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February 25, 2009

A Different View of History

The "Elephant in the Room" has become a popular metaphor for topics no one wants to discuss. What’s usually left unsaid is why they aren't discussed: is it because so few people have tumbled to their existence, or because many who are aware are simply to frightened to talk about them? When all is said and done, inexplicable silence ends up being like the tree falling in an empty forest: if no one could have heard it fall, why would the sound matter?

That could be a summation of human extinction: those scientifically literate enough to grasp the findings of Science with a capital “S” now accept that sudden mass extinctions have occurred several times in the remote past and will almost certainly occur through one of several possible mechanisms. If humans are still around the next time Yellowstone erupts, or Earth is hit by another big asteroid, it won’t matter much for very long. However, we also seem to have set ourselves up for several otherwise avoidable problems that, if recognized and dealt with in a timely manner, could be mitigated to a considerable extent. Because our habit of denial interferes with that process is precisely why I believe such phenomena are important to discuss

Those still reading may have guessed I’m about to cite global warming and coastal inundation. While they are certainly real dangers we haven't been effectively preparing for, I now think the most pressing calamity in our immediate future is a reprise of the “Great” Depression of the 20th Century; I further suspect recovery will be much more difficult: simply because the modern world’s human population is so much bigger, better connected, more polarized, and has inflicted greater environmental damage on the planet's ecology since 1929. Finally; it's likely that if recovery is unduly protracted, our ability to mitigate the effects of climate change will also be compromised.

By now, anyone still reading might be asking themselves, “who is this nut-case, and how does he presume to speak so knowledgeably about these important matters? ” These are certainly fair questions and the answers may not be reassuring to many. My own view of history has changed radically; it has been critically shaped by the ongoing study of pot smokers I've been engaged in since 2001 and blogging about since 2005. It's also one that has been continually reinforced by the very phenomenon addressed in the first paragraph: the obvious reluctance of people who should be interested in the controversial material I’ve been writing about to deal with it.

That reluctance is a form of denial, a pervasive human characteristic I fear may have already pushed our species past the point of recovery from its current economic debacle. The need to answer questions generated by such inappropriate silence impelled me to do a lot of thinking just as the improbable election of America’s first nominally “Black” President was inspiring what I now believe may be the last bit of hope our species has of finding the leadership necessary to bring us through the looming disaster relatively unscathed. As this was being composed and edited, I was about to write that I thought our new President might not be as astute as I'd once hoped. Then I listened to his remarks amplifying last night's State of the Union speech, including his overview and emphasis on transparency, which were masterfully stated. The man is both a quick study and an amazingly competent teacher. If the same principles can be applied to our abysmally stupid and dishonest drug war, they might end it.

If Obama is able to convert enough boo-birds on the Right and greedy wimps from his own party to such a sane approach, he just may become the leader we so desperately need; I'm still pessimistic, but a bit more hopeful

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at February 25, 2009 04:23 PM