Today's date:
Winter 2002


The Future of Each Depends on the Good of All

John Polanyi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1986. He was the organizer of the statement by 100 Nobel laureates on the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prizes last December.

Toronto-The ferocity of the September attacks led Americans to believe that the attackers were insane. However, it came to be recognized that sustained terrorism has its causes and purposes. The question of rationality or irrationality is important, since what lies (to a large extent) within the realm of reason can (to a large extent) be countered by policies grounded in reason. Of course, threats are as much from states as from non-state groups, threats of mass-destruction as well as conventional threats. The dominant setting for conflict in each case is a world in which the rich and the poor live in full sight of one another. If in addition the poor are voiceless they may well be induced to speak through violence. Particularly so if their predicament is aggravated by the environmental carelessness of the rich. It is a peculiar folly, under these circumstances, for the rich to seek greater riches by selling weapons to the poor. Even without this, the prosperous grow ever more vulnerable. Advanced societies are complex and fragile. They operate efficiently by being open, not guarded. Like any complex mechanism, they are, therefore, vulnerable to the wrecker's ball.

Zhou Enlai allegedly remarked that it is too early to assess the consequences of the French Revolution. But it is not too early to identify its origins in the willful blindness of the French ruling class of the 18th century. Possessed of wealth and power, they offered only promises to the poor.

Unless we recognize that the future of each depends on the good of all, the coming years will bring escalating conflict. One need not be a rocket scientist to see that. However, the recognition that science has thrived on change could persuade us to behave more like rocket scientists. We might even come to realize that idealism is today the highest form of realism.