The progress of humanity has been greatly enhanced by those who, after thoughtful analysis, expressed views that are contrary to popular thought. Persons like Voltaire, Galileo, Socrates, Nietzsche, and the father of both the American and French revolutions, the great Thomas Paine, whose "Rights of Man" and "Age of Reason" would make him the contrarian of all time in my book.

It is in the spirit of these polemicists that I create this blog. It is my intent to challenge popular suppositions. While it will become evident that I am generally a progressive liberal, hopefully I will have the courage to take opposing viewpoints to those of my own comrades when appropriate.

No comments will be deleted based solely on the political , social, economic or religious views you may have. In fact I encourage thoughtful discourse. I will however promptly remove any postings that contain overtly vulgar comments, racial slurs, hate speech of any kind, or multiple postings of "conspiracy theories". Though not required, please post links for references to the point you are trying to make, or at the least, give us an idea of where you found the information that supports your cause or claim.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Collective Denial: The Bane of Humanity

“Someone should have seen this coming.” A familiar refrain. Calamity and catastrophe initially engender fear, horror, and a sense of helplessness. We become all too cognizant of mans’ fragile existence on a small planet fraught with hazard and uncertainty. Initially, wether it’s a part of our genetic makeup to insure survival of the species or a moral propensity for human compassion, we come together in extraordinary displays of community to offer aid and comfort to the victims. But in the days, weeks and months that ensue, our initial response often turns into anger. The general sense is that the devastating event could have been avoided, that the response plans weren’t adequate, or that there was some sort of malfeasance, ineptitude or even fraud involved. Our unease cries for a scapegoat. We need someone to blame.

But in a large number of calamitous events, if blame is truly in order, we need only look at ourselves. In such cases there are normally a good number of experts who have in fact “seen it coming”. From climatological disasters like Katrina, droughts, tsunamis and floods, technological meltdowns like Fukushima and interruptions to the electrical grid, to breakdowns in financial markets and economies, the possibilities of disaster have been forewarned to us all.

Collective denial is a force more powerful than reason. It plays to our selfish egocentric sense of invincibility. Reason requires one to consider all information that may be available, even that which we find uncomfortable or displeasing. We all have the tendency to only accept information that reinforces a preconceived notion, one that falls in line with our own individual needs and desires. Therein lies the root of our inability to preempt or effectively deal with possible disasters.

We continue our love/hate relationship with science, maintaining an unrealistic faith that it will somehow save us from peril despite our own destructive behavior, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing its well defined warnings. Our on again, off again relationship with the stewards of education serves as a stark display of our need to learn only that which we find supportive of our current course and policies. Today’s heroes become tomorrow’s villains and vise versa. We only approve of solutions to complex problems that require no personal sacrifice or infringement on our lifestyle, much preferring a miracle in the eleventh hour to well-thought progress. What’s more, living in this culture of scarcity we have come to accept that there are the unfortunates who will not survive, a defacto admission on our part that we DO live on a planet with limited resource. This point is all too glaring in the face of the estimated 24,000 children who will not survive the famine in Somalia. It’s just much easier to change the channel than to face the predictions of scientists that there aren’t enough resources to go around and that almost half of human beings don’t have the basic necessities. We exonerate ourselves of responsibility for their plight by vilifying their governments, or worse yet, by laying the blame on the deity by saying that it must be “gods’ will”. We refuse to accept that the “haves” play any role in the condition of the “have nots”, nor have we seemed to draw the connection between most wars and poverty. The war on poverty has, for most of the world, been a dismal failure by any measure and the now global system of capital economies has proven it has no moral compass. While many moral individuals give charitably and deserve thanks, the much more difficult task of effecting long term positive change is remorsefully lacking.

Our globe faces a good number of crises. In the short run many will effect our way of life in fairly substantial ways, and in the longer term perhaps even our survival. But there is hope for us all if we can get past our denial and use reason as a basis for our choices rather than self serving ideas that only forestall the inevitable. A realization that we live on a finite planet with finite resources would be a good place to start. A crisis could and should be recognized as an opportunity in disguise. We should begin to realize that a world based on unbridled consumerism is very likely a broken model. Will more “stuff” really make us happier? Perhaps we should find better ways to quantify the progress of man than GDP growth figures.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we should abandon our economic model or the core principles of humanity and democracy. On the contrary it is time to assert them. Much of what we do does work and works well. But I think some adjustments are in order. We need to take a closer look and give a fair hearing to those knowledgeable persons who may have ideas with which we are uncomfortable. We need to stop alternately putting scientists, researchers and educators on pedestals and then demonizing them when their data disturbs us. A fair and honest measurement of our condition and our response to it can only improve the outcome for us all. Let’s do more of the things we do well, and less of the things that we don’t. And consider that we are all citizens of the same planet. The fate of one ultimately affects us all.

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