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Post details: Three R for 21st Century

Three R for 21st Century

The three Rs (reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic) are the basic building blocks of elementary education.

I think that the evolution of human race in this century will also be driven and determined by three R's. But these will be slightly different. They'll represent the most urgent problems we'll have to address in order to make it into the next century without blowing ourselves to smithereens.


The first is obvious. As the global village becomes smaller, the religions are faced with the problem of other gods' presence. In the old days, they could simply ignore them. People did not travel much and thus the knowledge of other religions was limited. Our sacred spiritual habits have remained constant and unchallenged by the outside world for much of the recorded history. But nowadays the splendid isolation no longer works. Other Gods invaded our life. They are there - in the newspaper, in the textbook, on the talk show - right next to our God. Their worshippers sit next to you on the subway train. But they don't fit into our canon. They do not guarantee our way of salvation. They make other people do something that you regard as bad. Yet you can't send the extra gods into divine detention. The clash of religions is becoming a global version of "my dad is better than your dad" contest. And we will have to deal with it. In the melting pot of our century, the problems of sharing the theological space will be paramount.

The second one is closely related. In fact, it is the corporal equivalent of the first. People always tend to favor their own kind. It is the old tribal instinct. They regard different race as a different species. As long as we were separated by deep valleys, there was no problem. But different races have different smells, different cultures, different values, different abilities. It is one thing to visit foreign country, and marvel at their strange habits and then come back to your own backyard and heave a momentous sigh of relief that all is well and precisely as it used to be. It is different when those strange creatures occupy your own neighborhood and you have to deal with their laughter, morals, music, hygiene etc. All the little daily fights get exacerbated in the competitive environment in which the finite fruits of Mother Earth need to be shared. How we deal with it will determine whether this century will be largely peaceful, or whether it will continue the pattern of conflicts and hostilities.

The third problem, however, is the most important one. In the complex society, responsibility is a tricky concept. Take financials for instance. In the old days, you would deposit money at the bank. Someone else needed that money, so the bank would check them out, lend them the money and monitor the repayment of the loan. The bank was responsible for the management of the loan. However, in this day and age, if you borrow the money, the bank creates an opaque security out of this debt, chops it into little pieces and stirs those into various financial salads. Now who is responsible for such loan? In such system it is not even clear who owes to whom and how much.

Politicians are not responsible for their decisions because politics became too involved to keep track of individual decisions, people are not responsible for their own conduct because in mammoth urban metropoles the anonymity of the crowd hides all kinds of bad behavior, consumers are not responsible for their mistakes because lawyers egg them on to frivolous lawsuits. The more complex the world is, the easier it is to hide responsibility behind a facade of formal regulation.

The antidote is simplification of our life, education about other beliefs and promotion and encouragement of tolerance. If we don't implement them soon enough, the three Rs will drown us in our good intentions.


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