Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where Do We Go From Here?

The End of the Road
Where do we go now?   Part of a dialog with Dave on January 23, 2012; first written
as a response to his comments on Flickr.

Dave, again, your points are valid and well expressed.  I find these issues so compellingly interesting that I wish I could spend all my free time discussing and exploring them.  In order to be prepared to make ethically and practical decisions about specific issues, I feel strongly that we, or whoever is involved in making these decisions, start with basic issues of human values, needs, and the historical context of what systems have been tried in the past, and an objective (as possible) evaluation of how successful or unsuccessful these systems have been.

For example, I think we can agree that what we refer to "liberal" thinking, it can at its extreme lead to a welfare state.  The ultimate example is Communism as practiced in Russia or China.  In those countries the opinion of the individual was disregarded. Therefore a hardwired desire to be rewarded if one works harder and/or is more gifted is ignored. In such a case, the individual feels a growing resentment towards the state because no matter how hard he/she works, the compensation remains the same as those who are lazy.   This has proven, historically, to produce a complete failure.  The economies and every other measure of a society's progress (art, literature, scientific discovery etc.) have been such miserable failures that people live at a subsistence level, except for the government officials who manage to circumvent the "rules" (everybody is treated and rewarded equally regardless of what they do).  The daily worker’s attitude in Russia was famously described by the slogan: "They pretend to pay us and so we pretend to work."  Thus, the end result is the rich vs poor stagnation that was the standard of the aristocracies of the middle ages.  So, too much government doesn't work.
Rainbow Waters in Ladybird Lake
At the other extreme, no government, complete "laize faire" leads to a society where the strongest and most privileged (those born smarter and physically stronger and/or into families with wealth), end up taking everything from the weaker and less fortunate, who are then functionally slaves, even though they have been called different names in different cultures at different times (peasants, serfs, lower class, etc.).  That doesn't work either, as seen in many modern societies like Iraq, Libya, and a host of others.  Eventually, the elite become lazy, take their positions of superiority for granted and stop being more productive that anyone in the masses.  Simultaneously, after a few generations the lower class get sick of no reward for their efforts, and the automatic rewards of anyone with a certain last name, and rebel. When talk and promises eventually fail, violence breaks out and a bloody civil war ensues.  Usually, the rich win, but not always.  Still, the pattern is very predictable and repeats itself ad nauseum.  This is simple tribalism, the most basic form of organization of the human race, only it involves larger numbers of people and better weapons so people die faster.  This has come to a dead end because technology has developed to the point where the use of our best weapons will result in everybody dying. No one wins. 

Fortunately, compromise systems have developed that create a situation where power is shared, to different degrees, and everyone is more satisfied.  So, one of the driving forces of tribalism, control of resources, is more equal; and, the motivation for fighting over them is greatly lessened.
But science discovered the concept of ecology in the 50's; and, this has upset the tenuous balance, not between individuals and government, but between rich and poor countries.  The disturbing truth: we live in a closed system on this blue planet, and everything is related to everything else.  There are limited resources.  The key factor in the relatively peaceful period since WWII, that drove increasing wealth for everyone, rich and poor, was continuous, rapid economic growth.  Ecology is a harsh dose of reality:  the growth of the second half of the 20th century is simply not sustainable.  So, the manner in which the West obtained their wealth is going to be denied to the developing nations.  These nations are not happy with the limitations set by the relatively new discovery of ecology; and, are generally uncooperative with efforts to conserve resources.  Their retort to suggestions  that they can't achieve the example the West has set, is to ignore the limits of ecology, instead adapting a "oh yes we can!" attitude with more (not less, as needed) consumerism. Such consumerism is already causing problems here and in other wealthy Western countries:  overspending, debt, diseases of affluence, obesity, anorexia, and stress-related illnesses such as hypertension, depression, anxiety, disruption of the family unit, pollution-related illnesses such as cancer, respiratory diseases and on and on.  The result is a general state of unhappiness, purposelessness, and a profound spiritual vacuum.  CONSUMERISM, or unchecked growth and a lack of sense of responsibility for debt, as well as disregard for the limits of the planet, does not work either.

So, where do we go from here?  Backwards does not offer any hope because any of the systems previously tried didn't work even when the vastly complicated issue of ecology wasn't in the picture.  Ecology was in full operation of course, we just had no awareness of it.  For example, the Sahara and Middle East (the cedars of Lebanon) were once forests until men cut all the trees and caused a profound change in the local climate.

So where do we start in an effort to decide what to do next?