Sunday, July 11, 2010

That Fearsome Inertia

In a world where people are afraid of things like caterpillars or the number thirteen, it's easy to forget that there's a valid reason for fear. It's how we react to dangerous or potentially dangerous situations, and in the distant past it was one more way for our ancestors to navigate through and survive the savage world in which they lived. The worst fears, though, are the ones that can't be resolved through individual effort.

My problem is simple - I have fear for the future. I am deeply concerned about the form that it will take, and whether we'll take the actions necessary to ensure that it's a good one. When I look at the world today, and consider how our leadership is conducting itself with current problems, I have to admit I'm skeptical. What really concerns me, though, is this: the possibility that the challenges facing us are so vast, the window of opportunity to deal with them painlessly and effectively was shut tight before I was even born.

That's what I fear, the prospect that for my entire life I've been staring into the muzzle of a cannon, endless and dark.

Do you feel lucky, civilization?

Already, the twenty-first century seems as if it will be characterized by the need to deal with the excesses of the twentieth - financially, environmentally, developmentally, and politically. Look at the vast and furious polarization of political opinion in the United States, governments' preference to invest in foreign wars than our own crumbling infrastructure, the continuing threat of severe ecological damage, and the broken, greed-obsessed financial system in most parts of the world. They're problems that we have to solve together, because in the modern world, there's no such thing as isolation anymore.

But these things all have a fearsome inertia driving them on. It's easy to plan for the "business as usual" case environmentally, because that doesn't involve changing the way we do things. It's simple for governments to spend money on corporate friends and foreign campaigns rather than the problems that cry out for solutions. What I fear is the prospect that by now they've been rolling downhill for so long and gathered such a head of speed that to stand in their way would mean being crushed under their wheels.

There are plenty of movies, television shows, books, and so on where a small group of heroes find a time machine and go to set right what once went wrong. My fear is that if we looked at our own world through that lens, they would have to go so far back that I would have no place in it.

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