The world we live in is not perfect but full of contradictions. To make this world a better place depends on how we see and manage the contradictions. Seeing things in black and white will likely bring frustration and anger, and render us impotent in fixing its problems.
I see three biggest contradictions in this world:
First, the United States is known as the world’s oldest democracy established since 1776, one of the richest capitalist country with most opportunities, a society ruled by laws, and champion of human rights, freedom and liberty. Yet it is full of contradictions:
Slavery was practiced in seven southern states and tolerated by the rest until after the Civil War (1861-65) when the South was defeated. The abolishment of slavery was replaced by state-supported racial discrimination and segregation where “white only” signs were posted in all public places. This was again tolerated until the passage of the Civil Rights Acts in 1964 that banned all discrimination.
Today, we see frequently on TV white policemen killing unarmed black citizens. One recent case involved shooting a running-away black man at the back and claimed self-defense. Black Americans, comprising more than 13% of the total population, have remained an underclass. Most have not reaped the economic benefits of the land of opportunity.
In a country ruled by laws to safeguard fairness and justice, how can money play such a big role in elections, news, and government policies? The top 1% who own and manage the big corporations do not have enough votes. However, they have plenty of money to buy votes, bribe legislators, influence news, and pass laws to enhance their profits in the name of creating jobs for the people.
The ordinary citizens get shortchanged in many aspects of life including the runaway inflation in health care and higher education, the lack of a decent minimum wage, and the failure to protect the environment that ironically comes back to bite the rich, too. As a consequence, income distribution in America has been worsening due to the middle class being squeezed on a large scale for more than three decades now.
Second, the Soviet Union was supposed to offer an alternative to the American model. Communism was meant to be a government owned and working for the people. However, it became a dictatorship of the communist party. The government did not live up to its goal of improving the livelihood of its people. Instead of enhancing income distribution that it said capitalism had failed to do, it made every citizen poorer except the communist elites who possessed all the power and wealth.
Supply shortages occurred everywhere including those necessities such as food and clothing. Have you ever seen any consumer goods made in the Soviet Union? Not even a piece of underwear! The whole country seemed to have missed out the computer revolution that began in the 1980’s. The only Soviet production in surplus was military hardware. As a consequence, the country imploded in 1989 without its capitalist enemy firing a single shot.
The Russian Federation born as a result of the Soviet collapse did not seem to fare much better. Although Russian consumers enjoy more products nowadays, military hardware is still a major industry, together with natural resources like gas and oil being exported. The communist party remains an authoritarian regime.
All communist countries share one thing in common – poverty. You may say that communism fails. I think the communist party fails the people and the country because it hijacks the ideals of communism and becomes a dictatorship in the name of the people.
Third, the only exception is communist China, perhaps the greatest contradiction in history. Rather than following the Soviet lead, the Chinese Communist Party made a 180-degree turn in the early 1980’s by introducing capitalistic practices in the economy. This has transformed China forever. After more than 30 years of relentless growth, the Chinese economy is on track to overtake the US economy in the near future. A huge middle class has been created numbering over 500 million.
Today, China is a capitalistic country from whichever angle you look at. On the other hand, the authoritarian government is monopolized by the communist party with a membership of 87 million out of a population of 1.34 billion. Chinese citizens enjoy all economic freedoms except that they cannot criticize the government or its policies.
You may say that the Chinese Communist Party has betrayed communist principles by practicing capitalism. They reply that they practice communism with Chinese characteristics. The fact is, their economy has grown by leaps and bounds. China now stands as a leading manufacturing, investment and consumer market of the world. The power structure has been shifting away from the communist party to include the large business sector and the newly-arisen consumers, many of whose millionaires and billionaires are not even members of the party.
Money plays a large role in Chinese politics as in the United States, even less subtle and less restricted by existing laws. That is why corruption is a big pervasive problem. The contradiction is that a corrupt official in China is viewed as an enemy of the people punishable by death. The corrupt official can only be saved by his bosses who cover up the corrupt practices for him. In America, it is difficult to send a corrupt official to jail because of the laws protecting individual rights. The American public do not view corruption as enemy of the people. Some even believe that the corrupt official is doing the right thing by bringing material benefits to the constituents he represents.
So you see it’s a colorful world full of good and bad things. We can never make this world perfect, but we can do something to enhance the good and minimize the bad. On balance, we will have achieved building a better world.