Is it really as bad as all that?
In one of her last speeches (as quoted in the NYTBR), Susan Sontag -- woe, woe is we -- said, "We live in a culture committed to unifying greeds, "with "everyone on the planet feeding at the same trough of standardized entertainment and fantasies of eros and violence." Watching Bahamians feeding on their own little piece of standardized entertainment -- the Anna Nicole brouhaha -- alternately tut-tutting and gorging themselves with every shabby tidbit, it is easy to imagine that Sontag got it right. There is no question that globalization will be the defining historical movement of the 21st century. Whether it will lead to a lowest common denominator of greed, eros and violence, or to what Sontag called "a standard of altruism, of regard for others" remains to be seen.
I choose to be optimistic. Maybe we are optimists and pessimists by birth, genetically predisposed to hope or despair. Maybe our personal experiences in life so far incline us one way or the other. Maybe I am right in seeing a trend in history, what Margaret Mead called "the ever-expanding circle of those we do not kill" (or words to that effect; I rely on memory of a talk I heard more than 50 years ago). Or maybe I linger under the influence of Teilhard de Chardin, a hero of my youth, who in his concept of the Noosphere imagined something very like the internet -- in his vision, a suprahuman global radiance of all that is redeeming in the human spirit. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? It has helped to have had a career in teaching. There are times for me, as I am sure for everyone, when the march of human folly nudges one towards Sontagian gloom. Then I spend time with students -- ideally in a natural environment -- and my optimism is restored.