Thursday, April 24, 2014

Instant gratification, as a poltical motif, serves only the practitioners, and not the long-term interests of the people

Sanctions on Iran...Sanctions on Russia with threats of a reciprocal blockade from the Kremlin should companies leave Russia over sanctions that they will not be permitted back....Sanctions on Sudan contemplated by the United Nations....Sanctions everywhere and yet...are they really effective?
While agreeing that sanctions trump more violence and military action, if they prove effective, we also wonder about the application of an oft' told story about children falling into a cataract and people rushing to the bottom to pull them out. Are too many people in the world too interested in "pulling the children from the bottom of the waterfall" and not enough people, governments, agencies interested in determining why the children are falling in the first place?
In the social services world, we have armies of agents who move into a crisis to remove children from the exigencies they are experiencing and budgets to cover the cost. Yet, we have very few people and resources working to prevent those emergencies in the first place. We have become, in our view, a crisis-management society, and have ignored, denied or simply refused to take our responsibility for the prevention of so many social, and eventually political issues.
As one corporate manager put it recently, "We usually wait until something happens that requires a policy or a practice change before it is made; we are not proactive!" We seem to be a culture that is addicted to cleaning up after crises, but clearly not one that seeks aggressively to prevent those crises.
And, there are simply not enough "fingers" to plug the holes in the dykes that are springing free.
After a major hurricane, we build more substantial preventive structures for another.
After a major earthquake, sometimes, we insist on buildings that will withstand a higher level of quake, but continue to permit construction where we know there will be more tectonic shifts.
After Lac Megantic, and the devastating fire and destruction that befell that little town, we then move to higher standards on the rail cars that carry hazardous materials. A good move, but once again, too late.
In municipal politics, only after decades and in some cases centuries, do we replace infrastructure long ago worn thin by overuse, thereby suffering the indignity of pandering to the politicians insistent demands "not to raise taxes" so that they can be re-elected. And, of course, decades later, that same infrastructure now bears exponentially higher costs than would have been incurred decades earlier.
We have stock prices crawling over the television screens and throughout the markets, like sacralised digits in our addictive pursuit of the latest "gains" or our addictive pursuit of preventing losses.
We are an "instant-gratification" culture that seeks not to take the long, preventive and perhaps more costly, initially, course, and in the process, we are pouring billions, if not trillions into "crisis management, without bending the curve of our habits foreward in our own interests.
Let's look at health care and the differences between preventive medicine and crisis intervention. If people either cannot afford or do not choose to take preventive measures to achieve good health, preferring to avoid the discipline and the 'costs' of such an approach, then we will eventually become a "code red" or whatever colour the hospitals select for their "crisis" cases. And while it is much more exciting and sexy to intervene in a crisis than it is to watch the pounds drop off, or the cigarettes stop 'firing' or excess kilo's of red meat being replaced by greens in our frying pans...it is nevertheless a very short-sighted and crisis oriented mind-set that sustains this culture.
We love headlines and the drama of those events that continue to march, like armies of digital calamities across our eyes and ears and we think that, in attempting to keep up with those events, we are 'staying current' as the vernacular puts it, yet we are, like those people at the bottom of the waterfalls, merely picking the children out of the water and not taking the steps necessary to prevent their falling in the first place.
Our schools and our families, our churches and our corporations, our colleges and our universities, even our cities, provinces and national governments, have, at best, something called a five-year plan,
that merely sets out proposals for how the next few months will be conducted barring emergencies.
Some even have 'contingency plans' in the event of an abnormal "winter" of excessively low temperatures and high snow falls. And of course, then the question becomes what to sacrifice from the original plan in order to pay those bills.
I recently heard the mayor of one city tell his citizens that there was no money in the budget to fix the thousands of pot-holes that resulted from this past winter, but the plan to create more parks was going ahead. And I thought, "A family cannot purchase a new television set, when the roof has a hole that permits a cascade of water every time it rains!" What is that mayor thinking about?
So balancing both the immediate needs, whether they be political, domestic, military or intellectual, with the long-term health of individual people and the systems that sustain that health, requires a significant shift, in our view, from the short-term to the mid-and longer term emphasis. And that starts with our perception/conception/cultural imprint on time.
In the west, especially, we are so "instant" oriented that we have also become instant reactors, trundling through the streets of our urban centres glued to the little screens on our palms, with those dancing digits and pics that generate our instant thrill, as if that were the  meaning and the purpose of our lives. And, naturally, that instant-fixation infects most of the events and exchanges in our days.
So does it infect the days and the words and the thoughts of too many politicians, who, as expected, use our instant orientation both to escape really large gaffs because we will so quickly forget, and to pander to our addiction with the last "announcement" that satisfies the media's appetite for the latest sound-byte.
We have become little ants crawling around an increasingly crowded 'hill' looking for the next thrill, narcissistically clawing our way out of our latest 'crisis' and seeking the next thrill.
In fact, there is a real danger that 'crisis' and 'thrill' have morphed into each other...as the popular song puts it "whatever is going to kill me makes me feel alive"....
And, consequently, we will continue to be dependent, not on the political pandering, but on our own appetite for instant security blankets of moves that seek, not to stop the danger before it occurs, but to maximize its benefits for the needs and the purposes of those who have to manage it.
And we wonder why there is such a small voter turn-out on election day....we know we have been had, and we also know that we have participated in this charade for far too long, and we are not quite sure how to stop it.
First, we have to acknowledge the disease; and they we have to begin to take steps, no matter how rigorous nor how mundane, to turn our own eyes from those little screens and start looking into that horizon of the next fifty or one hundreds years, and the kind of lives and culture and security our grandchildren will face....and attempt to bend the curve of our own narrow and narcissistic appetites into something far more compatible with the needs and aspirations of those generations...and not just for their 'trust account' needs either.

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