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November 11, 2006

Dear Kids

(Note: The following is the start of a journal that I intend to deliver to my kids on their respective 18th birthdays. I flatter myself that some of the entries may have interest for others, so I publish them here. Nothing personal will be published, don't worry.)

November 11, 2006

Dear Kids:

Ten thousand years from now: can you imagine that day? Okay, but do you? Do you believe “the Future” is going to happen? . . . What about five thousand years from now, or even five hundred? Can you extend the horizon of your expectations for our world, for our complex of civilizations and cultures, beyond the lifetime of your own children, of the next two or three generations? Can you even imagine the survival of the world beyond the present presidential administration? Michael Chabon, Details, January 2006. (Quote found at: Michael Chabon's website.)

It might seem odd to you, on your 18th birthday, that I am writing to you ten, twelve or even fourteen years ahead of time. My point in doing so is both simple and complex. My hope is that, as an 18-year old, you have begun to think about the world around and beyond you—particularly beyond your particular place, which I will assume to be some suburban home somewhere in the United States.

Now, this hope of mine might be quite quixotic. I did not begin to think beyond my own narrow world well into my twenties—perhaps into my late twenties. It is true that I had opinions about the rest of the world. But those opinions were not really formed through thinking about the rest of the world. They were the fashionable opinions of those with whom I agreed politically and philosophically (to the extent I could be said to have had philosophical thoughts) at the time. That is to say they were the opinions of a young, conservative man coming of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Those thoughts seem almost otherworldly at this point. They certainly seem woefully naïve. That is not to be wondered at. Although they were perhaps relevant at the time, that was a very different time, if only 20 some years ago. It was a different age. Ironically, although the Cold War was still playing out—a war in which the destruction of all life on earth was contemplated on a regular basis—it seems a time of lightness and naïveté. Now, as I said, seems to belong to a different age. Although we contemplate the destruction of the world less often, we contemplate instances of mass killing much more often—and those mass killings by whomever seem very much more real, to me at least, than the potential nuclear annihilation that seemed only moments away at times during the 70s and 80s.

At any rate, I hope that you are pondering that which is beyond your current place at the moment. Perhaps, as you do so, you may wonder a bit at how the world got to where it is. You can, of course, read books of recent history, as well as books of less recent history, and newspapers (if such term is known) to get a general sense of “what is happening.” However, those recitations of bare facts may not contain enough of the flesh and blood of how we really got to where we are (when you are 18). It is my hope that this journal, in some small way, helps fill in some blanks. I will endeavor to avoid playing the solipsist, but must admit that this journal can only bear my thoughts and opinions, and those only for a very short span of the time between now and your 18th birthday. Nonetheless, you might be interested to gain this perspective as you contemplate the greater world around you.

Now I will hazard to make a prediction or two. First, I guess that you will find some of the words in this journal unknown to you. You might also find the style to be archaic, at best, and tedious, at worst. This is not a comment on your vocabulary but just an acknowledgement that some of the words I use, and the style in which I use them, are already old-fashioned as I write them. They will be even more so when you read them. Or, as I said, they may be tedious to a high degree.

The second, and more substantive, prediction (at least for now) is that your time will be marked, as our time is now, by an ongoing clash between two forces, the West (I almost might say “Christian” West, but that is barely true even now) and Islam. It may even be that the clash is between the Secular World (with nations such as China and India participating) and Radical Islam. In any event, I predict that yours will be a world in which certain Muslim nations and movements will continue to use violence as one means of imposing their religious will on other parts of the world.

I say clash. I could say “battle” or “war.” Whatever word is used, it is now a bit controversial to call the current clash a “clash of civilizations” or a “clash of cultures.” That is considered outlandish, presumptive, or worse, it is considered a statement that indicates that the speaker believes “our culture” or “our civilization” to be better than the other. Believing that there is a transcendent truth, or that some civilization or culture is better than another, is considered déclassé in the United States in 2006. Being terribly old fashioned, I commit the sin of believing in ultimate truths on a somewhat regular basis.

Nevertheless, we shall not say that we are in the midst of a clash of cultures at this time. No, when we consider one culture in which parents approve of, nay help, their twelve year old daughter strap explosives to herself so that said daughter might annihilate herself at a bus stop so that she might kill some Jews along with herself, we say that is merely a difference in ideas. That we in the West cannot even fathom such an idea does not make it a cultural issue. Thus, it is mere ideas that cause people to fly airliners into buildings, not cultures. I know this because a woman who was once the Secretary of State of the United States has said as much. She is considered to be a very wise woman indeed. And I am certainly not the person who could claim anything to the contrary. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see where such rhetoric stands when you are eighteen.

In the event, I dare to predict that there will still be a clash (of ideas or whatever) between certain portions of Islam and the Secular West (and whomever else) when you are eighteen. That conflict, I suspect, will provide the backdrop against which many of the important world events are played out, as it does so today. I will no doubt write more on this conflict, and its very old roots, in other entries.

I daresay, though, that you will perceive other issues and themes within the United States and the world in your eighteenth year. For instance, as I write this, there is a child in Africa who is, literally, starving to death. She does not know why this is happening to her, nor does she care. She does not know that this world currently produces enough food to feed each and every human on the planet. Such grand thoughts do not enter her mind. She does not know that one of the reasons that she cannot get enough to eat is that various warlords in her country are fighting important “wars”, which prevent the food and aid she needs. No, she will die quietly without the benefit of knowing these important thoughts. Still and all, though, the sun will rise tomorrow. Pro football will be on, and all will be well with the world. Her mother, perhaps, will shed a tear for the daughter whom she knew did not have much hope when she entered the world. Such is the lot of many in our world today.

Unless I am greatly mistaken, such will be the case in the world eighteen years hence. Children will starve to death needlessly while enough food is produced to feed them. Such it has ever been and such it will ever be. A sobering thought, no doubt.

No doubt there will continue to be ecological problems in your day as well. Whether or not “global warming” will plague your thoughts, I do not know. Such concepts are a bit grandiose for my small mind. What I know, though, is that you will be wondering what the heck will be done with all the garbage that continues to accumulate. Why is there garbage on the side of the road? What, exactly, is that coming out of that smokestack? What is the cumulative weight of the exhaust products that come out of car and truck tailpipes, and what effect do such particles have on the air? Other similar problems will no doubt trouble you as well.

(That’s also two more predictions I suppose.)

Now, here I must make a confession of sorts. You see, in writing this, I have truly wanted to provide you some perspective, however shallow and idiosyncratic, on the world around you. However, as I write about the world to come, and how it came to be that way, I am forced to think about, well, how it might come to be. This forces me to contemplate how I would like such world to be. Because I love you, and only want the best possible future for you, this forces me to think about how I might think and act and feel about bringing about a rather better than worse world for you at eighteen. Thus, I hope, in my own small way, to also use this journal to change me so that things might be changed for you. In addition to be old fashioned, I tend to be foolishly optimistic.

That is no small task. But then, I have ten years.

Oh, and, Happy Birthday.


Posted by Mark at November 11, 2006 11:31 PM

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