Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Thirst for Answers

There was a time when we almost always came up with answers to our problems. We identified something that seemed wrong, tossed about a couple or even a few plausible solutions, and then picked the one we found most suitable.

We're not coming up with answers any more. At times it seems that we're actually working very hard to avoid finding answers to the problems of the day.

Iraq: no good answers. Afghanistan? No good answers. Global warming? Nothing workable on the table yet. Overpopulation? Why even bother? Resource depletion? Don't bother me now, I'm busy. Land mines, starvation, disappearing ice packs, air and water pollution, ethnic and religious conflict - it's all too much.

Are we really out of answers? No. We've just run out of the political will to acknowledge the answers and the social and moral will to accept them.

Maybe it's just that today's problems look so big and, in fairness, some of them are. A lot of what is surfacing to endanger us today and in the future is rooted in generations long past. We're brought up, conditioned, to take responsibility for our own acts and even that's not an easy sell. Having to take responsibility for the misunderstandings or ignorance of those now long gone is tougher yet.

The problems in much of the Middle East today can be blamed, in part, on decisions taken in the colonial era to accommodate the interests of colonial powers. Who is going to pay the price for that because it remains very much outstanding? We're not even looking very hard for answers. Pointing fingers and laying blame is a convenient way to distract attention and leave the mess for future generations.

Think we're not preparing to dump problems like the Middle East on those to come? Think again. We'll try to control the troubles, keep the situation ticking over and get by with as little inconvenience as possible. George Bush has already sluffed off the cost of his ill-conceived war on terror to be borne by future generations. He cut taxes, logged huge deficits and borrowed funding from foreign lenders. Irresponsibility of galactic proportions. This is not the mentality needed to tackle grave threats.

Hardly a day passes that the scientific community's concensus on global warming and climate change doesn't strengthen. One by one their predictions and timelines are shown to have been too conservative. During the Cold War the US spent 4 to 10% of GDP annually to hold communism at bay. Today it cannot muster the resolve to spend 1% of GDP to combat global warming. To the contrary, it's leader howls with outrage at the indignity of his economy having to bend ever so slightly to effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Answers are meaningless until they're given life through decisions. We're not accepting answers or even looking for them. Hence there's nothing to decide, no action required. The problems, however, don't merely drift along. They grow and gather speed. Eventually they become so large and so powerful that they shatter our indifference. Then, and only then, we are left to draw upon a shrunken list of atrophied solutions only to find that we have squandered the initiative and, with it, any real hope of finding good answers to intractable dangers.

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