(5) Along those lines, the risk of aggressive Islam goes beyond terrorism to the possibility of radical islamist organizations eventually controlling key countries that are already vulnerable, such as post-Assad Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, etc. With such power they would be a serious threat to the West.

(6) Risk of a more powerful China and Russia dominating us

With China holding a significant amount of US debt, they could exercise a lot of power over us. Moreover, their military budget is increasing every year by double-digit percentages. So China is a formidable economic, military, and technological power: a force that will increasingly have to be reckoned with.

Who knows about Russia? It is on the rise economically, and will also become a force that will increasingly have to be reckoned with. That old Russian imperialism hasn’t gone away, and it will probably remain after Putin is no longer in power. Both China and Russia have the technology to launch devastating cyber warfare that, worst case, could cripple us, and best case, seriously inconvenience us.

Russia is the major supplier of natural gas to Europe, and I suspect a significant supplier of oil as well. Think of the power that gives Russia! All they have to do is threaten to turn off the gas, and Europe will do whatever Russia says. That’s a scary thought.

(7) Acts of nature such as a large asteroid or meteor hit; a burst of radiation from the sun; a huge tsunami (such as might come from a land collapse in the Canary Islands); an unusually large earthquake (such as the New Madrid Fault and the San Andreas Fault).

(8) Man-made disasters are always a risk, such as a nuclear plant meltdown. However, most of them tend to be localized. One risk is bridge collapses. There are many bridges in the US that are unsafe and should be replaced ASAP.

Decline of the US in terms of power, prestige, and self-sufficiency

Just at the time when all these threats are hanging over us, I believe the US is on the decline and may not be able to prepare, defend itself, or respond to them effectively. Some evidence of our decline are:

(1) Much manufacturing is now done overseas – we are left with lower paying service jobs and lack of manufacturing capability and skills. If we had to fight a WWII type of war today, I don’t think we could do it today.

(2) Our economy is weakened by deficit spending and consistent unfavorable balances of trade (primarily with China). Congress can’t seem to do anything, further hurting the economy and our ability to prepare for disasters.

(3) We are heavily dependent on China for many goods, plus they hold much of our debt.

(4) We are still dependent on foreign sources for oil, although that situation has improved somewhat. It may be hard to believe, but at the outbreak of WWII, the US was an exporter of oil. Our imposition of an oil embargo on Japan (because of what it was doing in Asia) helped trigger the attack on Pearl Harbor.

(5) We are technologically unprepared for many of the threats facing us, such as cyber warfare. Advanced and sophisticated technology is possessed by China, Russia, and others (China recently sent a lunar module to the moon).

(6) We have a crumbling infrastructure which is expensive to upgrade, but is necessary.

Cleaner air and water; fewer people smoking

Although there is still much to clean up from past abuses, our air and water are generally cleaner. Unfortunately, we still have serious environmental issues in China, India, and other developing nations. China’s economic growth alone would generate significantly more pollution, but on top of that they aren’t even trying to control pollution. As a result, parts of China such as the Beijing area are in almost constant smog. All that air pollution will travel around the world, contributing to climate change.

With fewer people smoking and smoking not allowed in most indoor spaces (restaurants, offices, airplanes), we don’t have indoor air pollution from second-hand smoke that we used to have.

Improvements in medicine and technology

There have been tremendous improvements in medicine and technology, improving both the length and quality of life.

There are now many therapies that can prolong life and put the cancer into remission for a long time. A diagnosis that used to be a death sentence can be, with early detection, successfully treated.

With antibiotics and anti-viral medicines, infections that might have killed you years ago are now easily treated. Vaccines have eliminated or successfully reduced diseases that were a threat when I was a kid, such as polio.

You now have various treatments for coronary artery disease: angioplasty, valve replacement, stents, bypass surgery, ablation, plus medicines that help prevent heart attacks.

Unfortunately we’ve also seen an increase in certain conditions, such as asthma and autism, and even new diseases emerge such as AIDS and Lyme disease.

Regarding technology, we now have devices and other things that have generally made life better. Most of this technology wasn’t even conceived of 70 years ago:

-Smart phones, personal computers, the Internet, social media
-High definition TVs, cable, streaming movies, Blu-Ray, TiVo
-Safer and more efficient cars, better headlights, fuel injection, anti-lock disk brakes, traction control, hybrid cars, air conditioning, power windows, radial tires,
-Microwave ovens, more energy efficient appliances, better insulated houses,
-MP3 players or iPods, GPS, copiers (even your computer printer can make color copies).

Of course many of these innovations have a downside, because even good things can be abused or misused. Nevertheless, these advances have made life safer or more comfortable, and some have significantly enhanced communications or the quality of entertainment.

As you can see from these four posts, there have been a lot of changes since the 1940s: attitudes, behaviors, and technology being the most obvious. What most concerns me of all these is the increased secularization and diminished spirituality of people today. Many of our other problems would be significantly diminished if more people got into right relationship with God. Let’s pray that it happens soon.

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