Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

An interesting year for America!

with 10 comments

Whatever the outcome of the US elections, a real change is desperately needed.

I stay neutral in terms of American party politics.  As a ‘alien resident’, otherwise known as a Green Card holder, I am not eligible to vote anyway plus I readily admit to neither following nor understanding American politics.

But the focus on the late Ernest Callenbach’s words the last two days on Learning from Dogs has left me feeling pretty uncertain about the future for the USA.  In reading those words, despite the many elements of hope and optimism that Callenbach engenders, it is difficult not to feel the scale of the challenges facing this great nation.  Take these words toward the end of Callenbach’s essay,

Since I wrote Ecotopia, I have become less confident of humans’ political ability to act on commonsense, shared values. Our era has become one of spectacular polarization, with folly multiplying on every hand. That is the way empires crumble: they are taken over by looter elites, who sooner or later cause collapse. But then new games become possible, and with luck Ecotopia might be among them.

Humans tend to try to manage things: land, structures, even rivers. We spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and treasure in imposing our will on nature, on preexisting or inherited structures, dreaming of permanent solutions, monuments to our ambitions and dreams. But in periods of slack, decline, or collapse, our abilities no longer suffice for all this management. We have to let things go.

I have subscribed to the print version of The Economist for many years.  Indeed, it is the only broad-reaching newspaper that I read on a regular basis.  So in the last edition (May 12th), I couldn’t ignore the interesting position taken by Lexington under the title of Declinism resurgent. [NB. Not sure if you will be able to access that link without a subscription, Ed.]

The sub-heading sets the theme – The election campaign encourages America to feel worse about itself than it needs to

The third paragraph reads thus,

America is prone to bouts of “declinism”. In the 1980s the country was in a funk about the rise of Japan and its own vanishing competitiveness. Another bout was bound to follow China’s rise, two grinding wars and the deep recession of 2008. The gloom is nourished by a fountain of declinist literature. In “Time to Start Thinking” Ed Luce of the Financial Times ponders an America “in descent”. Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of Brookings claim in a book on America’s politics (reviewed here two weeks ago) that “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”.

Immediately followed by,

Yet anyone who prefers their glass half-full can find grounds for optimism. The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner has just landed in Washington, DC. It will be decades before China can make such a machine. The IMF is predicting average growth of over 2% for 2012 and 2013, not meteoric but not bad for a mature economy. America has a young workforce, with plenty of skilled people knocking at the door to come in. It still has more of the world’s best universities than any other country. It is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and its biggest food exporter. Amid the gloom, the economy is getting “Better, Stronger, Faster”, argues Daniel Gross, in a book of that name published this week.

Lexington then concludes,

The binary illusion

People tend to think in black and white. America is either in decline or it is ordained to be for ever the world’s greatest nation. Government is either paralysed or it is running amok, stifling liberty and enterprise and snuffing out the American dream. The election campaign accentuates the negative and sharpens this binary illusion. The Republicans say that Mr Obama is leading America into socialised serfdom; the Democrats retort that Mr Romney would restore the conditions that caused the recession. Little wonder that, according to polls, most voters do not believe that either man has a clear plan for fixing the economy.

Charles Dickens said of the United States that if its citizens were to be believed America “always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise.” On a variety of objective measures, it is in an awful mess right now. And yet America of all countries still has plenty of grounds to hope for a better future, despite its underperforming politics, and no matter who triumphs in November.

So  a different perspective than the one articulated by Ernest Callenbach.  But whatever the political result later in this year’s US presidential elections, if that new government doesn’t address the need for urgent attention to what mankind is doing to Planet Earth then the rest of the political agenda will become increasingly irrelevant.

I’ll close with that old saying, “Will the last person to leave Planet Earth, please turn the lights off!

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10 Responses

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  1. Taking Lexington’s last point first, I accept that – in general – things are not black and white. This is why I could never be a Young Earth Creationist. However, I do believe in objective reality and the concept of truth. Thus, I think we have very good reason to accept the reliability of climate science and, therefore, unless we stop burning fossil fuels within the next decade or two, that the ecological carrying capacity of the Earth will intervene to make life very unpleasant.

    Taken together with Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen and Collapse by Jared Diamond, this is the message one should take away from Ecotopia too. Any optimism Ernest Callenbach had was entirely contingent upon the insanity of “business as usual” being abandoned ASAP. However, despite shareholder revolts in the UK (i.e. objecting to executives being rewarded for failure) and the slow death of the Heartland Institute (as a consequence of loss of sponsors following a crazy billboard campaign), I don’t think this is going to happen anytime soon.

    I agree that a great deal of time, column inches, and printed paper has been expended on doom-mongering but, almost everything envisaged has come to pass or can now be seen approaching. People needed to be prepared but, instead, familiarity has bred contempt (and/or selective deafness). However, I still think that a very important warning to the Western world has generally gone unheaded, for example:
    — in Clifford Hill’s 1995 book, Shaking the Nations; and
    — in Raghuram Rajan’s 2005 article, ‘Has Financial Development Made The World Riskier?’.

    See also my Climate Change – It’s an Inside Job (5 October 2011).

    Martin Lack

    May 16, 2012 at 02:01

    • Thanks Martin, much material for me and my readers to digest. Paul

      Paul Handover

      May 16, 2012 at 07:34

      • You are too kind. Thanks again for bringing Ernest Callenbach to my attention.

        Martin Lack

        May 16, 2012 at 11:50

  2. The USA used to be an island continent. It’s still a continent, but aboard a spaceship, and the spaceship is in trouble. Mostly because the exploitative mentality ruling the USA provides with an erroneous leadership. See Obama writing his love and admiration for Buffet, as exposed in:

    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/sage-of-obama/

    Patrice Ayme

    May 16, 2012 at 17:47

    • That last post of yours, the one you linked to, was deeply unsettling. If we can’t rid politics of the undemocratic connections and influences that abound, then there’s no chance for any of us aboard that spaceship!

      Paul Handover

      May 16, 2012 at 17:57

      • dear Paul: Unfortunately, yes, and yes again. At this point what happens in France is the best hope we have (the French president has yet to be supported by the national assembly, though, and the elections are coming in a month…) Not much, some will sneer… but it could snowball…

        Patrice Ayme

        May 16, 2012 at 18:47

      • Thanks for this link to Patrice’s blog, Paul. I found it deeply unsettling too because, like you I suspect, I am focussed on trying to improve the World’s life-chances from within (or opting out)… Unfortunately, Patrice’s analysis is that the system is corrupt and beyond reformation (or salvation)…

        Thus, it has become clear to me that I have been getting angry with and defending the status quo simultaneously… I thought I was being even-handed and pragmatic (trying to appease both Capitalists and Socialists) but, in fact, all I was doing was being illogical…

        Martin Lack

        May 18, 2012 at 03:58

      • Martin, I think you are being a little too hard on yourself by adopting that view of yourself, Paul

        Paul Handover

        May 18, 2012 at 09:33

      • You’re very kind, but Patrice’s logic is hard to fault; whereas mine is hard to find :-)

        Martin Lack

        May 18, 2012 at 10:41

      • I refer you to my previous reply! ;-)

        Paul Handover

        May 18, 2012 at 11:27


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