The tension between two superpower nations (US and China) is getting more and more severe these days. Obviously, the worse relationship between these two countries is especially bad for chinese americans and to a certain extent, all asian americans. A war between the two, in particular, if escalated to be of nuclear type, will be a disaster to the human race on Earth. Too bad, we are watching a trade and tech war between them now. Yet a hot war, especially in south China sea or around Taiwan, could not be completely ruled out in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made things even worse. The two biggest economies are going down. It is convenient for politicians to play the blame game and turn attention of the population elsewhere, especially against the other nation. Nationalism, fueled by politicians, could be the trigger to a hot war. It is time to test if our education systems have been robust or not. In other words, we’ll see if the overall competence level of the general public is over the “stupidity” hump(s) of the Dunning-Kruger effect or not regarding wars.
The world has seen two giant failures during World War I and II. China has endured one of its own big calamities in the so-called Culture Revolution. During those times, the sound of wisdom could be not heard while the ardent nationalism or something similar became the loudest in the public. The tragedy inevitably occurred. Have human beings learned from these past lessons? Have our education systems enabled laypeople to make wiser decisions or at least recognize the dangers of any detrimental extremism?
I am not sure that we have passed the tests as a whole. Social media are so popular now and people have spent less time to think independently. Instead, conspiracy theories are getting much easier to spread over every corner of the world. In the USA, quality education becomes more and more expensive. A lot of people can still earn a decent income without good education, which could be both good and bad. People are losing their capability of making sound judgement. Without sufficient education, people could not even tell delusions from facts.
In China, some critical parts are missing in its education system and independent thinking has never been encouraged in the communist regime. Only standard STEM skills are emphasized. It may be good enough for the development of an economy, reminding me of the Meiji restoration of Japan. But the essence of education is lost. Such a deformity could lead to great dangers. See Japan as an example in early last century who frantically started the wars against US and China. Similar insane emotions could be stirred in China after a great economic growth in 40 years’ reform and opening. Without a sound education system, the general public could be easily affected by nationalism promoted by an authoritarian government.
Education flourished only twice in China – one in the ChunQiu – ZhanGuo period (春秋战国) while the other in early 20th century (i.e., during the New Culture and May Fourth movements) that unfortunately lasted very shortly. As the former president of Peking University during this brief prosperity, Cai Yuanpei (蔡元培) advocated on education: freedom of thought and inclusiveness of ideas (思想自由,兼容并包). His open-minded educational principles are what really lacks in today’s education in China. One consequence of such an educational failure is lack of truly original scientific discoveries and technological innovations in China. More severely, another is the dangers of invoking societal destruction such as wars.
The ultimate cure for such a societal disease (war) is sound education for all people. Ideally, education should be free for all and be offered as much as possible. This is the single most important factor of how fast the human society has been advanced for our really short civilization history of a few thousand years. As a matter of fact, it is an exponential growth factor like the cosmic inflation. Look at the effect after schools were established a few thousand years ago: stable agricultural civilizations. Look at the effect after more advanced education systems of universities were founded a few hundred years ago: splendid capitalistic civilizations. What would be the next-generation education systems like?
Most importantly, education can really cure people’s over-confidence associated with less competence, i.e., get us over the dangerous “stupidity” humps of the Dunning-Kruger effect, approaching the dream world and society asymptotically. Ideally, a war-free world, at least within our own race.