Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Time Binding

Posted by hyperpat on November 1, 2006

One of the distinguishing characteristics of homo sapiens is their supposed ability to bind time, to look towards the future and modify current actions in order to achieve something better.  Unfortunately,  it seems as if the great majority of members of this species don’t make very good use of this ability.

Talk to your average teenager or twenty-something. Ask them if they’ve thought about their retirement, or have done anything to fund it. Probably more than 90% will answer this in the negative.  Ask about long-term goals for career and family. That answer will mirror the first. Ask about what actions they have taken to assure a clean, robust Earth for their children. Here you might actually get a few positive responses – but then ask them about nuclear, wind, solar, and water power and what percentage of the world’s needs can be met by these methods, and the answers will all too often indicate that they haven’t done any real research in this area and have been unwilling to do the math to really evaluate these items.

For that matter, talk to your Congressman. If his time horizon includes things beyond his next election date, I’d be surprised – note the almost total inaction on Social Security, energy policy, universal health care, etc. Although they seem to talk about these items a lot, when it comes to actually implementing policies and laws in these areas, it’s pretty much a blank sheet of paper, as regardless of how he votes, your Congressman is afraid of alienating someone, and hence not getting re-elected.

Corporations are no better – the next quarterly financials seem to be the be-all and end-all driving decisions about the company’s future direction.

Asking people to look not just to next year or even a decade out, but hundreds or thousands of years out seems to be an impossible proposition. About the only people who seem to do this are some scientists and science-fiction fans, who make up a miniscule percentage of the population.  And without this long-term perspective, I can guarantee that a lot decisions made now will be flawed, with some possibly very dire consequences for everyone on the planet.

Seems to me that people’s noses need to be rubbed into the catastrophic possibilities that are coming towards us like a train wreck.  Maybe science fiction works that illustrate these problems should be required reading in school. Maybe an organization should be formed to advertise this (hmm…there probably are already quite a few of these, all crying in the wilderness, and nobody is listening). Maybe it will take a real catastrophe that affects everyone before people will wake up and do a little planning.


2 Responses to “Time Binding”

  1. fencer said

    I seem to be on a comment spree here… interesting posts!

    Your points make me recall a comment I heard William Irwin Thompson make once… how humans will fare will depend partly on the rate of bad news (and bad realities). Not enough bad news, people won’t pay attention. Too much and people give up. In the middle there’s a band where people can cope and respond to events, one hopes, constructively.


  2. hyperpat said

    I don’t know about people giving up even in the face of too much bad news. This seems to be one more characteristic of humans – they’ll keep slogging on even when all hope is gone. In fact, it’s exactly this item that seems to suffuse a lot of very good literature, from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to the recent Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (just finished this yesterday – recommended). The thing that does die when the bad news just keeps coming and coming are the dreams – people give up trying to find something better and just attempt to keep it where it is, no worse today than yesterday.

    But there’s also the ‘Cry Wolf’ phenomenon: people have been hearing about potential eco-catastrophes for so long (with no immediately apparent actual occurrance of same) that it seems most people have turned off their attention meter. And until soomething happens that affects them directly, I don’t think that meter will get swithched back on.

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