Sunday, May 25, 2014

A respectful submission for an alternative "problem" to the BBC Longitude Contest

In 1714, the British government passed the Longitude Act, which offered a prize to anyone who solved a great challenge of the time  accurately determining a ship's longitude. Navigation problems caused wrecks and trade disruption, so the prize was large  20,000 pounds, $3.5 million by today's standards. A working class clockmaker eventually won after years of developing reliable marine clocks, or "chronometers," that allowed sailors to pinpoint their position at sea.
  1. Fast forward 300 years and Britain is offering the Longitude Prize again  this time it's $17 million for solving one of humanity's biggest problems. And a group in the U.K. is letting citizens pick the problem this time. Asking them through a BBC poll if it should be:
  • Flight – How can we fly without damaging the environment?
  • Food – How can we ensure everyone has nutritious sustainable food?
  • Antibiotics – How can we prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics?
  • Paralysis – How can we restore movement to those with paralysis?
  • Water – How can we ensure everyone can have access to save and clean water?
  • Or Dementia – How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer?
(From Fareed Zakaria, GPS, May 25, 2014)
Sorry, BBC, but we are not satisfied with your list of options.
We would respectively and even fearfully like to add a seventh:
Human tolerance of all people (including their ideologies, faith beliefs, communities and practices, gender orientation and economic status)
The list of problems detailed by the BBC is exclusively "extrinsic" and focuses on: 
  1. the provision of some balance between movement and the environment, or
  2. the provision of food and the environment, or
  3. the provision of drugs to combat disease, or
  4. the enhancement of movement for those suffering paralysis, or
  5. the provision of clean drinking water, or
  6. the provision of a longer physical and autonomous life for those with dementia....
all of them extremely worthy problems needing attention, research, solutions and the reward of the $17 million you are offering.
However, none of these problems can or will be resolved in a sustainable manner for a future that includes a minimum of one century of life on the planet without a reversal of the general and somewhat legitimate human pattern of bettering one another, of competing with each other in all areas of our lives, and a transformation of human attitudes from the pursuit of survival at the expense of the other, to a shared pursuit of the authentic and unrestrained acceptance of the rights, aspirations, and the legitimate needs of food, shelter, work, safety... for actually accomplishing one's life in dignity, honour, respect and freedom from fears imposed by threats of a human origin or a natural root or some combination of human and natural.
And the more abstract issue of human rights, dignity, value, tolerance and respect in a world free of the deeply entrenched arms trade, the pursuit of power over instead of empowerment, and the acceptance of a shared, warranted and rewarded participation in a common, universal and sustained security of the individual, the family, the tribal, national and global interests and resources  is much more intractable and fundamental to the provision of all the other legitimate problems.
This is not solely an issue of economic and political ideology, nor is it an argument of the provision of international institutions that can and will shape the path to a different and both transformed and transformative perception of the human being, and his place in the universe, as one of interdependence and collaboration, nor is it an issue of religious inter-faith accommodation and celebration of the tenets and the rituals and the beliefs of all faiths (as in Bahai), nor is it an educational/learning initiative to better acquaint each country's people with its neighbours regionally and across the globe, nor is it only a question of the sovereignty of outer space and unclaimed oceans, or of land masses, or a question of the provision of institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, nor any one or a combination of the original six problems outlined in the announcement of the Latitude Award.
It is a matter that encompasses a new way of conceptualizing the problem, not from a single and legitimate academic perspective, but rather from a gestalt perspective in which the whole is the focus and not the individual parts of the problem. It is really, metaphorically, an application of the theories of relativity and quantum physics and micro-biology and macro-economics and history and meta-history, anthropology and astrophysics, calculus and philosophy, language and epistemology, theology and metaphysics...to the shared issues common to all human beings and all academic pursuits.
We are at one and the same time, as Rollo May has reminded us, both subject and object, both within a time frame and transcendent of time, competitive in the extreme and altruistic to a similar degree, hopeful and fearful, creative and destructive, warlords and refugees from human conflict, mothers and fathers, men and women, workers and homeless, scientists and poets, while at the same time, androgynous beings capable of both comprehending and accepting the 'gifts' of our individual and our collective Shadows, if and when we are offered the secure opportunity of such a pursuit. We are also unique individuals and socially hard wired for relationships who can and do exhibit a capacity for annihilation and for mutual restrain, for commitment to legitimate contractual obligations and a profound intolerance for restrictive authority of any and all kinds.
We have, through the somewhat and sometimes heroic achievements of our ancestors, achieved some success in the goal of human tolerance and acceptance and respect and dignity of the other. And now, with this BBC initiative, it is time, surging on the wave of digital technology to bring much more information to the design of the problem of the pursuit of our shared and balanced and sustainable futures, to make a quantum leap forward in our understanding of and our commitment to those common and agreed needs and aspirations that depend on a vision of the limits of our needs, and the raised ceilings of our imaginations.
If  this "problem" is deemed too large for human solution, as some may legitimately consider it to be, and therefore unworthy of consideration in this contest, then consider the alternative of how a ranking of the original six problems is a reduction of what is perceived as within the realm of the possible, the feasible, the reasonable and the measureable. It is our empiricism and our need for benchmarks that has simultaneously stirred our achievements and restricted our vision.
And perhaps it is time for us to reconfigure how we approach the situation in which the world finds itself, not from a mere apocalyptic and frightened perspective but also and simultaneously from a magical and courageous and unrestricted perspective that is not reducible to what is already known (in both content and in method) but that stretches the human capacity for adventure and for discovering and sharing new horizons of possibilities not currently within our epistemology or our understanding.



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