Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons
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Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
Every period and every group of people in history has had a different set of problems that face it. For example, in Europe in the Middle Ages, avoiding death - be it from disease, warfare, or mishap - was an everyday reality for countless Europeans. Alternatively, in the Roaring 1920s in North America and elsewhere, society had to come to terms with its newfound prosperity and the changing of social norms and customs. In other words, every age has had its issues. In this lesson, we will discuss just a few of the pressing concerns that face you, me, and everyone in the 21st century.
Perhaps nothing signaled the beginning of a new age in global safety like the attacks on September 11th, 2001, in New York City, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The heinous terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 civilian lives were only the beginning, as other attacks in London, Madrid, and Mumbai, India, followed within the decade. The attacks were all part of a new wave of terrorism, propelled by highly organized, anti-Western groups like al-Qaeda.
The rise of these terror groups provided a different threat to the safety of the United States and other countries than had previously been seen. Rather than a traditional opponent that follows typical rules of engagement and fires on military targets, these new groups were and are intent on striking at civilians to fight what they view as the encroachment of Western ideals and values upon their own culture. This reality has radically altered the way in which many countries around the world manage their borders, immigration, and transportation sectors.
The rise in security measures to protect against these attacks in the United States and around the world has also raised important questions about governments' access to their citizens' personal information. For example, the thousands of documents released by NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed widespread U.S. surveillance that at times broke international as well as U.S. law. These revelations helped raise important questions that will have to be answered in the following decades, such as how much surveillance is too much surveillance? Is any or all of it justified if it stops all terrorist attacks on civilians?
At the same time as governments fight to protect their citizens from terrorism, factors within society are fighting for change, as well. For example, in Western culture, gay marriage, or the marriage of two people of the same gender, is continuously gaining traction. First legalized in the Netherlands in 2001, it has since been legalized in numerous countries, like Belgium, Canada, and South Africa. In the United States, though it is not recognized federally, a growing handful of states have legalized the unions, and the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that other states must recognize the marriage licenses issued to gay people by other states.
In the United States, and in much of the world, there is significant opposition to the legalization of gay marriage, often from religious leaders and politicians who maintain marriage should be solely recognized as the union of one man and one woman. In states and countries where religion plays a larger role in society, such as in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, the blowback is even tougher: in Uganda in 2014, for instance, the country's Parliament passed a law that made homosexuality punishable by death. In other countries, like Qatar, homosexuality - specifically male homosexuality - is expressly forbidden and punishable by prison sentences.
Gay marriage, whether you are for or against it, is arguably the largest civil rights issue of our time. The growth of the globalized world - something the terrorist groups discussed in the previous section are reacting against - complicates the matter: the increased legalization of gay marriage in the Western world causes other parts of the world to see homosexuality as a Western import and not something inherent in their own communities. This reality and the particulars of gay marriage laws themselves is something that the world will continue to grapple with throughout the 21st century.
In addition to the pressure exerted on society by terrorism and groups advocating social change in the world, scientists and lawmakers alike are increasingly worried about the world itself. Climate change is perhaps an even more hotly contested issue than gay marriage. According to the vast majority of meteorologists, climatologists, and other scientists, the overall temperature of the Earth is rising at an alarming rate and wholly out of sync with the Earth's normal rhythms. These conclusions have been confirmed through numerous studies and data sets of things like arctic ice core samples, deep ocean temperature readings, and other things that tell us what the weather has been like on Earth for thousands, if not millions, of years.
The fact that the Earth is warming is not the controversial part; the controversy lies in what (or whom) is to blame. According to most of the same scientists, human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, is the chief reason for the Earth's unexpected warming. However, opponents - often politicians and special interest groups - maintain the warming of the Earth is a natural occurrence, or at the very least, too large of a process to be affected greatly by human activity.
Regardless of whomever you trust in this argument, the effects of this unprecedented global warming will likely be felt in this century. Though experts differ over degrees, nearly all believe the global warming will result in melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and unpredictable weather across the globe. For example, the tiny island nation of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean recently began relocating portions of its population to Fiji, as several of the nation's uninhabited atolls have recently been submerged by rising ocean levels. It's predicted that at current rates the entire nation could be under water by 2100.
There are many issues that face the global community in the 21st century. Some, like the threat of terrorism and climate change, threaten our very existence, while others, like gay marriage and other civil rights issues, can change the way we view some of the basic relationships of modern society. Each and every one poses its own set of questions that our generation and the ones that come after it will have to answer: how much surveillance is okay as long as it makes us feel safe? Is the admission or denial of gay marriage something our consciences can live with? How will climate change affect our daily lives and what can we do about it? These are just some of the pressing concerns of the 21st century - concerns whose answers will help dictate what the world will look like in 2100.
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Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons