Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture
Sunday book excerpt: Table of Contents & Preface
Be not like the lintel, which no hand can reach, but like the threshold, trodden by all. When the building falls, the threshold remains.
—Eleazar HaKappar, Abot de R. Nathan, 26
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
—Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.
In March of 1978, I met a man who for the next thirty years became a major force and role model in my life. (I wrote a book about him titled The Prophet’s Way.) Gottfried Mueller was, at the time, in his sixties and ran an internationally known famine relief and social work organization headquartered out of Germany. But his personal obsession was the near future, which he saw coming at us like an oncoming train.
We sat in Stadtsteinach, Germany, in the guest house of his organization Salem, and over a glass of organic red wine he put a sheet of paper on the table and with a pen drew a quick L — a vertical and horizontal line that was each a few inches long.
“Consider human population,” he said, starting to draw from the beginning point. “For a hundred thousand years we were pretty steady.” The line moved a few inches forward, from left to right. “Then we started to grow. In 1800 we hit a billion. In 1930, two billion.” The line was starting to curve up. “Three billion in 1960. Four billion in 1974. And they say it’ll be five billion by 1987!” The line curved sharply up toward the top of the page.
“Now,” he said, drawing another L, look at everything else. “Poverty.” An upward line. “Diseases.” Another line shooting up. “Death of the forests and most things living in them.” Another line. “Pollution.” Another upward arc.
He continued through a dozen or so of the ills of humankind, from violence to crime to our consumption of food and water.
“When you see this curve,” he said, “you are in trouble. Each of these must hit a threshold. After the top of that threshold, there is either transformation or disaster, most often disaster. If you and I and others don’t do something about this, we are in trouble. The world is in trouble.”
He was right, and looking back on that March day in the rolling hills of the northern Bavarian Frankenwald forest, I realize that if anything, he was an optimist. He thought it might be a generation, maybe even two, before the crisis was so great that we’d face disasters of biblical proportions.
Yet in 2008 more than thirty countries had food riots. While just one multinational corporation, Exxon, showed a more than $40 billion profit in 2007, the World Bank in July of 2008 was begging the G8, the group of the eight richest nations in the world, for $3.5 billion to feed the world’s most destitute people. They encountered considerable resistance. After all, governments aren’t the solution in this brave new world; they’re the problem. Right?
The world is right now tottering atop three major thresholds: an environment that is so afire it may no longer be able to support human life; an economic “free market” system that is almost entirely owned, run, and milked by a tiny fraction of 1 percent of us and has crashed and in many ways is burning around us; and an explosion of human flesh on the planet that has turned our species into a global Petri dish just waiting for an infective agent to run amok.
Four mistakes have brought us to this point, and the failure to recognize them at their deepest level will only push us faster toward total tipping points where we are thrown over the Three Thresholds and into disaster. All four of these Mistakes are grounded in our culture, our way of thinking, our way of seeing the world, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and why we’re here.
The first mistake is a belief that we’re separate from nature. Our religions tell us we were created by a supernatural being who is not part of this Earth, not from this planet. He set us apart from all other life, and many among us—perhaps even the majority of the six billion of us—don’t even believe that we are animals, but instead think we’re a totally unique life form.
The second mistake is a belief that an abstraction—an economic system—is divine and separated from us. This mythical so-called free market, so we believe, operates under its own divine rules and is entirely and eternally self-regulating. It is always right. The fact that it’s more than 95 percent owned and run by fewer than .0001 percent of us is just the way things are, always were, and must be. We are here to serve the economy, this belief goes; it’s not here to serve us.
The third mistake is a belief that men should run the world, and that women are their property. While it may seem that women’s rights are well advanced and society is nearly egalitarian in the First World, the United States, Western Europe, and Australia combined are only about a quarter of the population of the world. In India it’s still a common rural practice for men to burn their wives to death simply because it’s more convenient than divorce. In many Arab countries and across much of Africa and South America it’s not uncommon for women to be murdered by their families if they “dishonor” the family by not going along with an arranged marriage or not being a virgin. Even in the First World, women are still routinely excluded from positions of power in the world’s largest institutions (such as the Catholic Church).
This is one of our biggest mistakes, not just because it’s morally deficient or because it can be biologically challenged, but also because its primary result is an explosion in population.
The fourth mistake is a belief that the best way to influence people is through fear rather than through the power of love, compassion, or support. We stand baffled when Palestinians in Gaza vote for a political party that has a long history of terrorist activity, somehow completely overlooking the fact that that same group has been feeding people, building hospitals and schools, and providing old age and widower pensions to people in need. We think we can threaten and bomb people into liking us and behaving in ways consistent with our best interests while ignoring their own. We have come to believe that we are not our brother’s keeper, that we are separate from all other humanity on the planet.
The Big Questions and the Big Picture
Civilizations have come and gone, and those long gone vanished mostly because they despoiled their commons, allowed small elites to control their economies and governments, and lived in ways that were unsustainable. Those that survived for centuries or millennia are the ones that learned how to protect their commons, engage in nontoxic commerce and governance, and organize their cultures and lifestyles in ways that could continue in the same place and same way down through the ages.
If we don’t learn the lessons of the latter, we face the fate of the former.
Chapter 1 — The Environment
Chapter 2 — The Economy
Chapter 3 — Population
The Four Mistakes
Chapter 4 — Unnatural Selection
Chapter 5 — Free Market Fools
Chapter 6 —The XX Factor
Chapter 7 — Gunboat Altruism
How Not to Fail
Chapter 8 — Denmark: A Modern Beacon
Chapter 9 — The Maori: Eating Themselves Alive
Chapter 10 — Caral, Peru: A Thousand Years of Peace
Crossing the Threshold
Chapter 11 — The Band Aids
Chapter 12 — The Good Stuff
“Come to the edge,” he said. They said, “We are afraid.” “Come to the edge,” he said. They came. He pushed them . . . And they flew.
GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE (French poet, 1880–1918)
Edges are where all the action is. Biological edges—from seashores to the edges of rain forests—are always the areas of greatest biodiversity. Human edges—from conflict zones to places of learning—are where we find the most visible truths about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
The edges we face today—the thresholds—are ones that may well affect the future viability of our civilization, and perhaps even our species. For a glimpse into the worldwide thresholds we’re approaching, I visited the cultural, ecological, and political edge of Southern Sudan on the Darfur border.
On the Border with Darfur, Sudan—March 16, 2008
It’s late morning, and I’m sitting on the dirt ground typing into an old AA battery–operated pocket word processor (a Zaurus ZR5000), in part because the nearest electricity is over five hundred miles away. So is the nearest paved road, and the nearest building made from anything other than mud or grass. This is Gok Machar, South Sudan, just a few miles from the border with Darfur, a village that’s swelled from eight thousand people to more than forty-five thousand as refugees flee the bombings and murders taking place, as I type these words, just fifty miles to the northwest. About three hundred people arrived just this morning, most with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing, many with stories of relatives who died along the way as they fled or before the UN could transport them here.
When we first arrived on the African continent we looked out on to the nighttime savannah beyond our Nairobi hotel, and it was truly a startling sight. The landscape was huge, horizon to horizon, like the movies you see of these parts of Africa. The land here in Southern Sudan is just as vast and flat. The forty-five thousand people around me share one single hand-pumped well (drilled a decade ago by the United Nations), and no other infrastructure beyond that. No buildings, no roads, no septic tank or sewage system, no schools, no clinics or hospitals, no stores or even storehouses—nothing. Most live on a patch of reddish dirt about ten feet square with a few of their possessions marking the perimeter of their “home,” sleeping on the dirt or on a ragged piece of cloth or, for the lucky few, a piece of salvaged tarp from some previous relief mission. Stick-thin women and children with bellies swollen by malnutrition outnumber the men, whose peers were murdered by the Janjaweed or taken to the north as slaves.
The air is so hot and dry that even body odor vanishes. My nose is encrusted with dust.
The land is barren of any vegetation, other than the occasional large tree with roots deep enough to reach into the water table thirty or so feet below us. Dust devils blow up and around, tiny cyclones that seem to erupt from nowhere amid air so hot and dry it feels as if we’ve been wrapped in glass-wool insulation and tossed into a furnace’s heating duct.
One relief worker we met on the way here, who was leaving the Darfur area via Juba in Southern Sudan, said, “If there is a hell, it is much like Darfur.”
This being a refugee community, it is thick with disease, as refugees not only bring illness with them but are among the most vulnerable of all populations to disease. Ebola was first discovered here and in nearby Zaire. And there’s Buruli ulcer, an incurable (other than by surgery) flesh-eating disease caused by a bacteria related to leprosy; I saw a case of it yesterday in a girl who had just arrived from Darfur. She had a hole in the side of her shin that was about four inches long, two inches wide, and three quarters of an inch deep, nearly down to the bone.
Eighty percent of the world’s cases of Guinea worm disease are here in Southern Sudan. The worm’s microscopic eggs make their way into the guts of tiny, almost invisible sand fleas, who themselves infest food and water. About three months after an infected flea is ingested, the eggs hatch. Over the course of the next year the Guinea worms grow throughout the human body, often boring through the skin, taking months to fully emerge and causing an ulcer that produces dreadful and incapacitating pain. There is no cure.
In parts of Southern Sudan, sleeping sickness—caused by a parasite named trypanosoma that’s transmitted by the bite of local flies—kills more people than AIDS. This is also the world epicenter of onchocerciasis, a worm that grows to more than one and a half feet long inside the body and spreads thousands of eggs to all the organs—soon to become more worms—over the decade or so it takes to kill a person. Sometimes the smaller worms work their way into the cornea, causing the blindness that gives this illness its common name: river blindness.
There’s also visceral leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, leprosy, yellow fever, dengue fever, various bacteria and mycoplasma that cause severe and deadly forms of pneumonia, and many, many of the people in this village are infected with malaria. (A particularly nasty, drug-resistant, and usually fatal form, P. falciparum, is the most common in Southern Sudan.)[i]
All of the refugees have horror stories to tell. Most were burned out of their villages, some were shot, beaten, stabbed, and/or raped (including the young boys). Many had been taken as slaves and were allowed to escape only when they became too sick, lame, or old to be of value to their captors. The women and girls have particularly horrific stories to tell about gang rape by the northern Arab Muslims, whose specific goal was impregnation so the girls would have “Arab” children, and the racial/cultural/religious/tribal lineage of their families, and by extension their culture, would thus be destroyed. (We saw many “Arab-looking” young children among these very dark skinned Sudanese women.)
The sun is relentless, the air still and thick. At night it gets down into the nineties, and the sky is so big and wide, and we are so far from any electric lights, that it looks like you can reach out and touch the thick horizon-to-horizon strip of the Milky Way.
And yet the human spirit is not crushed by this.
In the community around me children are playing, women are cooking and talking, the men are regaling one another with tall tales.
Every night in different parts of the community they bring out the drums. The music and the singing begin, people dance and talk and chant. Young people flirt and old people gossip, and the children play with sticks—always sticks, because there is no metal, no plastic, no stones, no toys—and because you can do a lot with a stick. (They’re actually a fairly rare commodity; firewood is hard to find.)
The trip we were on was organized and sponsored by Michael Harrison’s Talkers Magazine and Ellen Ratner’s Talk Radio News Service, in collaboration with Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a Swiss-based charity that has been working in Darfur for several years. Southern Sudan is the most undeveloped and barren place in the world. When the British pulled out in 1956, as Churchill did with Uganda, they simply and abruptly left, creating huge vacuums in power, social and political infrastructure, and—perhaps most important, because the entire colonial economy had been geared to transport resources and raw materials from Sudan to the United Kingdom with little in the way of compensation for the return trip—a huge business vacuum.
To the north were the lighter-skinned Arabs, who generally took the attitude of early European-ancestry Americans: these very dark and black Africans in the South, with their animist and tribal ways, must be inferior peoples.
From the notion of simple superiority/inferiority came the rationale for all-out genocide, as the Arab government in Northern Sudan—Khartoum is the capital and the biggest city—undertook a covert but not particularly well concealed program of extermination of the black Africans in the South. This got going soon after the British pullout, but really stepped up in 1972, when the various tribes of Central and Southern Sudan began to fight back. They were called rebels and terrorists, but by and large most were simply fighting to maintain their homelands and protect their people.
In the 1980s, oil was discovered throughout Sudan, but particularly in the South. This put the conflict on steroids, as the North no longer was simply trying to consolidate land and drive out the Africans to create an Arab state, but also wanted the oil. Several groups emerged to fight against the North, but the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) ended up as the primary army, and when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was finally signed in 2005, the SPLA had effective control of the South.
They also got half of the oil revenue from the South (with the rest going to the North, which kept 100 percent of its own oil revenue), although there has been no accounting for the oil revenues—only “trust me” payments to the South from the North.
The result of the increased revenue—at least for the moment—has been that portions of the South have been able to approach or even cross the threshold of safety and security that exists in any society between those who can grasp for the higher needs of a culture (education, innovation, social change) and thus evolve, and those who must spend all of their mental and physical energies simply surviving from day to day.
Back in the 1970s, psychologist Abraham Maslow, the founder of the school of humanistic psychology, posited that there is a “hierarchy of human needs,” with safety and security at the very bottom, the most important position, followed by social and family needs above, then relationship needs, then intellectual needs, then self-actualization and spiritual needs.
Wherever a person is on this hierarchy, everything above that point is invisible to him. When you’re worried about survival because your car is spinning out of control on the highway, you’re not thinking about enlightenment, or even what car you want to buy, for example.
For the purposes of this book, I’m positing a critical threshold in Maslow’s hierarchy, which I call Maslow’s Threshold, that being the line at the top of safety and security and below all the other needs. Because the people in Southern Sudan are so close to this threshold, war is an omnipresent risk. The legalized mass killing that is war is the ultimate failure of people to cross this threshold.
The crisis that the people of Darfur and Southern Sudan are facing—the threshold that will determine their future survival—is a microcosm of the “macro” issues we are all facing as the world slides into peak oil, resources (particularly water) run low, human population explodes, and our atmosphere, which has developed a fever, increasingly presents people around the world with many of the same conditions Darfurians and Sudanese face daily.
One of my personal goals for this trip was to find ten stones to build a small altar, anoint it with oil, and say the Ninety-first Psalm over it. It’s an eccentricity I learned from my mentor, Gottfried Mueller[ii]. The problem I encountered is that there are no stones.
This land is so incredibly ancient that all the stone has been weathered to dust. I can’t even find grains of dirt big enough to compare with a typical grain of beach sand.
This (and the adjoining countries of Kenya and Tanzania) is the land where humanity began. And in many ways it’s just as it was 160,000 years ago, when modern humans first emerged here.
The little hut I’m sitting in as I type these words is held up with a square of sticks—the main supports being about three inches thick, and those around the edge of the roof about a half inch thick—tied together with a rope made of braided reed. The walls are woven reed, and the roof is a carefully woven grass of some sort.
There is not a nail in sight. Not a brick or a stone. While it’s an extremely utilitarian technology, it’s also one that has probably existed as long as mankind.
One of the relief workers from CSI, Gunar, yesterday remarked to me, “You will not find here a wheel, unless it’s imported. They are living without the wheel! And there are no stones. This precedes even the Stone Age. These are ‘Clay Age’ people.”
“Why?” I asked him. Why, when this part of the world has had contact with metal and technology for centuries, do the people still live in the Clay Age?
This is one of the really big questions that Sudan must confront as oil revenues make the nation richer, and as the developed, Arab North increasingly comes into collision with the tribal, black African “Clay Age” South.
This is not an issue of race, of IQ, or (as some racists are fond of evoking) of “motivation.” There are people from this part of the world who are among the world’s most elite scientists, engineers, and writers. One of them is currently running for president of the United States—and his grandparents lived in a hut much like this one, only a few hundred miles from here, in rural Kenya.
Instead, perhaps, it’s an issue of what works. Marshall Sahlin coined the term the “original leisure society” to describe people who live tribally. When people are given enough resources, there’s really not a whole lot of work to do. And before oil was discovered and the current war and evangelical Islam and Christianity came to this region, the winter rains produced enough food and wood and reeds for people to make it through the dry summers. There was no reason to “work.” But oil and “civilization,” and the religions that came with both, changed society in such a way that it became necessary for many people to do productive work (particularly regarding producing or obtaining food) so that others could participate in nonproductive (at least regarding food) social functions.
“Cultural overhead” is the term anthropologists use. It’s a fancy way of defining how many nonproductive people there are in a society. For every priest, king, prince, warrior, middle manager, or CEO—none of whom directly produces food or shelter—the average person must work that much harder to provide food and shelter for all. In some of our “developed” cultures, as little as 2 to 5 percent of us provide all the food for everybody. And we work damn hard and use enormous numbers of calories (mostly from oil: tractors, fertilizer, transport) to do so.
But in a society without such cultural overhead, without a nonproductive class of people, every family provides for its own, and historically in this part of the world, that could be done in just a few hours a day (more during the rainy season, fewer in the dry season). The rest of the time was free for talking, playing, and being.
The indigenous people of Sudan, for more than a hundred thousand years, by and large, simply had a life of leisure and great simplicity in this unforgiving land. The dry season—what I’m experiencing right now—is a time of brutal, unrelenting heat and drought. Without preparation, you die in as little as a few days. The rainy season brings floods and the diseases often associated with them—ranging from malaria to dengue, typhoid, and yellow fever. And yet, over tens of thousands of years, people have found ways to live in balance with this difficult continent. It’s a minimalist balance, to be sure, but how can we say that’s better or worse than “civilized” societies, with their massive crime and conspicuous accumulation of wealth cheek by jowl with poverty so intense that parents can’t even get to know their children as they must work so many hours just to be able to buy food? And when considering life in Southern Sudan now, it’s vital to remember that while these people are living, to a large extent, with the technology of millennia ago, their culture from that time, which allowed them to survive, has largely been decimated by several centuries of colonization.
I took a break from my writing to stand up and stretch my legs, and one of the young men came over to say hello. He introduced himself as James, a Dinka, with a last name hard for me to pronounce—Saliahtja phonetically, perhaps. His father’s name, he said.
I asked him the names of some of the trees, and he knew the Dinka names for all of them, but the only English one he knew was the giant mahogany under which we’ve been camped.
He said that Christian Solidarity International is good in that they’re bringing supplies to returning refugees, but that the locals like him have to rely mostly on the UN’s World Food Programme.
James was born and raised in this region, and he told me about being here when the “Arab raiders from the north” came in 2003, just at the end of the war. They took everything, he said. “Our sorghum, our food for the year; they took it by force. With guns. Anything they wanted. They took everything.”
“Did they take people?” I asked.
He looked down at his feet and softly said, “Yes. Yes.” Then he immediately changed the subject, telling me the name of another tree off in the distance. He told me he is a member of the Episcopal Church, in whose compound we’re camped.
Later in our conversation I asked how life was here in the village. He said they are constantly afraid the Arabs will return. Every day we are afraid, he said.
Before the arrival of Christianity, Islam, English, Arabic, the alphabet, and “technology,” James’s ancestors knew not just the Dinka names of each of the trees and plants in the area, but their “spirits” as well. They knew which ones could cure which diseases. (Remember that more than half of all the drugs we use in our hospitals today come from plants, and were first “discovered” by indigenous peoples. Most of the other half are merely variations on these; for example, aspirin is a synthetically produced form of the active ingredient in white willow bark, and Valium and that whole family of benzodiazepine anti-anxiety and sleeping drugs is a synthetically produced form of the active ingredient in valerian root.)
James’s ancestors knew the world in which they lived. It was the only way they could have survived.
They would have known, for example, that the bark of the cinchona tree (or the local variation on it) contained a power that would kill parasites, including the plasmodium that causes malaria. Although today we can cite the drugs contained in cinchona bark (aricine, caffeic acid, cinchofulvic acid, cincholic acid, cinchonain, cinchonidine, cinchonine, cinchophyllamine, cinchotannic acid, cinchotine, conquinamine, cuscamidine, cuscamine, cusconidine, cusconine, epicatechin, javanine, paricine, proanthocyanidins, quinacimine, quinamine, quinic acid, quinicine, quinine, quininidine, quinovic acid, quinovin, and sucirubine),[iii] it took Europeans hundreds of years to learn from aboriginal people about the properties of the tree.
A tree known as Wontangue in the Bakweri language of Cameroon is known to modern science as Prunus africana, and is more effective at preventing benign prostatic hypertrophy (prostatic enlargement, something that hits more than 80 percent of men over seventy years of age) than any drugs so far developed. Kigelia africana, or Woloulay in Bakweri, is effective against malaria and snakebites. Sterculia tragacantha, or Ndototo in Bakweri, kills worms in the body, as does Wokaka, botanically known as Khaya spp.[iv]
Other African plants that are today used to manufacture the medicines you’ll encounter at your local pharmacy include: Hyoscyamus muticus, Urginea maritima, Colchicum autumnale, Senna alexandrina, Plantago afra, Juniperus communis, Anacyclus pyrethrum, and Citrullus colocynthis.[v]
But James knew of none of these. As our culture moved across Africa over the past five centuries or so, it took away the ancient knowledge, just as we extracted minerals and plants for our own use and even took people from the continent to use as slaves. But we returned virtually nothing, and today the people of Southern Sudan live in a simulacrum of Clay Age life, with the forms and external appearances intact, but the deep knowledge and culture necessary for both survival and happiness gone.
As anybody from New Orleans can tell you, refugee camps are the worst places in the world. While they often provide heartbreaking glimpses into how deep compassion and generosity can run (particularly among the refugees themselves), they also, by their nature, lack the “commons” that is so necessary to civil society and so much at the core of every culture and civilization.
Yesterday at a refugee center a half day’s drive from here, I was sitting with Ellen Ratner as a group of children lined up near us to watch their parents get the “Sacks of Hope” from CSI. A little boy, probably seven years old, stood in front of Ellen and me, his face and body in profile as he watched his mother get a bag of grain. On his right shin were three or four open wounds—just scratches, really, probably from a brush with a thorn bush, but each was jammed full of flies. There must have been twenty of them, with others competing for the space. This is the beginning of the kinds of ulcers and sores we saw among the refugees when we first arrived—the girl and boy with giant holes in their legs. Without quick treatment, this little boy will probably be dead in a few months. Unfortunately, that camp has no doctor or clinic.
John had warned us several times in the past to be careful not to eat food that had had such flies on it, and never to leave food out because of the flies here, and the sight of the little boy brought all this to mind. The way a fly eats is it drops down its tongue—really a thick, hollow tube with a sort of sucker on the end—and vomits the contents of its stomach on to the surface of what it’s “tasting.” As its stomach contents includes its digestive juices, when the fly quickly sucks that slurry back up, it loosens and dissolves some of contents of the food. This is why in places such as Africa, with so many deadly diseases all transmissible by flies, when you see flies you should worry.People living in the Darfur region and Southern Sudan are well below the threshold of safety and security. Small changes—a meal, a bottle of safe water, netting, toilet paper—make huge differences not just in their quality of life but also in their ability to survive. These Sudanese demonstrate—in their endurance of the evil behavior of humans bombing and murdering and enslaving people, in part for land, in part for oil for China—that no matter how terrible things are, people will still pull together, form communities, care for each other, and default to democracy.
At a certain level, our modern consumer society is built on a truth and a lie. The truth is that if you’re living below the threshold of safety and security, a little bit of “stuff” can create a huge change in your mental and emotional states, and the quality of your life. If you’re outside alone at night, naked and cold, you’re miserable. If somebody brings you inside, gives you clothes to wear, a warm blanket, a fire to sit by, warm food to eat, and a comfortable bed to sleep in, then you move from “unhappy” to “happy” pretty fast.
The lie is the siren song of our culture. “If that much stuff will generate that much instant happiness,” the lie goes, “then ten times as much stuff will make you ten times happier. A hundred times as much stuff will make you a hundred times happier. A thousand times as much stuff, a thousand times happier. And it follows that Bill Gates lives in a state of perpetual bliss!”
In the Darfur region, we’re seeing the failure of modern thinking. The failure of a consumerist society that values its stuff more than it does other people, cultures, and the environment, so it’s willing to colonize, pillage, and then desert another nation. The failure of a communist/capitalist society that will support a nation that engages in genocide, because there’s oil to be had. The failure of modern Islam to learn from the mistakes of twelfth-century Christianity and see non-Islamic peoples as inferior or as potential proselytes, rather than respect cultures, peoples, and property.
As large parts of our world slide below that threshold—today more than three billion of the world’s nearly seven billion people don’t have reliable access to safe water, sanitation, or food supplies, and desertification marches on across the planet—we can see in Darfur the potential future for much of the world, and validation of the idea that there’s something to be done here, something possible, something that’s part of our DNA. We can lift others above the threshold, and confront the coming environmental and economic storm of the next century, but it’s going to require a comprehensive approach, one that covers the environment, commerce, population control, energy, politics, the empowerment of women, and a dramatic reevaluation of how we power our society.