Monday, 21 December 2009

The failure of the Overconfident Age

Somehow, we have drifted into a situation where we think we have the power to find an easy answer to everything. We feel we need 'effective management' of every situation, to make the 'problem' go away, and let us get on with our lives untroubled by whatever it is. When things don't get solved in a short time, we look for someone to blame. We blame the individual worker, the manager, or in politics, we blame the government. But some 'problems' don't have instant or easy solutions.

We think we can solve the 'problem' of crime by imprisoning ever more people, without remembering the historical link between crime and relative poverty, as that would upset our ever more unequal society. We don't think about how many criminals suffer from mild learning disabilities, or mental health probles, which deny them the chance of a decent job. We don't think how many come from broken families, or wonder whether these might be a function of an individualised, very mobile society in which we no longer know our neighbours, and no longer have the support of the extended family. Support networks are missing, so in every generation, some parents fail to cope. Children of dysfunctional families are unlikely to become the parents of healthy families, and so the 'problem' snowballs from one generation to the next.

Then there is climate change. There is, of necessity, no easy or instant solution. So we deny it, and believe every manipulated 'fact' thrust at us by people who are doing very nicely out of deceiving us. Governments meet to seek solutions, but lack the courage to look beyond the next election, the next opinion poll, the next press conference. We have built a society where a government which asks for sacrifice in the face of disaster may well lose the next election to a party which offers pie in the sky. Whatever power struggles are going on behind the scenes in China, their government evidently has as much invested in short-termism as we.

So Copenhagen has failed, as it was always likely to, and Obama is spinning it as 'meaningful', as he inevitably would. Nations get the governments they deserve, and this catastrophe is a function, not of political failure, but of ingrained hedonism. As a society, we are unable or unwilling to face reality.

But a significant proportion of us do realise what is happening. That is our strength. If a grassroots movement could grow until even governments realised that slavery had no future, we can do the same here. None of us have any interest in the collapse of our climate. Only ordinary people, defying when necessary a regime which consistently attempts to criminalise protest, can force can force that regime to take the necessary action.

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