Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > June 2019

There's a great big beautiful tomorrow...

Those are the opening words to a song was written by Richard and Robert Sherman for the Carousel of Progress, an attraction developed by Walt Disney Company for the 1964 New York World's Fair. The "Carousel" was a show with animatronic actors, which included 4 scenes showing how technological progress had affected people's lives for the better in the 1900s, 1920s, 1940s, and beyond. The auditorium was built on a carousel that took the audience from scene to scene, while the music served as a bridge between scenes. The entertaining scenes using android actors was a technological marvel of its day.

This attraction was moved to Disneyland and then Disney World, and an updated version of it is still in operation today.

The lyrics of the song are as follows:

There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow's just a dream away

Man has a dream and that's the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It's a dream come true for you and me

So there's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away

It is interesting to note that this song of optimism was written in the midst of the cold war period, in which the possibility of instant annihilation was on many people's minds. It is part of a century which saw two world wars, and just a couple of decades had passed since the last one. Furthermore, if one studies human history, it seems like it is merely a chronology of endless wars. It has been said that "the only thing we learn from history is that people never learn from history." How can one have optimism in such a situation?

The answer is that, despite setbacks, there has been social progress. Along with the bad news, there is plenty of good news too. In the modern world, many people give time and money to help others. And though misery and civil war still occur in some nations, most of the world has peace, prosperity, and governments that are held responsible to their citizens.

It has been a problem of human civilization that societies are have been limited in their ability to cooperate. Just as a wolf pack cannot extend beyond a few wolves, nor a herd of cattle beyond a few dozen cows, so too have human societies been limited. Early humans may have cooperated within a clan or a village, and later within a city-state, and later yet on a larger scale, but there has always been some boundary beyond which the society's ethics did not extend. It was forbidden to kill or steal in one's country, but if the person was from another land then exploitation and conquest were considered "fair game."

Basically it was a problem of ignorance. The people couldn't understand others far away, because they had no technology to enable them to hold any dialog. Communication was slow, and hampered by differences in languages with no easy translation. Filled with superstitions beliefs and fear of the unknown, people had no tolerance for others who had superstitions different from their own. Filled with wishful thinking, people assumed that their own race or culture must be superior to others.

The fact that many nations live in peace now, however, demonstrates that there is knowledge available to solve those problems. Humans have pretty much the same intelligence and motivations everywhere; it is knowledge that makes the difference. Evidently that knowledge hasn't reached everyone yet, and because cooperation doesn't work unless all sides have the knowledge, there are still conflicts and suffering.

With learning, people can discover how to produce mutually satisfactory results and avoid unwanted consequences. People can aspire to be better than their ancestors were, and to make the next generation even better yet.

So, as the spread of knowledge progresses, we can expect wonderful results to gradually spread to all people everywhere. Of course there is still the possibility that we might destroy ourselves before that knowledge is sufficiently widespread. Knowledge brings power, but sometimes people don't have enough wisdom to go with it! That too, can be developed.

The idea that we might destroy ourselves is by no means a certain fate. There is also a strong possibility that we might not! Indeed, the more the knowledge is spread, and the more that people learn and develop wisdom, the less the risk becomes. So, it makes sense to proceed with optimism, to spread understanding in the expectation that it will succeed. If enough people do that, believing in the "great big beautiful tomorrow," it becomes more than a wish; it becomes a prophesy.

- Arthur de Leyssac, June 2019

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