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June 17, 2016 5:54 AM Age: 1 year

Beware the Arc of History

Category: AC - Billboard, AC RSS, CG Commentary & Opinion, CG News, ERM Commentary & Opinion, Larry Checco, GPG Commentary & Opinion, ESG Highlights, ESG Highlighted Commentary
Source:  Larry Checco

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Statue honoring 2010 citizen uprising in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Since time immemorial civilizations and empires have existed on finite arcs of history—rising from humble beginnings, soaring to pinnacles of glory then slowly or rapidly declining into extinction or, if lucky, into more benign states of existence.

 

Think Pharaonic Egypt to the English Empire, and the countless civilizations in between, many of which lasted a thousand years or longer.   

 

A recent trip to Central Asia—to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, to be exact—got me thinking where on history’s arc are we, the United States of America, as we husband our less-than-250 years of democracy.

 

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are former Soviet Socialist Republics, and unless you know anything about Central Asia, which I did not prior to my trip, they’re hard to locate on a map. 

 

Both gained independence in 1991 after the fall of the former Soviet Union (USSR), and both are now attempting to find their identities as independent, democratic countries in a modern, globalized world.  

 

No easy task after 70 years of Soviet domination and deterioration, and for predominantly Muslim countries that exhibit great cultural diversity.  Kyrgyzstan, with a population of less than six million people, claims 80 different minority groups.

 

Many of these groups speak not only their native languages (Kazakh or Kyrgyz), but also Russian (which remains both countries’ official language), Turkic (there is a large Turkish Diaspora in both countries), as well as English, which is taught in many schools.

 

Our group of eight on this interfaith, intercultural journey, sponsored by the Rumi Forum (www.rumiform.org), consisted primarily of accomplished U.S. academics and me, a person of no acknowledged faith or academic credentials—except for an insatiable curiosity. 

 

During our one-week stay, divided between both ‘Stans,' we met with politicians, journalists, university presidents, school administrators, and executives of human service nonprofits -- better known overseas as NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations.

 

As the meetings wore on, what became apparent to me is that both of these countries are struggling to accomplish what we, in America, take so much for granted—and, if we’re not careful, may be at the risk of losing.

 

Those with whom we met said proudly, and in some cases defiantly, that they are “working towards democracy.”  Specifically, that:

 

·         They are working to build a multicultural, “pluralistic society” where all people’s values are respected. (Think of the direction we’re headed on this issue.)

 

·         Under their current governments, they continue to experience restrictions on freedom of expression, but are willing to take to the streets and risk their lives to guarantee themselves freedom of speech and thought—while we seem willing to tolerate a presidential candidate who is revoking press credentials from news media that are critical of him and his campaign.

 

·         They’re trying to purge corruption from their judicial and political systems, an uphill battle when 80 percent of their politicians are rich business folks.  But at least they’re trying.  We, on the other hand, seem somewhat complacent about the tsunami of cash that flows through and influences our politics—and which is officially sanctioned by our judicial system.

 

·         They believe that education, health care, security and bridging the gap between rich and poor (there is a great deal of poverty in both countries) will lead to greater economic growth. 

 

We, in America, may come to some consensus on national security, but we fall far short when it comes to investing in our children’s education (thanks to the Soviets, the “Stans can boast a literacy rate of 95 percent, while, according to our Census Bureau, ours is 86 percent—as we continue to cut school budgets and fail to fund early childhood education), and access to health care (even with Obamacare, 33 million Americans are still without health insurance, this in the world’s richest country). 

 

When it comes to our efforts to bridge the gap between rich and poor, as they say in New York, fogettaboutit!

 

 

My visit to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was a wake-up call.  As much as we Americans want to believe that the best is still in front of us, the reality is countries we haven’t even heard of are working like hell to move into our space.  Many are on the upside of history’s arc.   They want what we have and are willing to work hard to attain it.

 

Complacency won’t bend history’s arc in our favor. It certainly did not for the hundreds of civilizations that preceded ours.  Let that be a warning to us.

 

And at the very least, vote this November!

 

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