The future, in the United States and elsewhere, will more likely resemble what José Vasconcelos, the philosopher and former education minister of Mexico, in 1925 called “la raza cósmica.” He believed that, one day, the whole world would merge into one mestizo race of hybrid ethnicities.
When the literary journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski visited Los Angeles in 1987, he saw the city, with its diverse population of Mexicans, Koreans, Chinese and others, as a premonition of the future Vasconcelos envisioned.
“Traditional history has been a history of nations,” Kapuscinski reflected. “But here, for the first time since the Roman Empire, there is the possibility of creating the history of a civilization. Now is the first chance on a new basis with new technologies to create a civilization of unprecedented openness and pluralism. A civilization of the polycentric mind. A civilization that leaves behind forever the ethnocentric, tribal mentality, the mentality of destruction.”
For me, an acute observer of events who reported for decades on the post-colonial revolutions across the Third World, “la raza cósmica” is being born in Los Angeles in the cultural if not anthropological sense. “A vast mosaic of different races, cultures, religions and moral habits are working together toward one common aim [of improving their lives]. From the perspective of a world submerged in religious, ethnic and racial conflict, this harmonious cooperation is something unbelievable. It is truly striking,” said Kapuscinski.
In this, he concurred with the great Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, who called the United States, “the Republic of the Future.” In better times, the United States’ political leaders have seen this exceptional quality as the country’s greatest strength. On the right, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has extolled the United States as a place without “a religious or ethnic designation” where what matters is where you are going, not where you came from, as she once told me. That openness, she observes, stands behind the United States’ innovative culture.
In a recent conversation with former president Bill Clinton, he put it best. “We know from the human genome that all people are 99.5 percent the same,” he pointed out. “Some people seem to spend 99 percent of their time worrying about the .5 percent that is different. That is a big mistake. We should focus on what we have in common. And focus on what is common. We make better decisions in diverse societies than in homogenous ones. America’s great advantage is that we are an idea, not a place. We are not an ethnicity or a uniform culture.”
Of the nativist politics that has lately surfaced, Clinton warned that “we are playing Russian roulette with our biggest ticket to the future. Even if you believe we are headed toward the first big change since the industrial revolution with robots and digital technology that will kill more jobs than it creates, we are still going to need diversity. We are going to need creative cooperation. To do that we need some fair back and forth with others not like us. Resentment-based divisive politics is a mistake.” He concluded by expressing a faith in the future rooted in the wisdom of experience: “This is just the latest chapter in the oldest drama of human history, us vs. them. But sooner or later we mix and move on.”
Kapuscinski shared Clinton’s perspective on the future. “The world is growing up,” he wrote. “And in the world we have more of everything — more people, more goods, more communications. This growth of everything demands more cultural space and will destroy whatever does not accept this reality. That makes systems that don’t accept plurality obsolete.” That includes the ugly nativist politics we see around us today. It will surely pass, the last hurrah of bygone times.