On Hope and Belief: The Far East, the Mid-West, and the Middle East

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On Hope and Belief: The Far East, the Mid-West, and the Middle East

Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs

From the Middle East to the Mid-West and all the way to the Far East, the world is facing a series of serious questions about the future of human society. In the Middle East, the cry is for human liberty and dignity, pitted against brutal repression and authoritarian rule. In the Mid-West, the fight is between increasing corporate-state power and the right for workers to social and economic justice in a democratic society. In Japan, the unfolding nuclear crisis is highlighting the need for debate on the ability of science and modernization to maintain current levels of human well being, counter-weighted by the increasing dangers associated with nuclear energy and environmental change.

In every case, these debates are generating antagonism. The focal point of contention, while superficially based on failures of state and corporate power to properly respect, protect and defend the rights of their people, is more properly based at the level of hope and belief. The question of a future society is fundamentally a question about what kind of future society people can believe in. At the same time, it is even more basically a question of hope: hope for a yet unfounded belief in a better, viable, and achievable vision of the future.

In this context, the battles in America and the Middle East speak to outstanding concerns for many of the world's population. America's battle is an echo of the most important fight of the late 20th Century. Madison, Wisconsin has initiated a brutal contest of united workers against the dominant position of unchecked private power. Moreover, their fight is also challenging a more recent but perhaps more problematic phenomenon: the ability of corporate influence to monopolize access to the political system. The people of the Middle-East, for their part, are engaged in perhaps the oldest and most well recognized battle to ever face human civilization: a fight for liberty, freedom, and human dignity against brutal and oppressive military rule.

These battles are crucial not simply for their goals and achievements, but also because of their very existence. The fact of their happening has bred increasing hopes throughout the world that such fights are not only possible and worthwhile, but also perhaps even immediately viable.

The Middle East is the example in this case. The revolutions across the regions literally spread from country to country, out from Tunisia and into the broader region. These movements for freedom and human dignity are based not on a wish for a better life, but on a belief that the future they hope for is actually possible. While organizing in many of the Middle-East countries had been underway for years, if not decades, the uprisings occurred together partly because protesters helped each other believe that now the revolution was possible.

At the international level, the fights in Madison, Cairo, and Benghazi are not just lessons about the power of people to achieve change. They are also giving hope to hundreds of thousands of people; some of whom may intellectually understand that change is possible, but who have never been able to actual believe it was achievable.

The most far-reaching and consequential fight for the future of human civilization, however, is centred on the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and continuing nuclear crisis. This fight is perhaps the most important of all because it speaks to elements of human development and a future global society that are otherwise quietly dismissed in favour of economic expedience, efficiency, and affluence.

The question of Japan's future is obscured by loud voices fearing for the future of modern development. The threat of Japan's failure to properly defend against the threats of growing climate irregularities is compounded by the fact that it is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Moreover, the widely stated concern on the part of the world's superpowers is that without nuclear energy, the modern lifestyles of countries like Japan may not be viable. Together, the critical juncture of humanity's potential powerlessness against nature, and the need to continue providing current standards of affluence, have together forced heated debate about the very future of human and social development.

While the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have already sparked debate on the future of democracy in the Arab region, and the Mid-West has sparked a serious uprising of workers in America against the nexus of state and corporate power, the questions raised by Japan's crisis may take longer to coalesce in the minds of the global population. Nevertheless, it is the question that informs both the Mid-West and the Middle East. Most importantly, it is the question that informs democratic societies everywhere, whether or not they feel affinity towards American workers, Arab revolutionaries, or the suffering of millions of Japanese civilians from the damages of the largest earthquake to ever hit their island.

The question in Japan is not about just about rights, justice, and freedom from the power of state and corporate influence. The question in Japan is about whether or not we can imagine a future human society that can properly address the economic, environmental, and social changes taking place throughout global society. It is a question of belief that a sustainable world can be achieved. Moreover, it is also a deeply persuasive reason to ask ourselves whether we truly believe in our hopes for creating a better world, despite the uncertainty that it may not be possible.

Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs is a writer on Global and Urban Development. He is based in Paris.

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