America and Europe have been no better. It was only 300 years ago that Americans burned witches at the stake. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Europe crippled Africa and the Middle East with their so-called nation building that ignored centuries of tribal realities.
When we consider the world today and try to comprehend the massive failures of virtually every foreign policy initiative by all countries for improvements, we should recognize that, for all our best intentions, human beings simply do not have the ability to accomplish great goals. Recent studies in neurology, psychology, economics, and other fields make it clear that emotions and primitive urges are much more powerful than either the rational or conscious parts of our minds. The 18th Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the belief that human beings could harness the power of our rational minds has been revealed to be a myth.
We do stand on the edge of a precipice, but I've come to realize that we have always stood there. It is not a new phenomenon. Most cannot even see the precipice; it is too terrifying to imagine. Others believe that technology and the illusion of control over it will provide a bridge.
I no longer know what to believe, but I also now question my own fears that homo sapiens is simply another in a series of failed experiments by nature. It's not that I have more hope; it's rather that, looking backwards, I can't find an historical period when we were any better.
That is not to say that one should succumb to despair and cease all efforts at improvements. Human beings do have good qualities, not the least of which is a fundamental optimism — perhaps unreasonable but nonetheless valuable. Despair is tantamount to submission: We have always been and will always been three steps from the cave. Progress is futile.
I can't accept that. We must never stop trying to create a more just, equitable world, but perhaps we'll have more success if we realize how much of our own barbarism we have to overcome to achieve it.