Contemplating the potential conflicts between nations in the era of advanced AI can be quite overwhelming. In moments of reflection, I find solace in simplifying my thoughts and turning to something inherently human: our connection to nature. When I am most despondent about the intricate and fractious relationship between China and the United States, I frequently draw inspiration from the life and contributions of Pearl S. Buck. Her legacy offers a valuable perspective, highlighting that both China and the United States have embarked on parallel journeys of industrialization, albeit at different points in history.
Pearl S. Buck's life and work offers a poignant reminder that there exists a common ground between these two nations—an aspect we might not frequently acknowledge. This common ground lies in the shared responsibility of nurturing and safeguarding nature, akin to how she devoted herself to nurturing children. In her life, we can discern a meeting place where China and the United States can converge, fostering a mutual commitment to the well-being of our environment, much like her care for the young lives she fostered.
As background, Pearl S. Buck's early years were marked by a significant move to China from America with her family when she was just a young girl. In this foreign land, she witnessed a nation in the midst of rapid transformation, reminiscent of America's agrarian roots to a society on the brink of conflict and industrial revolution. She witnessed abject poverty in villages but also the general well-being and people struggling to contend with the difficulties of labor and the growth of a nation. After having lived in China, and even teaching there for a short time, she moved back to America and then reconnected over and over again to China throughout her life, mainly supporting endeavors for Chinese children. In her later years in America, she dedicated herself to breaking down prejudices against Chinese and Americans and even adopted children from China.
Today we know only that some how China and America are diametrically opposed and might even be enemies, and often we think American nor Chinese citizens are not friendly towards each other. That is a shame. If we look deeper there is a connection point, outside of the political realm where caring for nature is at the center of both nations.
A quote I think serves as a poignant reminder that there was once a potential for China and America to share a harmonious trajectory, akin to long-lost friends who had a falling out but forgot how to reconnect is Pearl S. Buck's saying "The truth is always exciting. Speak it, then. Life is dull without it." This quote underscores the wisdom that both nations seem to overlook currently in the stalemate of fear and retribution where each nation is misaligned around dominance and technology, when they could meet in the wild.
The Unspoken Bold Truth in US-China Relations That Needs to Said: We Need Collaboration for Environmental Sustainability
What is the bold unspoken truth that America and China could potentially openly discuss without fear of retribution or shunning of each other? Perhaps the most impactful topic would be to acknowledge a shared understanding: industrialization has inadvertently inflicted damage upon nature due to the pursuit of growth. Both nations must confront this reality, and both have made significant strides. To foster progress in this area, both countries should consider further collaborative initiatives that shed light on their respective efforts, promoting transparency without hindering their individual advancements. Additionally, encouraging greater sharing of knowledge among scientists and participants would be highly beneficial.
In a world where it is not in our best interest to have enemies, especially in the context of an AI arms race, we should ask ourselves some pertinent questions. For instance, why aren't we more focused on establishing global agreements that promote green spaces in urban environments, desert reclamation, water safety, and waste management? When a population resorts to pollinating fruit trees with store-bought pollen using chopsticks, it becomes evident that there's a vested interest in wanting nature to function fully so that it can heal and produce abundance. In America, why aren't there more regulations concerning the transformation of lawns and thoroughfares into green spaces as heat sinks and potential food forests to feed the droves of homeless? We must also prioritize the protection and purification of our water systems and reduce our reliance on plastic bottles, neither China nor the US have any capacity to consume the waste and our shared oceans are taking the brunt of that. The younger generation is unfamiliar with traditional water fountains but there was a time when "bubblers" and water fountains were everywhere and the water was free and safe to drink (and it tasted fabulous).
Our societies should shift their focus away from imposing limitations on each other in punitive ways and instead prioritize goals that sustain life and enhance our surroundings. Yes, the two nations (China and US) have very different social structures and political wills. But we are no longer in an era of labor-intensive industrial revolutions; AI will soon relieve workers of repetitive tasks, allowing them more time and creativity for innovation. However, if our children cannot access clean water, and our environments are plagued by natural disasters and rising temperatures, the progress we achieve loses its value. Why would we need more time and leisure simply to live on an unlivable planet with temperatures and floods. It erases every step of progress ever made because we will then spend our time considering nomadic life where we lose house after house, city after city to a natural disaster. Are the restrictions and animosities between nation-states worth it when our very survival depends on collaborative environmental efforts?
Recognizing that pursuing common ground often invites skepticism and fear, we must acknowledge that there's currently no alternative path. Our survival and well-being in our environment should be our top priority. Perhaps a new form of competition can emerge, one focused on nurturing gardens, caring for nature, and rescuing communities from floods and extreme weather, transforming desolate places into bountiful (and healthy) natural abundance.
This shift towards cooperation in nature care and preservation provides an opportunity for both nations to transcend their political and economic differences and unite around a cause—the well-being of our natural world. In doing so, they can set an example for the international community and inspire others to join in the collective effort to address pressing environmental challenges.
In an age where AI and technology can sometimes overshadow our human values, it's essential to remember the enduring importance of connections between people, cultures, and the natural world. Pearl S. Buck's writings and legacy serve as a timeless reminder of these fundamental aspects of our shared humanity.