Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bending the arc

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What was the world like in the year when you were born? No matter who you are and when you are reading this, chances are that some countries existed back then which no longer exist now, and some new countries were founded in the meantime. Acceptable social behaviors have changed. Scientific knowledge has grown. New inventions were made. The world is better in some ways, and worse in others.

Think of the early 1990s, and how different the world was just twenty years ago – not to mention forty or sixty years ago. I think about this every time I pass a major milestone in my life, to remind myself that in another twenty years, the world will change just as much, if not more. And by the time I retire, it will be unrecognizable. The only question is, how will it change? For the better, or for the worse? And what is my contribution going to be?

When I look at recent decades, I see great progress in many areas – science and technology most of all, as well as social attitudes and the rights of women and minorities – but also one significant dark spot. In terms of economic issues and policy, we seem to be on a fast track moving right back to the 19th century.

Inequality has soared. Finding a job is much more difficult. College has become the new high school, in the sense that it’s the new baseline which everyone is expected to have completed, and which guarantees nothing (certainly not a career). Technological gadgets are cheaper, but basic necessities – especially health care and education – are more expensive. The minimum wage has been eroded by inflation; unemployment insurance and social security are a shadow of their former selves and union membership has fallen. Taxes on the rich have been cut, money rules politics more than ever before and economic policies that were advocated by the Republicans decades ago (for example health care reform without a public option) are now considered “too liberal” for some Democrats.

So that’s where we stand. And that is the reason why I decided to go into economics – because it’s the one area of human activity where things are getting worse instead of better. I hope I can contribute, at least in a small way, to reversing that trend.

But every area of human activity, from economics to science to journalism to art, no matter if it is currently a beacon of hope or a disheartening mess, needs good people to get involved in it and use it to improve the human condition. Everything can be used for good or for evil, and it is up to our generation to decide how everything will be used in the coming decades. Science and technology can provide clean water, fight disease, bring cultures together and save the environment. Or they can make weapons of war, put workers and farmers out of work and enrich the already wealthy. Journalism can investigate and expose injustice, corruption and crime. Or it can be devoted to spin and propaganda on behalf of the powerful. Art can inspire and motivate people to great acts of devotion and selflessness. Or it can be reduced to cheap commercial entertainment.

Unfortunately, at present, pessimism seems to be fashionable among our generation. Perhaps under the influence of the economic crisis, many people seem convinced that things can only get worse in the future. Zombies and post-apocalyptic scenarios are all over popular culture. Well, if you’re expecting things to get worse, then your expectation is what is going to make them worse. The future is what we make of it. We always have a choice. True, one person can’t change the world alone, but, no matter what you choose to do in life, you can be sure that you won’t be the only one.

The arc of history bends towards justice, but it does not bend by itself. Left to its own devices it would not bend at all. Someone has to make the effort to wrestle with history, to shape it, to contort it if necessary, to force it toward justice. Different generations make greater or lesser efforts, and there is greater or lesser progress towards justice in their lifetime. What will our generation do? How will we be remembered? That is the question to ask ourselves at any time of transition, at any time when we face new choices.

How do we wish to be remembered? And what are we going to do about it?

Mike Tudoreanu is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Bending the arc”

  1. Taylor on April 28th, 2014 5:27 pm

    Very inspiring! You could be a motivational speaker. But I think this is the first senior column I’ve ever seen that isn’t really about the author. I mean, you tell us some of your ideas about life, but almost nothing about yourself or your UMass experience at all. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. It’s certainly different.

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