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The Earth is Bipolar (but we all have to live here)

‘Twas the night before Valentine’s, and most guys were frantic,
It’s so hard to recall how to be faux romantic…

VD is a harsh little pocket of cynicism for me, despite having a smart and attractive date every year. Thanks for allowing that wee poetic vent, but that’s SO not what I want to talk about. I’m actually thinking about IDEALS. Most of us seem to agree on what they are: that the whole world could know the peace that we enjoy; that our children might inherit a cleaner, flourishing natural environment; that the whole human species might realize its inner sister-and-brotherhood; that kindness rule, that all are befriended and feel useful, and God bless all the nations…

As humanity gropes erratically toward these sorts of goals – and we are – the confusion can be overwhelming. I’ve learned to distinguish, though it’s rarely crystal clear, two simultaneous processes at work in the world. One is destructive, and appears designed to undermine any hope we might have of achieving our social ideals. The other, sometimes harder to see because Fox News doesn’t report it, is a process that builds resolutely toward our collective dreams. I’ve run across two news stories that perfectly illustrate these processes. The world is bipolar, in more ways than one.

First is an astoundingly scary set of numbers, recounted in an article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail by Lawrence Martin, about the level of defence spending by the American government. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so dreadful. To a man with a hammer, it is said, every problem looks like a nail. To a fear-obsessed nation with trillions invested in the machinery of war, international problems appear solvable by force. (Shock and Awe. Remember? Wow.) The piece isn’t linkable for free, so a brief excerpt follows:

“Overwhelming” won’t do. “Staggering” doesn’t quite cut it. The United States now spends more [$622 billion annually, doubled in the Bush II years] on military might than all the other countries put together. Its nearest rivals, Russia and China, spend less than $100-billion each. Put them on a racetrack with the Americans and you get the picture: The Russians and the Chinese are lapped by the guys in stars and stripes more than six times over.

That still isn’t enough, it seems. When you’re equipped with the greatest arsenal ever known and you’re taken down by a bunch of goat herders with pen-knives, you have to forever prove your manhood — even if the new tonnage in armour is barely relevant to the fight. Of course, it wasn’t lack of U.S. military power that resulted in the 9/11 calamity. It was lack of intelligence. Nevertheless, the terror hit has given the green light to the runaway military industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned about. Boeing needs the money…

This week’s sign that hopefulness is possible is not (surprise!) such a loud, vulgar and pricey proposition. It’s a bit of environmental optimism that arises from an amazing development in tiny, poor Niger. Along with Kenyan 2004 Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her tree-planting miracle-in-progress, this is one of those stories that we don’t hear often enough. This is a revolutionary encounter of the inspiring kind. It was on the New York Times front page, and you may read it here.

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