Anthropologists believe that all humans came from Africa. At one point, when we were near extinction, it is believed that there may have only been a few thousand of us. Despite these close, common bonds of descent, when groups of humans around the world look at one another, they do not always see each other as friends. Since radiating throughout the continents and developing different languages, cultures, and complexions, there has been no peace on Earth. The common practice has been to organize according to family, tribe, nation, empire, or religion and consider all outsiders as enemies. Our behavior is not so different from that of species that devour their own kind, like some lizards or crickets. Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, live in troops, which subdivide into smaller groups. In their raids, male chimpanzees kill, dismember, and devour other (estranged but still related) chimps. When we watch this macabre and disturbing spectacle, we are looking into a mirror. Their behavior is a disturbing view into our own past from millions of years ago. Unfortunately, this mindless violence also reflects much of present-day human behavior. It seems that we are still bound by very primal drives from deep within our brains: forces that we must recognize and learn to overcome.
In pre-industrial times, it was understandable that different human groups were distrustful of one another. Long histories of conflict and competition made it next to impossible for people separated by race and culture to “just get along.” Feuds and bad blood going back centuries spiraled into complex, dysfunctional relationships filled with betrayals, massacres, injustice, and enmity. This dynamic was self-perpetuating, and seemed to the people of the time to necessitate further antagonistic behavior towards their perceived “enemies.” Since the age of gunpowder and sailing ships, the story has been one of colonization and exploitation. From that time forward, the means have existed for full understanding and fair treatment between all peoples, but ideas of racial and cultural superiority stood in the way. Today, our technologically-enhanced ability to travel in jets and communicate at the speed of light makes full understanding of one another much easier. World peace should have been the obvious result by now, but this remains a distant dream.
We need a new organizing principle beyond those of family, religion, and nation. We need a decentralized way to govern ourselves and regulate our economies. We need to prevent news agencies from being propagandized and used to promote age-old hatred and bias. We need to build communities with deliberately diverse mixes of people from all around the world and base our culture on spiritual agreements from the teachings of the sages, as described in Utopia Found. When this is the case, militarism will be not only illegal and illogical but downright impossible. We must create socio-economic systems where the best of human nature is encouraged, and the violent chimp brain deep within us is left far behind. We must realize that we are all one, that we are eternal spirits temporarily in human form, and that we are all here for the same purpose of spiritual enlightenment (salvation). We must be on the same team from now on. There can be no more enemies, per se, only wise and sensible guidelines for us all to follow.
Humans, despite their apparent diversity, are virtually identical in genetic makeup. We are conditioned to see differences, however, not similarities. At this stage of our development, there is no reason for us to remain divided any longer. There is no further need for hatred or warfare. In the world of the future, there will be no more use of the nouns “we” and “they” to refer to races or religions, no more pitting people against one another, and no more justification of large-scale discrimination and violence. When this is achieved, we will at last become team humanity: a species that is no longer at odds with itself in a destructive way. People will be able to move safely and freely from any part of the globe to any other part. We will be able to befriend anyone, marry anyone, learn any language, or join any community on any continent of our own free choice, without serious negative consequences. We will finally eliminate the drain on our productivity from military expenditures against ourselves. We will finally be able to live free from the danger of nuclear Armageddon. We will be able to unite to solve our most urgent problems: climate change, pollution, hunger, poverty, disease, prejudice, addictions, ignorance, etc. We can do these things only if we work together as a team, and we can only become a team when we restructure our socio-economic systems according to cooperative, democratic principles, and consciously pattern our thoughts and behavior on the advice of the sages.
WHICH NEW AGE DO YOU WANT?
The expression “New Age” has gotten a bad rap over the years, like the word “Utopia.” As you may have noticed, I have no problem with either term. The term “New Age” needs to be explored, explained, and some basic agreements arrived upon. The fact is that the future will never be exactly like the past or present, it is, by definition, always going to be a “new age.” Those who wish to freeze things as they are will be disappointed to learn that this is an impossibility. Not only is it impossible, but it is undesirable as well, since we are clearly on an unsustainable path in many ways. The question, therefore, is not whether there will be change (and logically, a New Age), but what kind of change we want (what kind of New Age). There are countless possibilities for the future, and most of them are not so nice. One of the main possibilities that we are currently facing could be called “Selection A” for the New Age. This is a world like that of Orwell’s 1984, coupled with the environmental ruin and corporate heartlessness shown in the movie Elysium. Add to that all the high-tech evils that can be created by AI, the internet, social media, implanted chips, and scientifically-designed mind control. This would be a materialistic, dystopian rat race of war, growing inequality, increased surveillance, loss of freedom, authoritarianism, and collapsing ecosystems. If we continue on our present path, this will be our inevitable destination. No one really wants to live in a world like this, but by continuing down our current path, we are ensuring that such a world will be our future.
What I propose could be labeled “Selection B.” I am suggesting that we rethink the basic assumptions and building blocks that make up our current system. We need to consciously remake much of it to conform to logic, goodness, and the teachings of the sages. I am not referring to the silly “New Age” ideas of crystals and hippie-dippy, tie-dyed-wearing people who think we can instantly achieve peace on earth (as well as some kind of enlightenment) just because we choose to dress and act any way we feel at any given moment. I am talking about a reasonable future, combining scientific scrutiny with serious, long-term spiritual practice. This means self-control, renunciation, and discipline based on the age-old traditions of major religions, all focused on self-improvement and expanded awareness. I am talking about threading the needle in this most challenging age humanity has ever faced: balancing our human needs with our imperatives to stop global warming, save ourselves from toxicity, and put an end to war. As described fully in Utopia Found, I am recommending that we utilize the common and positive principles and practices from major world religious and spiritual traditions to create associations with common values, and from there create intentional, cooperative communities. These communities would be made of a representative mix of people from around the world and would operate through direct democracy.
Those who imagine they can save the world just by promoting one single religion are deluding themselves. Christians who think they can make everyone into a Christian and fix the world’s problems simply by applying the Bible are ignoring the fact that two-thirds of the people on the planet are not Christian, not to mention the fact that self-described Christians are often the ones setting the worst example for others. A single-religion approach to world peace would be as unsophisticated and catastrophic as re-fighting the Crusades all over again. This is definitely not what we need right now. I am not saying anyone has to give up their religious traditions, or that we should mix religions together to create a new one. I am saying we need to realize fully-integrated, loving communities without racism or religious animosity, where everyone is respected and encouraged to develop the qualities that all religions value: love, compassion, selflessness, generosity, empathy, industriousness, etc.
People living in communities like this would have a different attitude and lifestyle. Their culture of daily life would change the future of the entire planet. Instead of going about life as independent, isolated, and powerless consumers, they would work together for the greater good, and start living in balance with the environment. They would work together to raise kids that were warm, loving, thoughtful, principled, and caring. When communities everywhere are like this, there will be an end to racism, religious intolerance, and even war. This New Age may seem like a distant dream now, but the choice before us is clear: either we continue heading over the edge of a cliff as we are now, or we make the necessary changes and save ourselves.
GREAT INTENTIONAL MIGRATIONS
In many places in the West, there is already a mix of people from around the world. In big cities in America, in Canada, in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and a few other locales, you can find all kinds of people living in close proximity to one another. In the rest of the world, countries are mostly made up of the same people who have always lived there. We find Poles in Poland, Arabs in Arabia, Laotians in Laos, and so on, usually with monochrome homogeneity. This has to change in short order to make the world much more mixed.
Why is it so bad to leave people all concentrated in one place for too long? Well, let’s look at some examples. When Serbs see Albanian immigrants moving into Kosovo, they go berserk, because the Albanians are Europeans who mostly converted to Islam in the days of Turkish rule, and the Serbs’ ancestors fought and won the Battle of Kosovo Field against the Turks. This is why the Serbs committed so many war crimes against the Kosovars when they wanted independence (much the way the Serbs went nuts and committed war crimes in Bosnia when Yugoslavia fell apart). Patriotic, nationalistic passions were whipped into a fervor, and they felt they were justified. Why is Russia attacking Ukraine? Because when Russians look at history, they feel that they own places like Odessa and Sevastopol, and they can’t stand the idea of Ukraine existing independently. Why are Tigrayans and other Ethiopians so willing to fight? Why are Shiites and Sunnis so willing to kill each other in Yemen? Why was there such a bloody war in Sri Lanka between Tamils and the Buddhist majority? Why did the Hutus slaughter Tutsis in Rwanda? Why are people in the People’s Republic of China so willing to attack the peaceful Republic of China on Taiwan? The reasons are complex, but in each case, these mass acts of violence have to do with people having their identity tied to a group of people and a plot of land. When people disagree in an airport, or on vacation in a foreign land, they show tolerance, try to negotiate and compromise, and if necessary, find an arbiter to settle the problem. When people are in the majority in their own ancestral land and they have a disagreement, they often have a much more intransigent attitude. They often decide that the way to settle the disagreement is to turn the people they perceive as being the cause of the trouble into inanimate objects.
This doesn’t happen much in Vancouver, London, Amsterdam, or Los Angeles. Not that these cities are perfect, but they do not have wars or race riots over age-old disagreements. There are plenty of political and cultural issues to argue about, but these arguments do not usually turn violent. This kind of violence can’t happen in these places because the populations are so mixed that no slogan effectively unites a large group to attack a minority.
The solution is obvious, if inconvenient. People need to move. A lot of people. Something on the order of half the people in the world need to relocate themselves into intentional communities where a representative mix of folks from around the world can be established. To preserve the language and culture of the home country in each case, the goal should be to retain about 50% of the original inhabitants in each area. Rules would require that immigrants to Hungary learn Hungarian, people moving to Vietnam learn Vietnamese, people moving to Chile learn Spanish, etc. Of course there would be exceptions and complications in the cases of minority group areas within nations, and special considerations in areas where a large amount of immigration from afar has already created ethnic diversity. There would be difficulty in getting people from more economically developed regions to move to more undeveloped areas, especially where instability has been a problem. In order to affect this, a global effort would have to be made, and in some cases assistance and incentives provided. With changes in global weather patterns due to global warming (which we can hopefully get under control at the same time), we might need to rethink settlement patterns and not put too many people in certain areas where drought or other hazards made it impractical.
These Great Intentional Migrations will make every corner of the world into a melting pot (or tossed salad) like Toronto or New York in terms of diversity, but with a different majority group (ideally around 50% of the population – probably not less than 30%) in each area, made up of the original inhabitants. You might complain that all of this would be too difficult or take too long. I would argue that it is like going on vacation and just swapping places with someone else. Half the human population could easily do this over the course of 10 or 20 years if it was our goal. You might argue that it would be too boring to see a mix of the world’s people in every country, with only the majority (or largest minority) different in each place. It would take a little getting used to when visiting Japan, Taiwan, or Korea, I admit, but with language rules in place, the immigrants would soon be speaking fluently, and their kids would be born as native speakers.
No one in such a scenario would need to give up their culture any more than immigrants to the U.S. or Canada need to give up their culture. Culture becomes hybridized, yes, but everyone can continue to speak the language of their ancestors in the home, and meet with others to form language schools, cultural associations, religious groups, etc. to have the best of both worlds. No one would be trapped into a move and unable to go elsewhere or return to their original land if they wanted. It would just be a matter of applying for and getting a job anywhere in the world you wanted to go. People would be moving all the time. Some would settle down and others would keep moving to experience different places and different lifestyles. Imagine how nice it would be to have an option to make your life like Eat, Pray, Love: a few years in Morocco, a few years in Nepal, a few years in Bali, a few years in France, or wherever. Imagine how awesome it would be if you could do this smoothly, with a stable, friendly, democratic, multiracial, multifaith community and a decent standard of living waiting for you in each location. Despite the fact that there would be all kinds of people in all parts of the world, it would be exciting to be able to move around the world’s most interesting places without risk. There would not be much insularity left, and no sense of being the first explorer in an undiscovered land, but on the other hand, there would be a wide variety of restaurants available in every town. There would also be a lot more intermarriage as a by-product of all the movement back and forth, and thus fewer people capable of expressing racist attitudes.
The main reason for doing this would be the accomplishment of that most important goal that has eluded humanity for all time: world peace. Right now there are large-scale hot wars in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Myanmar. Full-scale warfare could explode any minute in places like Taiwan, the Koreas, the South China Sea, the India/Pakistan border, or Iran. Fighting is still going on or has recently gone on in the Western Sahara, Congo, Libya, West African states fighting Boko Haram, Niger, Ethiopia, Somalia, Israel/Palestine, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and many other places. Places like Georgia, Moldova, Kurdistan, Tibet, and Ladakh all live in whole or in part under occupation. The list could go on and on. The history is bloody and seemingly endless. The possibilities for fresh fighting could grow quickly if circumstances take the wrong turn. If we do not change our ways, we will continue to be trapped under the threat of war, and let war planning dominate our governments and economies. Plus, there is the danger of not only people fighting people on the ground, with all the horror that entails, but people resorting to the use of nuclear weapons, which would end life as we know it.
Peace is the reason why these migrations are such an urgent necessity. When people are mixed and living in direct democracies where people are treated equally, war will become an impossibility. When people live in overwhelming numbers on the land that their ancestors inhabited, they act in strange ways. They become intoxicated with an identity that is wrapped 100% in their land, flag, language, culture, history, and religion. They think in ways that any outside observer can see is unbalanced, but they are unable to see it themselves. Egged on by others around them who think the same way, they are willing to do anything to protect their perfect vision of their country – including commit genocide. When people like in mixed societies, a few individuals may become psychotic about such things, but their views will be cancelled out by the others around them, and these isolated sick ideas will not translate into large-scale human rights abuse. There would be no more intolerance, no more persecution, no more dispossession, no more genocide, and no more wars.
Imagine world peace as a reality instead of just a toast for idealistic people to make before a drink. Picture an international situation decades from now where my proposal is a reality. Visualize a scenario in which moving to any part of the world was as safe and easy as moving to another part of the same county is today. Imagine people everywhere belonging to an international society and working together to solve technological and environmental problems, no longer focused on their military situation vis a vis their neighbors. Today, this world of the future sounds like something from a book or movie, but unlike a science fiction story, it does not require any fantastic technology to achieve. If we decide we want to save ourselves, we could do it easily. If we accomplished these migrations over 20 years, it would cost far less than we currently spend each year on our militaries around the world. After that, there would no longer be any need to spend on militaries at all, except to put the weapons in museums. If the young people of today decide they want to live the rest of their lives in a peaceful world, they will need to embrace the idea of the Great Intentional Migrations. If we fail to do so, the world of the future will look like a smoking crater.
If we think realistically about our options, it's a no-brainer.
A FOOD COURT OF RELIGIONS
Throughout history, human civilization has largely been based on groupings according to religion. The tendency for many people today is to want to continue this practice, despite the fact that freedom of religion means people have the ability to move where they like or convert to any religion they like. In the West, we are used to seeing a variety of houses of worship, mostly Christian, but including many other religious groups as well. We may be somewhat prejudiced in favor of one religion, but since we are accustomed to freedom of religion, we mostly accept the arrival of new religious groups in our midst. In addition, most of us like the idea of diversity and inclusivity. Even in open, democratic countries like ours, however, there is still some degree of xenophobia and resistance to any change that seems to threaten the balance of the traditional status quo. In other places around the world, it can be downright hazardous to your health to be a religious minority.
People start wars and persecutions over this tendency to want to maintain the status quo. Just look at what happened to Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 90s at the hands of the Serbs. In Myanmar, nearly a million Muslim Rohingya were chased out of their homes, and thousands more were murdered. Just look how Shiite Muslims are treated by Sunni Muslims in Yemen and Afghanistan. On the other hand, just imagine life as a Christian in Pakistan, or a Sikh in Afghanistan. Religious differences are behind recent and ongoing conflicts in places like Israel, Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen, Kashmir, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland, just to name a few. The stage is set for major wars to be fought over religion in the Middle East and South Asia, starting at any moment. People in these regions, and in many other places around the world as well, are made to feel unwelcome and unsafe because of their religious traditions.
The way to overcome this ingrained hostility is to enact the Great Intentional Migrations as a global project, allow people to live in cooperative communities that represent the racial and religious mix of the entire planet, and adopt a food court approach to religion. I have always been a big fan of food courts. The cuisine of the whole world is available in one spot. You can sit with your friends at a central table, look over all your options, make a selection, and then take your virtual trip to Greece, Mexico, China, Japan, India, Italy, North Africa, Thailand, etc., and zoom on your magic carpet back to your table with your tray filled. It is like the internet of food, the magic serape of the Three Amigos, or having a gastronomic travel genie at your command. Your friends have made different choices, but this is not a cause for an argument. Today you got a burrito, while your friends got curry, pad Thai, sushi, and a hamburger. Next time you all visit the food court, your choices might all be different. The variety in the types of food on the table are a source of amiable discussion. People are understandably curious and interested in each other’s lunch. They want to know what the different foods taste like, what their ingredients are, etc. Perhaps you can learn something useful for your own kitchen. Perhaps next time you might try what your friend had this time. The last thing these different choices should do is lead people to argue over which kind of food is best. Friendship must come first, and food a distant second.
A co-op community would be for friends of different religious persuasions who could agree on basic rules for the climate and culture of their community. These friends would attend different houses of worship or spiritual practice around the perimeter of the community, and then return to their homes in the center. The stark variations in their choice of religion would not cause rifts between them any more than the choices of lunch plates led to fistfights in the food court. When you are Muslim and your friend is Hindu, you learn to accept the fact that they have statues in their house while you would not consider it for yours. When you are Christian and your friend is Buddhist, you accept that their meditation on Amida is important to them, even though you think they would be much better off by praying to Jesus instead. People would learn to accept these differences, treat others as we would like to be treated, and do our best to help one another as needed. When people are close friends and neighbors, they naturally want to be as kind as possible to each other. Everyone wants their lives to be pleasant. Everyone wants to be surrounded by polite, caring individuals who love them like family members. Everyone wants their choices and beliefs to be respected. The thing that absolutely no one wants is to be persecuted, live in fear, and possibly be killed in religious violence. When we consider the scale of the horror that religious hatred could unleash, and the sheer insanity of such a thing happening in this day and age, it becomes absolutely imperative that we make drastic changes right away.
Young people of the world, the choice is up to you. My ideas may sound extreme, but ask yourself whether any other solution besides this would actually work. Do we want to continue living in a world where some countries are 90-99% one religion or the other? When so many people of the same belief system are crammed into the same space, groupthink is prevalent and violence is all too easy. Just look at the anti-Muslim riots that have taken place in India. Do you want to live your entire life in a world where age-old hatreds are allowed to persist, or do you want to end it once and for all?
NO MORE GLOBAL GAME OF RISK
Once, when I was a teenager, I was looking at the atlas, and it annoyed me to see how much larger the Soviet Union was than the United States. I started imagining how much larger the U.S. would need to become to be larger than the U.S.S.R. This was before the age of the internet, so I had to look up the area of nations listed in the encyclopedia. I got out the calculator and started adding. If America, Canada, and Mexico all united, it would still not have been larger. I added away, assuming this fictional union was swallowing nations further and further south into Latin America. As I recall, it took almost all of South America before the goal was reached: this pan-American “U.S.A.” of my wild imagination was larger than the Soviet Union, as if any of it mattered. This was just a silly thing I did once a long time ago that I never shared with anyone until now. Unfortunately, it demonstrates the way many people today still think today - including adults who are deadly serious.
In Russia, there is a concept of “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir), which, while unclear, is at least as ambitious as my teenage daydream of national expansion. In some versions of this idea, it involves today’s Russia re-expanding to encompass not only the old Soviet Union, but also the other once-communist parts of the world. In other versions, it involves an expansion to places the Russian army either once went or imagined going (France, Istanbul, etc.). In its most extreme version, Russia grows until the entire world is part of Russia – every country, every continent. You may laugh, but this concept of “Russian World” is a big part of what drives the war in Ukraine. Many Russians buy into this national fantasy that it is their manifest destiny to bless the rest of the world by making it Russian, they way they imagine it should be. One popular slogan of theirs is: "Russian borders don't end anywhere." People living next to the Nile, the Mekong, the Mississippi, and the Amazon have until now been under the delusion that these rivers are not in Russia, but according to the "Russkiy Mir" philosophy, all of it is part of Greater Russia. This idea motivates Russians to put young boys into summer camps that are more like basic training for the army, to maintain the strongest military they can (including the world’s largest nuclear arsenal), and to embark on foreign interventions.
China has been growing in power by leaps and bounds since the economic reforms of the 1980s. The language and attitude displayed by the government of the P.R.C. is often reminiscent of Germany and Japan in the early 1900s. Their outlook is expansionist, both economically and militarily. As they see it, other nations that developed earlier had an unfair head start in the Great Game, and therefore were able to seize colonies and territories and establish military bases and spheres of influence without China having had an even chance to compete for these prizes. China often speaks of concern about “containment,” as if they are planning to grow in size, and their stated plan is to someday seize the “first island chain” – which means the Ryukyu Islands, which belong to Japan. Chinese soldiers have shown an aggressive stance on the borders of Bhutan and India, as if it is their intent to move their forces into South Asia. Chinese maps show large parts of eastern India as belonging to China, even though almost no Chinese person has ever set foot there. China has drawn lines around the tiny islands and atolls of the South China Sea, building a ring of military bases and facing off against Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Despite a United Nations ruling that China has no legitimate claim to these islands, China sees it as their right by might, and they have not retreated in their claims. China does not wait patiently and peacefully for an eventual harmonious reconciliation with Taiwan, but constantly threatens to spill rivers of Chinese blood over this disagreement.
The behavior of Western nations has not set a good example for the world. Europeans had a technological advantage over the rest of the world from 1500 onward, and they used this to conquer. Rather than treat other peoples as equals, colonies were created. People were enslaved. Territories were grabbed in the middle of the ocean by nations that had no right to them except the right by might. Why is it that the United Kingdom owns far-flung places like Diego Garcia, the Falklands, Pitcairn Island, etc.? Why does France own Tahiti, French Guyana, and New Caledonia? Why does the United states own Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Guam, Wake Island, etc.? Why are there even so many white people in places like North America, Australia, and New Zealand? These conquests of the past are what set the stage for the ongoing conflicts we see around the world.
The actions of major world powers and the thinking patterns of their people are similar to the assumptions inherent in the popular board game, Risk. This game, like Axis & Allies, or countless other war games, assumes that major world powers exist and that they must battle for supremacy. The world is seen as a place where you either fight or else get swallowed up by those who do fight. An expansion of the area under your group’s control is good; a decrease in the area under your control is bad. This is all very conventional thinking. It explains much of the recent behavior of countries like Russia and China. Looking at the historical example set by others throughout history, it is easy to see why these ingrained beliefs about human nature and realpolitik are the way they are. Understandable as these views may be, they are incorrect. It seems as if the ball is in midair between the pitcher and home plate, the spin is already on the ball, and it seems as if what happens next is inevitable – but the entire configuration can still be changed. The ball can be stopped in midair the same way Neo stopped the bullets in The Matrix, the pitch can be redone, the rules of the game cane be reimagined.
Today America and China are in a position where cultural ties are being removed and both sides are talking openly about direct warfare. It is as if a major conflict were inevitable. But if we zoom in and look at the granular level, American people and Chinese people have famously good relations with each other. Just look at the number of Chinese and Americans who get married. Look at the fascination each countries’ people has with the other culture. Look at how many Americans want to travel to China, and how many Chinese want to travel to America. Way back in 1996, I was in Kunming studying traditional Chinese medicine along with Taiwanese friends of mine. One of these friends and I were invited to dinner at our professor’s house. It was thirty years after the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and they laughed about how, not long before, he and I would have been called traitor and enemy. As of 1996, we could be friends. Why not now?
There has been nothing preventing us all from being friends all along. The problem is in our minds: the wrong-headed ideas of superiority, inevitability, manifest destiny, nationalism, or the seemingly pragmatic conclusion that if one nation doesn’t exploit a less-developed part of the world, another nation will. When every nation acts the same way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Selfish, destructive patterns seem to all observers to be “the way things are.” If we look at person-to-person interactions (not nation to nation), we can see that, as the romantic comedy title says, love actually is the main driving force between real human interactions, when all the distance and layers of separation are removed and they are allowed to have real, authentic interaction. We need to redesign our social, economic, and political systems to allow love to equate to peaceful, equitable relationships between us all. The world should no longer resemble a game of Risk in our minds. The whole world should belong to each of us, and our descendants should be allowed to travel freely, marry freely, and practice the religion and culture of their choosing, without fear of the consequences. The antagonistic division of the world into competing nationalistic zones must be dissolved. This is how we will end war and create peace on earth. The game must be transformed into a system where everyone shares and everyone wins. The rules for the new game are ready to go, but they have to implemented and fine-tuned by the players. Are you ready to begin?
NATO’S REASON TO EXIST
In 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed. Russian forces in Eastern Europe withdrew and democratic governments sprung up in former Warsaw Pact nations. By the end of 1991, Gorbachev was no longer in power and the Soviet Union itself was dissolved. In 1993, the European Union came into existence. What had begun as the postwar Common Market to rebuild the Western European economy had been so successful that the democratic countries – mostly the same ones that composed NATO - decided to form a kind of union, not unlike a European States of America. The idea was that people living within these countries would no longer be in completely separate countries and need to show their passports every time they crossed a border. A Scottish person could travel not only to London without going through customs, but could take the Chunnel to Paris and roam freely from Helsinki to Gibraltar to Athens without needing to flash a passport and ask permission. It sounds like a beautiful future. If only the whole world were like this, we could stop worrying about war, and focus instead on all the other issues we have to deal with. Yeltsin was in charge of the Russian Federation, and it appeared he intended to make Russia a peaceful partner with the West. For a few years it looked as if the Cold War was over. This would have been the case if Russia had done then what Germany had done after World War Two - renounced the idea of a ¨greater empire¨ that they were somehow owed by their unique position of economic power (or, in Russia´s case, size and history), and instead focused on making money, mellowing out, and improving their standard of living. If this had happened, imagine an expanded, peaceful EU that went from Vladivostok to Ireland. Wouldn't that be a nice passport-optional zone to explore without being considered a foreigner anywhere you go?
The history of NATO overlaps with the history of the EU, but it is a different creature, formed for an entirely different reason. After World War Two, Stalin had a military that dwarfed that of the allies. It seemed clear that he planned to expand. The Berlin Blockade was a sign that if the West blinked, Soviet tanks would be rolling west immediately. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed as an alliance to counter this Soviet threat. Most of the same countries that entered the Common Market also joined the NATO alliance, but there was no requirement to be part of both. NATO was strictly a military alliance, not political or economic. Because of the overwhelming Warsaw Pact advantage in troops and tanks, NATO´s nuclear deterrent was seen as crucial for the prevention of World War Three. The downside of this was the expectation that, if conflict did begin, it would become a nuclear war before long, and this would quickly escalate into a full-scale conflagration. As we all knew, this would lead to the end of the world. It looked like there was no way out of the standoff.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the threat that had caused NATO to exist in the first place had disappeared. So what was the purpose of NATO after that? The question was never really asked or answered by the population that lived in the NATO nations, which were supposed to be run in democratic, republican fashion. NATO intervention was instrumental in ending the Serb aggression in Bosnia in 1995 and later in Kosovo in 1999. I supported these actions, but it raised a larger question: What is NATO? It is the military arm of the EU? Is it a police force? Is it an arm of the UN? The precise definition of NATO´s role was never made clear. Meanwhile, ex-Warsaw Pact nations were worried about what might happen next with Russia. None of these countries wanted to be left alone with a resurgent Russian bear, so they started applying for NATO membership. In 1999, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary joined NATO. To many Russians, this was a shock. They had taken an unofficial promise by Secretary of State James Baker not to expand NATO one inch eastward as a rock-solid, legal guarantee. Russia naturally saw NATO as an anti-Russian coalition, and memories of Hitler and Napoleon came to mind.
When Yeltsin left and was replaced by Putin, the old KGB mentality dominated Russian foreign policy. A new Chechen War was inaugurated, and the Russians took back this renegade Muslim province with spectacular violence. In 2004, more countries were granted membership in NATO: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. From their point of view, this was out of pure self-defense. From Putin´s point of view, this was a threat to Moscow. If Putin had confidently laughed off this NATO expansion and continued Yeltsin´s policy of integration with the West, NATO would have needed to disband for lack of a mission. Instead, Putin acted more and more aggressively and built up an independent power base. Although communism was replaced by crony oligarchy and corrupt capitalism, the ideology of Fortress Russia persisted. According to this old mentality, since Russia was obviously under threat from the rest of the world, the only logical response was to threaten the rest of the world.
In 2008, Putin pre-empted the entry of Georgia into NATO by invading and occupying areas that had a larger Russian population. This land grab was barely reported in the West, but it was very important in setting the stage for future events. Putin had a winning strategy: claim that Russians living in an area that used to be ruled by the Soviet Union were being denied their rights, invade, and use the nuclear forces of Russia as a threat against escalation by the West. By doing this, Russia made it impossible for the partially-invaded country to join NATO, since a new member country is not supposed to have ongoing border disputes. Because no one was willing to fight Russia over such an out-of-the way little country like Georgia, Russia learned it could bully smaller countries with impunity. The West started making appeasement the main policy with Russia, reasoning that a wider war was not worth it.
In 2009, Albania and Croatia joined NATO. In 2011, a NATO-led coalition used air strikes to support insurgents in Libya and drive Gaddafi out of power. I supported this action as well, but it again brought up the basic question about the scope of NATO´s purpose. NATO countries claim the mission of the group is strictly defensive, but the willingness to intervene to bring about regime change was viewed with alarm by Putin. In February of 2014, a Russian-backed politician in Ukraine was driven out of power by a people´s revolt in Kyiv. The Ukrainian people definitely wanted to be part of the free West, not part of the Putin-dominated East, like Belarus. Putin was furious. In his view, any country that was not controlled by him was controlled by America. Putin was determined not to allow NATO to expand to Ukraine, and so he followed the old formula he used in Georgia. In 2014, Russia invaded Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Ukraine had voluntarily given up its nuclear weapons in the 90s in return for security guarantees from Russia and the West, so they had no deterrent of this kind. The Ukrainian military was woefully unprepared to resist. They were pushed back easily at first, but began to steadily build up their forces. In 2017, Montenegro joined NATO, and in 2020, North Macedonia joined.
In February of 2022, Putin shocked the world by launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Putin was surprised by the strong resistance of the Ukrainians as well as the generous support for Ukraine by Western nations. Sweden and Finland, who had never shown much interest in joining NATO, both applied for membership. Finland became a member in 2023. Now we are back in a state very much like the pre-Gorbachev era. NATO, which only recently seemed to be an anachronism, now has a renewed raison d'etre. With Russia willing to violate international law like this, who in Europe would not want to be part of NATO? A Muscovite was asked by a reporter what he thought about NATO expansion in Scandinavia. He replied that he wished NATO would expand into his apartment so he could get more reliable heating and electricity. The average Russian, like him, is not on board with Mr. Putin's war, but with iron control of the state-run media, Putin can churn out the propaganda and convince enough people to prevent an uprising against him – for the moment at least.
With these developments, NATO has rediscovered its excuse to exist. It exists because Russia threatens its neighbors. Putin says his aggressive foreign policy is actually defensive because he is the one who is threatened by NATO expansion. This circular logic has created a new balance of terror that seems like a lose-lose situation for all Europeans. Isn't it odd, though, that the Russian people no longer even have an ideological disagreement with the people of England, France, Germany, etc., and yet they are poised for war with them? War over what? No one can clearly even define it this time. Russian news commentators froth at the mouth and threaten London with a radioactive tsunami from a torpedo hydrogen bomb. They discuss openly how they will march in and occupy Paris and London, with Russian emigres acting as a fifth column. It is all nonsense, but this saber-rattling fuels the ongoing military buildup in the West. Strangely enough, it all works out wonderfully for the major arms manufacturers. The threat of war is great for business. We ordinary people just read the news and react to the new perceived situations that emerge. We have no idea what went on behind the scenes to make events work out the way they did. Now that we are in this situation, how do we extricate ourselves from it? We, the people, who are supposed to make governments work for us, have to be more aware of developing situations in all their dimensions. We have to connect person-to-person across boundaries and stop expecting our leaders, elected or not, to communicate for us and make decisions for us. We need more direct democracy. This is easier said than done, but it must be done. When we achieve this, we will no longer need NATO or any other sizable military force at all, and we will be able to go wherever in the world we want without passing through customs and asking permission. People everywhere want this. Only a few very few don't want this: a tiny minority in government or corporate positions who want more wealth and power. Putin is a very visible example.
As Eisenhower said:
I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.
PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The history of the Middle East is so fraught with conflict that it is hard to imagine how it will ever come to an end. Despite this story of unending warfare, I am confident that soon after the present conflagration ends, we will see peace in the region, as in the rest of the world. Young people everywhere want an end to violence and division. The ideal of the modern, free, multicultural West serves as a shining example to all, where people can live harmoniously side by side, despite racial and religious differences. Unlike older generations, young people in the Middle East can envision a world in which people can be friends with others of different backgrounds and religions. They have traveled, watched movies, TV shows, and videos, spoken to people from abroad, and they know how relaxed life can be when people live and let live. If we take the norms established in these multicultural, international environments and apply them to democratically-run, integrated communities, then add a cooperative economic system and a culture based on solid spiritual principles, it is not hard to envision a sustainable peace in the region. In fact, this is the only way peace can be achieved.
The shadow of Abraham looms large over the Middle East. Jewish history begins with the trek of Abraham from Mesopotamia to Israel. His willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac sealed the covenant with God in the eyes of the Jewish people. Moses is later credited with delivering the Jewish people from captivity in Egypt and bringing the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, the fragments of which were later placed above the spot of the sacrifice in the Temple of Solomon. The Jewish people were invaded by the Assyrians, and some were enslaved. They were conquered by the Chaldeans, their temple was destroyed, and many were taken to Babylonia in captivity. The Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, allowed the Jews to return to Israel and rebuild their temple. They were ruled in turn by Persians, Greeks, and then Romans. After the time of Christ, the Jewish uprising against the Roman Empire led to the destruction of the Second Temple and the diaspora. The Jews who remained in the region were ruled over by the more numerous Romans, then Byzantine Christians, and later Muslims.
In the eyes of Jews and Christians, Islam is a new religion. In the eyes of Muslims, Islamic history begins with Adam and Eve. Muslims accept the Torah of the Jews (The Old Testament) as truth. They accept all the prophets and their miracles, including Jesus. The Muslim calendar begins with the Hijrah – the journey of Muhammad (peace be upon him) from Mecca to Medina, where the world’s first government was operated according to the rules of the Qur’an. Christians and Jews were both treated well under Islamic law, as both were considered “people of the book” – adherents of the monotheistic religion begun by father Abraham. There was no shortage of warfare among the adherents of different faiths in the Middle East as empires dueled for supremacy with their armed forces, but beneath it all the ordinary people of the three faiths more often than not treated each other with decency. Even non-Abrahamic peoples like Yazidis, Zoroastrians, and Yarnsani were allowed to co-exist in the Islam-dominated Middle East. Competing Islamic empires of Sunni Turks and Shiite Persians waxed and waned, leaving smaller groups of people like Kurds and Armenians to be torn by the vicissitudes of their giant neighbors. The old empires have contracted in size and become nation-states, and yet diverse groups of minority people are trapped within who feel alienated by their own governments.
After World War One, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Jews began returning to the Holy Land in large numbers. After World War Two, the Exodus led to the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Jews suffered the genocidal horrors of the Holocaust and understandably wanted to establish a Jewish homeland where they would be a majority of the population in their own sovereign state. A lot had changed in 1900 years, though, and a millennia and a half of Palestinian history had transpired in the meantime. Some Palestinians were massacred and most were driven from their homes to make way for the Jewish arrivals, who saw their actions as a matter of the rightful repossession of their own (literally) God-given land. The problem is that their “repossession” of the land meant the dispossession of others. We could examine in great detail all the back-and-forth cycles of oppression and violence between the Israelis and the Arabs over the last 70-plus years and we would never arrive at a definitive understanding of who was right and who was wrong. Suffice it to say that there are few key facts to bear in mind when considering the entire situation:
1. Jews like to draw a historic connection between their return to Israel and their expulsion by the Romans some 1,900 years earlier, and this standard narrative is normally showcased in the West. From the Palestinian point of view, the return of Jews from the West was an invasion, and it shares many historic parallels with both the unprovoked violence of the Crusades and the era of European imperialism.
2. Muslims had nothing whatsoever to do with the Holocaust.
3. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
4. The establishment of an apartheid system, no matter what the reason, is not acceptable according to international norms of justice and human rights.
5. Collective punishment of an entire population is never justified.
6. Terrorism by either side is never justified.
7. There are always other options. There are ways of sharing power and living together in peace if we are willing to explore the possibilities.
The bottom line is – whether we are talking about Israel, Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, or even China, for that matter – if any country or region is going to make a modern, peaceful state in the future, and live in peace with its neighbors, it cannot be a theocracy, nor can it persecute believers in any religion. It cannot discriminate against any of its citizens; all must be equal under the law. The laws themselves must be made according to international standards, with fairness for all, and guaranteeing basic freedoms. People cannot be stripped of their land because a religious government requires that some people who believe in one religion have fewer rights than other people who belong to the majority religion in that area. People cannot treat others in a manner that they would consider abuse if it were done to members of their own religion in another part of the world. Spiritual principles should be followed in making laws and policies, but only those principles that are universal and can be agreed upon by all religions. These principles include fairness, empathy, tolerance, friendship, and above all, non-violence. Except for basic rules of attire in public to which all can agree, people should neither be forced to wear any covering nor to remove any such covering. Not only should Christians, Jews, and Muslims – people who share a common bond in the monotheism of Abraham – stop treating one another like mortal enemies, but Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others whose religions do not originate with the teachings of Abraham should also be fully welcome to live in all parts of the Middle East as equals.
Dreams of peace in the Middle East sound like crazy-talk when one watches the indiscriminate violence and deep-seated hatred that exists there today. At the moment, there is no stopping it. After the smoke clears, however, the survivors will have a chance to find a brand new solution to prevent a recurrence of the present catastrophe. This solution cannot be more of the same: people assembling according to tribal loyalties, grabbing a piece of land, and preparing to make war on all outsiders. A true solution is one of intentionally mixed communities, where laws apply equally to all and the human rights of all are respected. There need be no more armies or national borders as we have known them. People will be able to travel freely and apply to join any community whose rules and norms fit with their own preferences. Groups of self-governing, democratically-run communities, operating in a decentralized manner, will collaborate to make larger, regional governing bodies function. The lines of these new regional governing areas will be drawn carefully to avoid the old boundaries of the nation-states that used to exist, and will deliberately include people of different faiths and languages.
This may seem nearly impossible to accomplish, considering the lingering animosities and blood feuds, but not if we figure into this new milieu the reality of the above-mentioned Great Intentional Migrations. If we calculate that some 50% of the population of each part of the Middle East will emigrate to other parts of the world and be replaced with a roughly-equal number of immigrants representative of the entire world’s population, we see that the whole dynamic will be changed. An area that used to be 90% Jewish will be only 45% Jewish, with the remaining 55% made up of Chinese, Indians, Americans, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, etc. on down the list. The same will be true of areas that are currently 90% Palestinian. When someone in the future preaches a message of hate, aimed narrowly at the group that traditionally called the area home, they will not be met with encouragement and support; they will be escorted to a psychiatrist and given treatment. One possible treatment might be to spend a few years living in a distant land as the minority. This is a great way to gain perspective and lose the sense that some ancestral link between the land and those of your own ethnicity and/or religion is worth fighting over. People who think their own group is special or better than others will learn a few necessary lessons in humility. Five years living in Bali or with a Native American tribe might broaden their horizons. A prescription to meditate with a good teacher can also work wonders.
The new dynamic will be one of both extreme cosmopolitanism and close-knit community at the same time. People will be lifelong friends with others from all parts of the world and of all faiths. They will welcome acquaintances and relatives of all hues and all religions who visit from afar, and they will also travel widely themselves, where they will see near mirror images of their own co-op community in all corners of the globe. They will simultaneously have the sense that the whole world is theirs and that it belongs to everyone else as well. Jews have always called themselves God’s chosen people, but in the future, they will realize that everyone has equal access to God. Jews have believed for millennia that the land of Israel is God’s gift to them. The truth is that the entire world is God’s gift to all of us. Muslims, Jews, and Christians have all felt that their religion is the one true faith that can allow a person’s soul to be saved, but they will all realize that salvation is (1) difficult to define without wisdom, and (2) open to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others as well. When people take the time to thoroughly research, understand, and directly experience other religions, they cannot help but gain a deep respect for the wisdom contained within. When this dream of today becomes the reality of tomorrow, the land upon which people live will no longer be a source of contention. There will be no more concept of one spot of land being holier than another, or of one area belonging exclusively to one group. Just as mosques and temples are popping up in the West, so will spiritual centers of all kinds soon appear in all corners of the Middle East. History will be studied for its lessons and historic holy sites will be protected, but the past will no longer serve to propel future generations into conflict.
UTOPIA IS A STATE OF MIND
The word utopia has developed an unjustified negative connotation over the years. It all started from Thomas More’s invention of the word from Greek roots meaning “no place.” He used the made-up word as the title of his 1516 book, a work of fiction describing an imaginary island. The culture of the island was meant as a deliberate juxtaposition to European culture of the time. It was meant in a semi-serious, semi-playful way as food for thought, pointing the way to self-examination and deliberate improvement. The book was written in the spirit of the Renaissance, back when people had the guts to boldly redefine themselves and their culture. The spirit of our times is a far cry from this admirable ethos of 500 years ago.
For centuries, people have used the word “utopian” as a pejorative to suggest that any ambitious ideas for changes in society are too idealistic. Yes, some people have been unrealistic, gullible, and naive in their plans for a new society (communists are a prime example), but the use of the word “utopian” suggests that it is impossible to make any serious improvement to our government, our economic system, or to our culture in general. If this were the case, it means we would be frozen in an eternal stasis. Progress and evolution would no longer exist. In America, we look back with reverence at the Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary War, and the Constitution. All these things were products of the Age of Reason, which viewed the universe as operating according to fixed laws, all of which could be understood by human logic. Likewise, it was believed that the rules of human behavior and interaction could be understood and that systems of government, economics, education, etc. could be made more perfect. This belief that we can do better is what powers all our attempts at reform. When we give up on the notion that a more perfect world is possible, we resign ourselves to continuing on in the same fixed pattern forever. Since we are currently in a steep nose dive, a lack of improvement equates to suicide. We must adapt or die.
Today we are in a strange situation. We have more knowledge at our disposal and greater technical abilities than ever, yet we have ironically become more cynical about our chances for self-improvement. If we do not believe a better world is possible, it means we are essentially giving up. If we believe that a better world is possible, we need to start acting in accordance with this belief and make a 100% effort to fix our problems ASAP. If we fail to do so, we are like a patient that is told by the doctor they need to alter their lifestyle or they will be dead within a year, and then does not make any of the prescribed changes. This means we must all adopt a utopian mindset. We need to redefine “utopian” to no longer mean pollyannaish, but possessing a firm belief in the ability to improve ourselves and our systems without limit. Just as we claim to admire the courage and wisdom of the framers of the Constitution, yet act as if we cannot get up the gumption to revise the clunky, byzantine document itself, there is a disconnect between our idea of ourselves as revolutionary innovators and our laziness in trying to implement actual solutions to our most pressing problems. If we put as much effort into solving issues of health care, poverty, and homelessness as we did into sports and gambling, these problems would have been solved a long time ago. If we cared as much about these issues as we did about our coffee drinks and our iphones, our society would be redesigned as quickly and completely as next year’s new car models. If we tried to bring about world peace as hard as we tried to end the Great Depression with New Deal projects, it would have happened a century ago.
Where should we look for the answer? In the 1500s, some people imagined that perhaps in the New World they would find a better way of life among some Native American cultures. In the 1800s, small experiments in alternative social arrangements, known today as utopias, blossomed in the West. In the 1933, James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon was published, introducing us to Shangri-La, a lost valley in Tibet with a peaceful society full of people who lived long and healthy lives. In the 1940s and 50s, people focused on the fact that people in the area of Hunza in Pakistan lived longer than almost anyone else in the world because of their diet, exercise, high-altitude existence, and natural lifestyle. Tibet used to beckon to the adventurous, but over 70 years ago it was invaded and put under the control of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army. Nepal was trashed by the hippies back in the 1960s. It seems there are no more hidden valleys, islands, or utopias that we imagine can be used as a quick template to copy and paste as a cure-all or an easy aid to longevity. This is not to say there are not great ideas to be found in all these far-off places, only that the distillation and application of such ideas cannot be done as part of a fad, but as part of a permanent lifestyle change. We no longer search for undiscovered lands here on earth, as we seem to have discovered them all. Most of us search for topics of conversation from movies and shows on streaming services, where the plotlines appear to be made from recycled bits and pieces from older stories, stuck together at random. Rather than consider these ideas as potential solutions for meeting our most serious challenges, we think of it all as simple entertainment, and our consumer mindsets drive the industry to crank out shows that are increasingly banal and insipid. For the most part, it seems, we are more interested in avoiding boredom than in finding a way out of our impending self-destruction.
I have spent the last 30 years collecting the elements of world culture that I believe have the most promise in helping us create the best future possible. In 1991, I went to Taiwan with the purpose of learning Chinese language and culture, as well as searching for answers to deeper questions about the nature of reality. In 1993, I met a group that seemed to have many of those answers. Over the next three and a half years, I had a lifetime of experiences with the association, and began assembling the framework of the book Utopia Found. I was a part of an experimental community in which people came together with a common purpose and treated one another like family. The group had an inestimable effect on me. I found the answers I was seeking and came to view the future with hope and certainty instead of despair. In the end, the group unfortunately fell apart due to its inability to institute democratic reforms. The closest thing to an actual utopia that I have ever experienced turned out to be only a temporary arrangement. It left me with an understanding that utopia is not a place, nor will it ever be; it is a state of mind.
The utopian state of mind is the belief that we can improve, coupled with our determination to make that improvement into a reality. It is the perseverance to continually improve in every way possible, using democratic discussion, scientific methods, technology, positive thinking, experimentation, and spiritually-grounded wisdom. We cannot visit that particular time and space that I knew in the 90s to replicate it as an easy fix to save the world. What we can do is take the lessons I learned there (along with the lessons we have learned from all previous religions and civilizations) and apply them to create a future in which every individual participates in fine-tuning the systems by which we run our lives. When we see world peace and an end to hunger, we will know we are making improvement. We can always say, “Another day in utopia,” as if things are perfect when we know they never will be, but according to the definition of utopia as a place of continual improvement, if we are all living in intentional communities and making sincere effort, it is a utopia already. This reflects the reality of life on the physical plane. Nothing here is ever 100% perfect, but we should never stop trying. This determination to save the planet for our kids and grandkids is the essence of a utopian mindset. Adopting this way of thought is our only hope. It does not require a trip to Tibet or the high Andes (although it does not preclude travel); it only requires that we reboot our minds and update the software. The whole world and all its most wonderful ideas can come to us wherever we are. A modified Shangri-La and Shambhala can be transplanted to exist in every community around the world if we wish. We just have to open up to the possibilities and be unafraid to change. We also have to care enough to turn good intentions into actions. How bad will we allow society and the environment to degrade before we take the necessary steps?