By way of travel, trade, finance, policy, or just connecting online, every human is closer to one other than ever before. This is mostly good, but it does threaten our moral preferences.
Some years back, a Lutheran mission worker in Tanzanian met a smart, industrious young Tanzanian man. That mission worker helped this young man attend university in the U.S. He did well in school, became a software engineer, married, settled down in Minnesota, and then decided that he wanted to give back to his home country. So he asked everyone he and his wife knew and raised enough money to break ground on a school in his home village in Tanzania. Minnesotan donors wanted to see this school with their own eyes, so they traveled out to East Africa. Then one day this now-grown Tanzanian father of two met a Minnesotan writer looking for an opportunity to go abroad. The Tanzanian man said his school needed computers, so the Minnesotan took 12 laptops across the Atlantic and helped start a computer lab in a place with no electrical grid. This writer has since been able to share his stories from almost anywhere to almost anyone.
All of the elements of this story were made possible by a world that is more connected than ever before. And this is just one of countless examples and potential ways that far-flung people and places are connecting. It’s easier to travel to Africa. It’s easier to ship manufactured items from China to the U.S. It’s easier to hire a web designer–and possible to hire a personal assistant–from India. It’s easier to spread ideas, organize movements, and harder for people in power to get away with what they used to.
In short, through both physical and virtual accessibility, it’s easier to leverage the ideas, talents, resources, and art of a much more populous and diverse pool of people.
There are downsides, of course. We can have our identities and personal information abused; we are spied on; jobs are lost when more efficiency means they don’t need you anymore or when they find a cheaper worker across the globe. We regularly acknowledge these consequences of connectedness. I want to address one that I think goes under the radar: you can’t separate yourself from things you may want to. But there’s an upside to that as well…
An evolving U.S. financial system consolidates and intermingles investment vehicles. This distribution allowed toxic assets causing the 2008 financial crisis to infect a broad array of institutions–domestically and internationally–and thus it brought entities from Chase Manhattan Bank to the government of Ireland to their knees. It took the connectedness of government and banking to bail the banks out, and this meant that all of us U.S. taxpayers had to donate money to the largest banking institutions.
The U.S. government offers financial support to all sorts of places, not just because it has deep pockets and zealous people at the controls, but because the system is so intertwined. The UN, the World Bank, the World Health Organization. All these entities are funded by the U.S. This makes our moral convictions and preferences to not pay for things we deem immoral somewhat irrelevant.
One day my mother expressed her disdain for the idea that her tax dollars pay for abortions in the U.S. I agree she shouldn’t have to support something she deems immoral, but the truth is, the U.S. supports abortion internationally already. The UN backs China’s One Child policy, and abortion is a common method of enforcement.
Don’t like circumcision? US AID funds circumcision programs in Tanzania.
Don’t like China? Look around you. The items you see were likely made there.
Don’t like Syrian militants? Surely, we can avoid supporting these guys. Well, this plumbing company from Texas found out recently that their old truck is now being used on the front lines of the Syrian Civil War.
Things are so intertwined that we don’t have the clean-cut ability to keep our hands clean in the way we’d like. Society has evolved too far; we’re simply too connected for this vehicle of peace of mind–unless you want to live in a cabin in the mountains or become expats to rural Guatemala or something.
But though one might say then that no one is innocent, I also think that this oneness was inevitable–and that the benefit is that this creates a vibe of “all being in this together.” We’ve got skin in a lot of games. This should cause humanity to care more about more. So not only can we work together through increased connectivity, but we’ll be inspired to. With such global involvement and support–sometimes as watchdogs, sometimes as donors, sometimes as trading partners–we can all work together with these modern methods and means to cure diseases, uncover scandals, bring peace to war-torn regions, to grow economies, to build relationships, and overall, to improve the world to a point where we won’t have the need for those controversial uses of money anymore.