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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Can we reclaim our own power, in the tsunami of data?

Have you ever given thought to the notion that, with the dramatic shift to consumerism, linked to the dramatic shift in numbers of university-educated people, and then the rise in the number of academic specialists in all academic disciplines (law, medicine, chemistry) we (ordinary people) might have surrendered too much power to the "authorities?" And in the course of that narrative, we may have placed burdens of solutions on people who simply cannot provide those solutions, as if they were available from some speciality boutique.
Think, for a moment of the infantilism, in terms of black and white moral solutions being prescribed by the church for the last two thousand years, linked to the power of the hierarchy, rendering fully sentient, fully conscious and fully conscientious adult human beings little more than dutiful sycophants to a theological regime and dogma that may or may not be an appropriate fit with their individual circumstances. Fortunately, we are emerging from that kind of blind adherence to the rules and dictates of any organization.
However, have we replaced our need for security, and our need for instant answers to all of life's problems, with a different adherence (or is it now an addiction?) to the prescriptions of the pharmacies, and the doctors who write them?
Have we, benignly and innocently perhaps, jumped fully into the river of mass education, and the rising pyramid of "specialist" scholars, and burdened them with both the power and the responsibility for providing answers to questions, many of which may not even have simple answers?
There are new dilemmas we all face, some of them requiring collaborative energies, imagination and the processes to bring those forces to a common table, and we are having trouble creating the processes to bring those conversations to an effective and mutually efficacious resolution.
We have economists, all of them doctoral and post-doctoral scholars, who weigh in on our various over-abundances and severe scarcities, without any formal and effective deliberating and deciding process through which to bring their proposals to implementation, for the benefit of all parties.
We have diseases galloping arounnd the world, some of them for the first time, without the adequate collaborative processes to decide when and how to protect the people living in various national cultures from the potential devastation of these diseases.
We have energy and climate numbers that astound most ordinary people, who then leave the formulation of the equations that attempt to balance our conflicting needs, governed more by the power of the purse of the corporations generating the obviously tenuous answers.
And in all of these decision-making discussions, the "public" is represented more and more by political leaders who have been "purchased" through the profits of the very organizations who are sponsoring the symposia in the first place. How representative of the ordinary people can they be?
We turn our bodies, when they are in pain, over to a team of doctors, whose decisions may or may not be appropriate for our situation, without the benefit of legal representation in those discussions.
We turn our bodies over to the doctors and pharmacists, when we are experiencing pain, without the benefit of adequate clinical trials, or adequate prior research, on the potential side-effects of those drugs, on our bodies, trusting that the decisions of both doctors and pharmacists (both of which groups depend on the philanthropy of the drug companies) will make decisions appropriate for our situation and condition, once again, without the benefit of legal representation in those decision-making rooms.
We listen, through reading to people like Tom Freedman who write eloquently about the impending disaster of climate change, without being able to know of the probability of  disaster, or its timing, because the experts differ, (although less and less, and fewer and fewer) on the actual outcomes.
We are adrift in both scholarly debates and trust or its lack, about many of the issues we all face.
We are not schooled in the processes needed to understand, and conduct our own research, into many of the world's most perplexing conundrums, and yet we have more information available, collected and stored more rapidly and efficiently than at any time in our past.
Yet, we are wandering in clouds of doubt, indecision, uncertainty and mis-representation, depending on the sources we access for our particular quest for information and best options.
Is it not possible that we have too much information, with too little capacity and process to make sense of that information, and access to too few guides to help us make sense of that information and its implications.
And we are turning both our ambivalence and our potential suffocation under the weight of information over to our children and our grandchildren, and unless we think seriously about what we are doing to deliver to them the needed questions and the necessary detachment in order to facilitate their effective discernment of the meaning of the tsunami of information we are collecting, some of it so invasive that their very privacy may be impeded, we could all fall victim to our own acquisitiveness of both data and technology to collect and store that data, without the necessary capacity and skill to decode and interpret that data.
Is that the job of those very grandchildren and their children?
Is this the place we have carved out for ourselves, between the enlightenment and the next discovery that helps make sense of this wave of both data and the increasing power over our lives we have handed off to others?

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