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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Political biases and looming catastrophes

We all have a bit of Chicken Little in us. I think it must be hard wired in our brains to try to look into the future and see where our actions will likely get us in trouble. Being the strong believer is evolutionary concepts, I understand how adoption of such a mindset and embedding biological mechanisms within us to favor such thinking would favor passing on our DNA and whatever culture encouraged such thinking.

I can't help but contrast differing loci of concern which characterize different parts of the political and social spectrum. It is intriguing to me that we use such terms as conservative and liberal when everyone appears to want to conserve something. What I find most intriguing is the different levels of anxiety regarding the potential for certain types of catastrophic events and how that tends to track differently in those of different political bents. On the left, there is much hand wringing about global warming and environmental degradation while on the right the concerns focus more on fiscal calamity and social changes.

What I find remarkable is that we have the luxury of worrying about such things since much of humanity throughout history (and for much of the world now) has been forced to deal with much more short terms concerns, those being finding enough to eat and protecting themselves from the harsh elements? It is only a very recent development that those concerns have been moved on to the back burner for some of us.

I have to ask, what happened to allow for such a dramatic improvement in circumstances for some of us and how easily could we move back to the previous state? The movement from a tenuous subsistence existence to the generation of sufficient wealth to insulate certain substantial populations from immediate concerns of  where their next meal is coming from is a contemporary one and well documented. In addition, certain populations have actually toggled between the tenuous and not so tenuous states, giving us insight into to aspect of the transition.

Perhaps the most important insight is that societies which have moved to producing sufficient wealth to insulate large portions of their population from immediate physical needs can move back to  less desirable states and the human toll is huge.  In my estimation these should be some of the most fundamental questions which should be repeatedly asked and in particular, they should be asked whenever anyone suggests we need to impose fundamental changes to the rules we use to govern human interactions. Various social experiments of the 20th century resulted in social chaos and mass famines and loss of tens of millions of lives. While ecological catastrophes remain possible but theoretical, economic and political catastrophes as a consequence of human tinkering have occurred repeatedly in recent history.

There is not a consensus on the key mechanisms which allow us to consistently fulfill basic human physical needs. Furthermore, the default state is not a world where those needs are fulfilled to a degree which will allow us to focus on other more distant concerns.  All of us live meal to meal and need to be protected from the heat, cold, wet, and disease. For some of us it appears we have forgotten how this actually happens. We have come to the belief that the most likely source for catastrophic disruption comes from man made changes in natural ecosystems, not from man made changes of the critical human constructed systems which have lifted us from our inherently tenuous lives.

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