I don’t remember a lot about my college years. (Which is probably a good thing. If I spent much time thinking about those days, I’d probably wake up with nausea and cold sweats. Every. Single. Night.)
One thing I do remember is a Sociology class that I took during one quarter, built around the idea that a successful society is built around agreement. Agreement turns a loose band of families and households into communities, and communities into countries. Agreement transcends numbers, differences, resources and knowledge, bringing people and plans together and creating stability, understanding and progress. To this day, I’m convinced that was one of the three most important college classes I’ve ever taken.
This simple but unassailable concept described my childhood in the civil-service-supported American melting pot of Montgomery County, Maryland. It was also, I realized, the foundation behind the Star Trek concept of IDIC—Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations—the idea of bringing diverse peoples together to inspire the best of human development.
It was also made clear to me that lack of agreement informs most conflicts in fiction. And although plenty of popular stories revolve around protagonists and antagonists—people on opposite sides of agreements—physically duking it out until someone comes out on top, it occurred to me that my personal favorite stories centered around groups of people working together in agreement to solve problems. My own stories, in fact, generally mirrored this philosophy.
But, to me, it goes much further than fiction and stories: I am firmly convinced that societies built around agreement have been central to all periods of real progress and advancement in human history; and that all periods of human decline have happened during periods when agreement between groups has broken down.
Presently the world is enmeshed in conflicts, squabbles and tug-of-wars that are textbook examples of disagreements; and it can be said that other than a shining decade that took us to the Moon, there has been little advancement in the world outside of scientific accomplishments (the scientific community being one of the few entities in this world of humans that manages to rise above petty politics and avows agreement at all times and all costs).
This might not seem important to some; but I stress that, if disagreement continues to control the world, the world will not be able to come together to solve its most pressing problems. Indeed, as climate change and global warming have evolved from theory and conjecture to global certainty in the eyes of the majority, a continued lack of global agreement still prevents the world from taking clear and concrete steps to curtail and minimize the damage.
And even in the face of continued disagreement, even at the precipice, some people have the audacity to believe the human race will somehow progress into a positive future. I’ve demonstrated that audacity myself, in the past. But after so many years’ watching the total breakdown of communication and agreement over even the most neutral and clear-cut of issues, I’ve lost that audacity.
But perhaps, in time, these feelings will blow over. After all, they often have, over millennia of human development, and often after the absolute worst of periods, when it seemed society, community, even simple agreement, was forever impossible. In the darkest of circumstances, in the aftermath of the worst disasters, we have often managed to find common ground, and used that as a base to reconstruct stabiliy and lay the foundations for the future. The best of us have stepped forward, offering the olive branch and the voice of reason, and coaxed disperate peoples to the negotiating tables. And those of us who were too tired after trials and difficulties, finally stood up and agreed that now was the time to find a better way, together. And as the saying goes, it’s darkest before the dawn. Perhaps our dawn is soon approaching.
When the dawn finally arrives, perhaps everyone will look at the previous darkness and wonder how we allowed things to get so bad… as we often do. Maybe we’ll agree to never let it get that bad again… again, as we do. Perhaps we’ll agree that we don’t treat our neighbors well enough… that we don’t share our resources equally… that we all must share the reponsibility for our world’s ecological state… and that we never solved anything by blowing each other up. We’ll agree that we can work together and do better.
And maybe we’ll see a significant period of progress and advancement, maybe not soon, but eventually. Perhaps we are simply the ones unlucky enough to be living in one of those dark, disagreeable ages, and won’t live long enough to see the agreeable dawn.
Perhaps we’ll do something incredibly stupid, and ensure that we’ll see no more dawns. Or nature will take it upon itself to bring that assurance to us, ending our misery in any one of a dozen fast or slow ways. Or perhaps we’ll all just agree that we’re doomed, and wait for the end to take us… the death of humanity, by mutual agreement.
I imagine that, during the dark days of yesteryear, it was always hard to predict the dawn, and often as hard to believe the dawn would come at all. That belief that we will all soon see the light comes hard to me, right now; and the desire to wait it out comes even harder on some days. For myself, I’m just wondering how long I have before the match burns down to my fingers. I’m wondering how long we all have.
But I think we’d all agree that it’s gonna be close.