I’m often attacked by conspiracy theorists for not accepting their vision of a world controlled by a secret cabal of ‘elites,’ who allegedly plan human events and run the global economy. Occasionally, one of them will accuse me of being paid off by the Illuminati (or whoever) to serve this ‘New World Order.’ I haven’t been, yet, but maybe my check is in the mail.
While this is clearly paranoia run amok, there is a sense in which it’s true: I do believe in a ‘new world order,’ and I’m working to create it every day.
I believe there is a very real prospect of a world in which goods, services, people, and ideas flow freely within and between borders, across oceans and rivers, over deserts and mountains, through the sky and (someday) the stars.
I believe in a world where individuals are treated equally under the law, regardless of ethnic or national origin, religious or philosophical belief, gender or sexual preference.
I believe in a culture that respects women and protects children, that celebrates ideas and cherishes liberty, that not only tolerates but vigorously defends free expression.
I believe in a world where 10 billion people can be fed on less land than we currently use for 7, through new advances in fertilizer, irrigation, storage, and genetics.
I believe in a world where wildlife and natural habitat can be conserved and even expanded.
I believe in a world where emerging technologies can meet the challenges of climate change without halting economic growth.
I believe in a world where water is clean, healthy, and abundant.
I believe in a world where we can reduce or exterminate mankind’s worst enemies through the single greatest medical innovation in history: vaccination.
I believe in a world where scientific discovery and economic freedom can together eradicate hunger, poverty, and disease.
I believe in a world where war, cruelty, and violence are rare and reviled.
I believe in a world where superstitions cease to divide people, where traditions no longer provide excuse for murder, where veneration does not give cover to abuse, where legend does not trump history, where delusion does not defeat medicine, where faith does not overcome fact.
I believe in a world where people turn to conversation instead of violence, to one another instead of politicians, to reason and evidence instead of myth and dogmatism.
I believe in a truly global civilization, united by trade and connected by travel, buttressed by an open-ended dialogue, sustained by humanist ethics, founded on the principles of reason, liberty, and mutual respect.
I believe in an open society, a civil society, a free society.
I believe that these things are not only good for the world, are not only possible, but are already happening. I hope, in some small way, to contribute this new world order–an order defined by its spontaneous nature, created by individuals pursuing and expressing their separate interests, together. This order evolves from bottom-up processes, and cannot be replicated by top-down hierarchies.
I believe this world is eminently worth fighting for, even if it sometimes feels like a rearguard defense. Over the long-term, we are winning this battle. But while I am rationally optimistic about our chances, victory is not inevitable. It is still possible for things to go spectacularly wrong, for the light of reason to dim or even wink out altogether in places, for the better angels of our nature to fall to the inner demons of our primate minds.
I close with a quote from the great agnostic lecturer Robert Ingersoll that I often reflect on, and which continues to give me hope, even when things seem hopeless.
For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings–no chains for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no master’s frown or threat–no following another’s steps–no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.
And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains–to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs–to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn–to those by fire consumed–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.