For what should our generation choose to strive?

As a Chinese student living in the U.S., I am witnessing fascinating societal changes and turbulent dynamics. From the Black Lives Matter movement at the local level to the increasingly fiery partisan competition for the 2020 presidential election at the national level, further to the global pandemic COVID19, the American society seems to be living every day on a roller coaster. To me, who observes with the lens of political sciences and development economics, it is a scary but truly fascinating world and time to live.

My supervisor asked me recently: “For what does your generation choose to engage in and strive? With so much injustice, including ecological and climate, it can be hard to choose the just cause one wants to get oneself involved. Or is there a movement of trying to mind ones own business and getting to terms with the crazy life all around oneself? It can be disorienting. Who are the modern-day heroes? Do people still need heroes?

My answer is: yes, definitely, people need heroes all the time. Greta Thunberg, for example, is a true modern-day hero for me. True, there is so much injustice, from environmental to social to economic, structural flaws are now seeing their days of causing systems collapse, or push the systems ever closer to collapse.

What I am seeing is that there are more polarization and greater diversity in causes. The BLM movement, global environmental deterioration, anthropogenic climate change, Muslim countries which are now becoming even more conservative… True, there are so many frustrations when it comes to moments when we feel so little has progressed over what seems to be a long period in history.

I tend to think that this generation will continue these few mainstreams of movements – climate change, racial, gender and income equality. In comparison to the post-second world war period, when there was a more united outcry for peace and liberation of old ruling forces, this generation is again closer to international, intercultural and inter-ideological conflicts.

That would probably mean that these movements together will generate momentums leading to more drastic and fundamental institutional change. This generation and the next one are and will be living on the collapsing verge of the old development order established after the second world was and the edge of a new order. However, it is hard to see yet, which movements will take over the major stream v.s. other movements.

I have long had this dream of opening an eco-education centre somewhere in the rural area, in Asia or Africa, or in the indigenous communities in Latin America, where the wave of post Second World War global economic development has not yet fully taken away traditional knowledge.

I envision that one of the more important mission of this eco-education centre will be to help these rural kids to make sense of the so-called modern world, which the Western civilization has come to establish, and help them ground the basis of our hunter-gatherer and agrarian origin.

This means two main aspects of the endeavour. The first is to guide the kids through a non-ideological, anthropologic view of history. This process should enable them to make the connections in between how, which parts of human history contributed to shaping our lives today, and what it means to each of us as individuals if we look back comprehensively to human history, not just the first and the second world war, but also the colonialisation, the renaissance, the middle ages, the times of dukes and majesties, the Genghis Khan, the Alexander the Great, the Aristotle, the Roman, the Confucius, the Laozi, the Budha…. It’s probably an extremely challenging task, but I think this might be the only way we can shape the next period of our society – by attempting to understand and make sense of how these ancient times have come to shape us today.

The second aspect is to help them make solid sense of our history as a species on planet Earth. This includes the history of Nature, how we emerged, the history of human-nature connection, our dependency as a mammal species on Earth, the delicate balance the Earth tries to keep with its biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and geosphere.

A saying I deeply believe in is: if we want to know who we are, what we want, where we are going and want to shape our destination, we have to know our history; for an individual, its family history, the parents and grandparents. For a society, it’s the whole human history we need to make sense in our mind.

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