Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Common Complaint, Revisited

Our leaders, what are they good for? I always complain about how our political leaders do nothing to help us. They always seem to me to take baby steps when a good idea comes up, and they always seem to react too slowly when something dangerous presents itself. They spend our money foolishly. A large portion of them seem to work only on self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement.  The world is rushing off to hell in a handbasket, and they, after all, are in charge of day-to-day operations. Maybe it’s a fair complaint, but maybe it’s possible that they do all that they can do, all that is in their power. Clumsily, usually, but maybe I’m overestimating their ability to affect change or control events. Perhaps it’s all out of control for another reason altogether.  

Question: who performs the actions that really form, or could affect change in, the world?

It occurred to me that the flow of history may be formed by a much larger group of entities, including individuals and groups from not only politics, but also from the business community and from society itself. It may be formed by the actions of selfish, local entities of all types, acting individually and reacting to the same or similar stimuli.

Identifying these groups gets out of hand quickly. It doesn’t have to be limited to political or economic groups that wield real power. It wouldn’t be only governments and corporations. Any individual who is truly rich would certainly qualify. So would powerful families. But why stop there?

It might be all of us that share collective guilt for the mess our society is in. I mean the society of human beings here on the earth. Autonomous humans, acting in what they perceive to be their own best interests, doing things.

Things like eating steaks; electing foolish politicians; having children; playing golf; discarding unpleasant facts; keeping a lawn; driving an automobile; embracing supernaturalism; flying commercial; fighting zero-sum battles for resources; backing wars; embracing nationalism. Just about everything that we do has a consequence in environmental terms, it all has some impact on the future.

What would it take to impose order on this chaos? Authoritarian solutions always seem to bring their own chaos, becoming counterproductive rather quickly. Democracy can’t do it, because it lacks the power to accomplish anything that would be unpopular with powerful interests or a recalcitrant general public. Enlightened rulers come along occasionally, but they are usually treated with love but not respect by their unenlightened subjects. Could we turn the world into one vast Denmark? Probably not, because there would be too many competing groups that would be too suspicious of one another.

I wonder how they did it on Star Trek. That Star Trek universe is certainly a dream of order, until the Ferengi or the Borg show up, anyway. Left to its own devices, the Star Trek world is a peaceful, prosperous place. Everyone is working, and happily, too. People have children. Diversity is embraced. There’s general health and income security. The environment seems clean and healthy. There doesn’t seem to be much of a government at all. But didn’t they build that world only after some vast military/environmental catastrophe? After enormous violence and loss of life? Maybe they started an authoritarian technocracy of philosopher-scientists. That might work in a fictional narrative, but it wouldn’t in the real world. Absolute power really does corrupt, absolutely. We’ve seen that happen often enough.

The only possible conclusion in all of this is darkly pessimistic. The train is out of control, speeding up at an alarming rate, and closing in on the final collision with the inevitable solid object. The current plan is obviously to push the pieces forward slightly from where they were yesterday, and I don’t think that anyone believes that that will work out well at all.

So, pessimism then. Not a bad way to go, after all. If anything but the worst happens, it’ll be a pleasant surprise! 

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