Sunday, December 05, 2010

Discounting the future

Nicole Foss (a.k.a. Stoneleigh) nicely summarises the effects of crises, instability and uncertainty on human ethical deliberation: our horizons shrink. This is true of both temporal and relational horizon. Nicole has written before about the shrinking relational horizon in times of difficulty (when the chips are down, you stick with those you know and mistrust strangers and those who are other to you) and this recent post points out that much of human history has been lived from hand to mouth, with immediate concerns dominating our time, effort and thinking. When you're worried about where your next meal will come from (or, slightly less pressingly, worried about where your next pay packet is going to come from), you're much less likely to be able to reflect coherently upon or plan for longer term threats and opportunities. Practical and moral vision is narrowed and shortened in order to focus upon the immediate. This is one of the reasons that ecological concerns decline during recessions.

It is also why my expectation of growing economic and social disruptions over the next few decades signals bad news for our collective ability to respond well to the longer term threats our society faces. Human reactions to increasing perceptions of threat constitute a complex series of feedback cycles, both positive and negative, rendering linear trends hyperbolic. This is why specific forecasting has such a bad track record and why "bumpy" is about the level of specificity I'm willing to commit myself to in describing the coming decades.

Some human reactions make crises worse than they need to be. Food shortages can lead to hoarding behaviour that exacerbates the problem for those with least access to food. First order problems (e.g. hunger) can lead to second order problems (e.g. riots) that drain resources from addressing the primary problem.

Other human reactions can mitigate the worst of crises. Co-operation, trust and sharing can spread the burden of a situation upon more shoulders, making it lighter for everyone. Sudden shocks to the status quo can sometimes awaken the moral imagination to envisage a new way of life (or the renewal of old ways).

Which kind of feedback is likely to dominate? It is very difficult to know, and may well differ from place to place. How is it possible to create the conditions now under which communities of trust and co-operation can flourish during times of crisis? How can such communities maintain an openness to outsiders and strangers? And what kinds of communities of trust are able to face immediate challenges without discounting the future?


Anonymous said...

Hi hi.

I don't know the truth of this idea - that the meditation of 1,000 people affects 1,000,000 people.

(see - should take you to a guy rattling stats on meditation and war).

However having just learned a new form of meditation and the theories around it, I could believe it so.

I found whilst I went to church that prayer was not something you did in connecting with God. It was often just a wish list and thank you list. Perhaps if churches taught meditative practices that we might really get in touch with God and his peace and love so that we can bring that into our daily lives,,,, maybe that will have an effect :)

We need that connection with God and his love (peace etc) so much now but all we do is give up a list. I would encourage people to meditate on the Word of God and that they are filled with His peace/love. Then put forward their lists.

Now, that is a very basic view of prayer but the only one taught in my region.

I am glad to have learned meditation and feel that as I perservere with it (getting in touch with God and seriously allocating time to just our relationship first), that that light will encourage others.

I believe we have a choice with what we are encountering and how it affects us.

Anonymous said...

Have I not covered an acceptable thought in response to this?

byron smith said...

John Roe: Discounting the future.