Future peace in the current crisis

The world is on fire, or so it would appear from the rhetoric surrounding the debate on Iraq, the World Trade Organization, terrorism, and other conflicts. Former CIA Director James Woolsey is even bold enough to claim that we are now "engaged in World War VI" (III being the Cold War). But there is optimism for a peaceful future among those who understand the economic dynamics that underlie the current strife.

Alvin Toffler in his seminal book, Future Shock, described how the clash of economies creates tremendous friction that affects all aspects of social and political life. From this perspective, the most terrible war in American history originated in the clash of different economic interests as this country moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy.

The moneyed interests of the Southern States, where cotton was "King" faced the loss of power and influence in national affairs at a time when the Northern States were rapidly industrializing. The result: the American Civil War in which more than one-half million Americans died. In the end, the South was defeated and America became the world's largest industrialized nation. Today "white gold" has been replaced by "black gold" and the U.S. agriculture workforce is only a tiny fraction of what it was a century earlier.

Most of the 20th century was marked by American prominence in the manufacturing sector as an industrial/transportation powerhouse that continues to the present day. One need only look at the sales (2002 rank) of the largest companies in the world according to Forbes Magazine, to see how much revenue, and impact on the world economy, remains: ExxonMobile (2), General Motors (3), Royal Dutch/Shell (4), British Petroleum (5), Ford Motor Co. (6) DiamlerChrysler (7), Toyota Motors (8). In fact ChevronTexaco (12) with $97 Billion in revenues is greater than IBM and Microsoft combined. But this sector is beginning to decline, creating consternation among those corporations, families, and individuals that benefited the most from it..

While there are many factors that contribute to present conflicts - most notably the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan - the historical fact is that the financial interests that arose during the industrial/transportation age are seeking to remain on their pinnacle by the exercise of political influence. They do not directly own the armies needed to continue to dominate those markets so instead use the taxpayer financed military of the U.S. and Great Britain to prop up their dynasties.

This isn't entirely an indictment of the CEOs, Presidents, and Prime Ministers since all of us have benefited from this economic paradigm. The ease with which we fill our automobiles with plentiful and inexpensive gas, ride on airplanes and take cruises, and ship our products overnight to customers and clients, has all been supported by this economic way of living. The present conflicts that engage us are the predictable and, some would argue, inevitable outcome of the transition from this "old" economy to the new one, the knowledge age.

In contrast to the agricultural economies with the dependence on land and the industrial economy with its reliance on raw materials, we are rapidly entering an age where access to digital resources will become more important to economic well being than reliance on natural resources and transportation is today. This should lead to fresh period of economic stability and create an entirely new generation of wealth.

New Rules for the New Economy author Kevin Kelly describes the coming economic paradigm in these terms, "steadily driving the gyrating cycles of cool technogadgets and gotta-haves is an emerging new economic order. The geography of wealth is being reshaped by our tools." And with this advancing prosperity comes the opportunity to solve many of the problems that contribute to conflict: poverty, disease, and injustice, throughout the world and at home.

In China the word "crisis" is created through the joining of two ideograms together: the one for "danger" and the other "opportunity." At critical junctures, like the ones we face today, we are presented - as individuals and nations - with opportunities amidst crises.

Today the world may indeed appear to be embroiled in the sort of conflicts that might never end, but at the same time we have the possibility that we can transition through this time to better days. This then is the hope for a future peace in the midst of the current crisis.

Peace, Charlie


Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, recently returned from his second trip to Iraq, undertaken through the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization of Chicago. He is a high-tech CEO and lives with his two sons in San Antonio.


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