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“Our problems are man-made” but “we” didn’t create them and “we” can’t solve them…

This is in response to David Roberts’ article: “Getting used to being in charge of the planet”  

David Roberts (DR):  “the decisions made by people alive today will determine the fate of life on Earth for centuries to come”

Yes. And, it’s always been true that what each generation profoundly affects the generations that follow.  The difference is that the challenges we face today – the scope and scale of what’s at stake – the profundity, criticality, complexity, and urgency – are off-scale beyond all historic precedent (see “Challenge of Change“).  Our species has never experienced anything remotely like the challenges we face today.

President Kennedy once famously said: Our problems are man-made.

This is so true yet it must be added that “we” didn’t create the problems and “we” can’t solve them.

What I mean is that “we”, those of us alive and involved now – the currently reigning generation – inherited these problems (politics, economy, global warming, all the big ones…) and it’s our descendants that will inevitably have to solve them (and/or live in ways that are the solutions).

Will there still be planetary scale challenges 50 years from now. Sure there will. Will there still be issues of politics, equality, equity, justice, ethics, science, technology, affecting those alive 50 years from now. Sure there will. The main challenges humanity faces today are passing through us. We alone didn’t create them and we alone can’t solve them. Our problems are the legacy effects of previous generations and our descendants will have to deal with our left-overs.

At root our challenges are generational learning challenges.  Generation after generation, we’ve learned our way into these problems. Name a problem that isn’t the result of our collective behaviors. Name a collective behavior that isn’t learned.  Because our greatest challenges are consequences of our collective behaviors, all viable ‘solutions’ imply changes in our collective behaviors and not just a change in our generation, a change through the generations. 

The wise (if gender biased) President Lincoln once said:

“A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things you think are important. You may adopt all of the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states, and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities, and corporations…the fate of humanity is in his hands.”

President Lincoln accurately describes how we got from the problems of his day to the problems of  ours: generation after generation, we learned them.

DR: “There’s no way we can rewire the human brain in the short time we have left to act. But we can cybernetically enhance our collective cognition and decision making with information technology; we can reform our laws and governments; we can teach our children better.”

What you are saying in effect is ‘cybernetically steward our collective learning’… I agree, that’s part of it (if our cybernetics ever becomes oriented to that end rather than an unethical agency for manipulating our buying behaviors).  Ah, but what to teach our children? And, is ‘teach’ even the right word? This is the key point for me.

Generation after generation has taken for granted that they had the right if not the duty to teach children to think and believe and behave and know and value and be able to do what they thought was most important. Look where it’s got us. Good, bad and ugly, that’s how we learned our way here.  This was necessary for survival when we lived more primitively tribal lives.  Until very recently (historically), children were considered family subordinates who had to be trained to replace their parents. But today this age old presumption is the root of what most endangers us. Our children and theirs will live in a world profoundly unlike any world any human has ever lived in, they will face challenges unlike any ever before experienced.  How do we prepare today’s children for such an uncertain future? We begin by realizing (for the 1st time in human history) that we can no longer assume that what we think children should learn is more important (to their futures) than how well they can learn (when they get there).

The best thing we can do to improve humanity’s lot in the future is to steward how well our children learn their way into it.  Given the number, scale, scope and gravity of the unprecedented challenges future generations will face, how could we possibly think anything else is more important?

See also:

The Pox In Both Houses




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