Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thinking to Avoid Collapse

In a section of the book Collapse the author Jared Diamond calls "Signs of Hope," he lists the following, which on the surface seem like very sensible things of which to be aware.

“Thus, human societies and smaller groups may make disastrous decisions for a whole sequence of reasons: failure to anticipate a problem, failure to perceive it once it has arisen, failure to attempt to solve it after it has been perceived, and failure to succeed in attempts to solve it.”

Looking at the idea above that there is a "failure to attempt to solve it after it has been perceived," Diamond has pointed out that at times powerful people or groups don't want the problem solved because it won't be to their advantage.

If we look for those who might be benefiting from a problem, then we might know better who the enemy is. That will make it easier to find a solution, because we will understand what, or who, we are fighting. Keeping a good thing going is not an easy job. It will take all of us thinking all the time to avoid what so many societies have failed to do: survive.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Creeping Normalcy

A great concept which can be used to help understand why we tend not to notice things that are happening right under our nose. In interpersonal relationships it sometimes produces a surprised partner who says quite truthfully, "I had no idea that we had any serious problems." In government we adopt laws that reflect where the constituents are, and to the "old folk" in our community there is amazement that our system could do such a stupid thing. In our everyday life we have shifted from party lines for telephone use to individual handheld phones that we wouldn't be caught dead without. All examples of creeping normalcy.

Jared Diamond uses this concept in his book Collapse to describe how we are able to overlook some of the most obvious things that are happening to us. A new normalcy creeps up on us so slowly that we don't even notice it. We fail to notice the importance of the everyday things which when we look back make is so clear where we left one era and entered another. This is where mass media should be playing a key role. They have themselves shifted from a set of goals which included keeping the electorate informed to a new and powerful one: maximize profits from quarter to quarter.

So it is up to us to learn what is necessary to know in order to build the world we want to live in and start building the world we hope our children will live in. Creeping normalcy is a risk to us all and the way we live.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Things We Should Avoid

According to Jared Diamond in his book Collapse, the following items are present in the failure of the societies he has studied.
1) "A first set of factors involves damage that people inadvertently inflict on their environment, as already discussed"
2) "A next consideration in my five-point framework is climate change, a term that today we tend to associate with global warming caused by humans."
3) "A third consideration is hostile neighbors."
4) "The fourth set of factors is the converse of the third set: decreased support by friendly neighbors, as opposed to increased attacks by hostile neighbors."
5) "The last set of factors in my five-point framework involves the ubiquitous question of the society's responses to its problems, whether those problems are environmental or not."

Diamond's 560 page book seeks to determine why and how societies fail. The framework that he describes is worth our consideration. Applying the first item in the list we see the need for free and open discussion. When anyone spots a problem that might face us all sooner or later, they should be encouraged to "speak out" about what they are seeing. In a free and open discussion, it is not our job to silence those who are "speaking out" but to determine what they have to say and its possible impact on them and the rest of us.

In a society that says it is interested in free speech and also seeks to limit free speech, there is a problem. Some in our midst tell us that they are not being allowed to speak out. That should alarm all of us. But, it is time consuming and requires that we focus on the problem. If should be clear that basic to the preservation of a society there is high value placed on communication in all directions. Anything that gets in the way of that communication needs to be examined with great care. Then appropriate actions need to be taken. To avoid inadvertent death in our society we need to be free, willing and able to communicate. Anything less than full discussion/communication is to move toward damage to our society caused inadvertently. We must discuss.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Avoiding National Collapse

Most of us would like to leave our homeland to our children the same as, or even better than we received it from our parents. But, there are many things that can go wrong along the way. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond discusses the "tragedy of the commons." He explains: "Consider a situation in which many consumers are harvesting a communally owned resource, such as fishermen catching fish in an area of ocean, or herders grazing their sheep on a communal pasture. If everybody overharvests the resource, it will become depleted by overfishing or overgrazing and thus decline or even disappear, and all the consumers will suffer."

What Diamond is describing is happening all around us all the time. The oceans, forests, even our agricultural processes tend to use up the land so that in the long run we may not be able to depend on it for food. He points out that there are a couple of common ways we can look at the problem. One would be to say to ourselves, "If I don't force this crop, somebody else will and so I might as well." Another might be, "If I don't cut this land, somebody else will and so I might as well."

Diamond suggests, "The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for the consumers to recognize their common interests and to design, obey and enforce prudent harvesting quotas themselves." None of that can happen without communication. A skill we must have and use if we hope to achieve success as individuals or as a nation. At least, we must be willing to talk (communicate) with others if we hope to successfully pass on to our children that which is best about the places we live.