Monday, October 5, 2009

7 Things We Did Wrong

As threatened earlier, here is my list of some things mankind has done in his unending quest to reshape the world to his liking, which did not turn out quite as well as intended. Along with some possible silver-lining upsides that resulted:

1) Organized Religion. Probably the biggest and most spectacular failure of all, organized religion is likely the most destructive and crippling pestilence mankind ever inflicted on itself. An incalculable amount of damage, misery and suffering has been wreaked in its name. How many billions of people have been enslaved by it, how many lives ruined, how many bright promising futures stifled because of it? How many native cultures were exterminated by missionaries imposing their beliefs? Organized religion's lust for money and power have supplanted any good intentions it might have had in the beginning, and nowadays it appears to be more of a political force than a spiritual force.
UPSIDE: As much as I hate to admit it, during the Dark Ages most of the world's knowledge and intellectual activity were preserved by monks and clerics in abbeys and monasteries.

2) Democracy. Probably the best form of government we've ever come up with, democracy as a concept sure has a lot going for it. Imagine a system where the people being governed are actually in charge and making decisions that affect them. Jeffersonian democracy - a government "of the people, by the people and for the people" - is stunning in its simplicity and its genius. Too bad it didn't turn out that way. In order for democracy to work as intended, a critically important component is an informed, engaged population. Those being governed need to be intelligent enough to understand the problems they face and willing to participate in the solutions, even if personally uncomfortable sacrifices are needed. Unfortunately being a responsible citizen takes time and effort and far too many people are just too lazy to do the work.
UPSIDE: Makes it easy to see how ridiculous communism and Marxism are.

3) Capitalism. Again, like democracy, great on paper but not so easy to implement in real time. It seems like a good thing - the success you have in life should depend on the market for your goods or services and how hard you are willing to work. Somewhere along the way things go off the rails and market inequities take over. Then you get really valuable, worthwhile occupations like teachers, nurses, firefighters and police being extremely undervalued and under-compensated, and worthless scumbag entertainers, politicians and sports figures being paid astronomical salaries far out of proportion to their societal worth, to the point of obscenity. Capitalism invariably generates a have/have-not society distributed through an upper/middle/lower class system, with subclasses and extremes on both ends. The result is a world where extreme wealth and extreme poverty co-exist side by side.
UPSIDE: Motivates people to reach higher, if only to get more money.

4) The Art of Medicine. Medicine and the healing arts are one of man's greatest triumphs, to be sure. The number of lives that have been saved by the accumulated medical knowledge over the millennia has to be in the billions. All but a very few of us are alive today, I believe, because of some sort of medical intervention in the past, and that includes me. But in modern times, greed has taken over the nobler ambitions and when making a profit depends on a steady supply of sick people, then more sick people mean more profit, right? Health insurance companies, drug manufacturers and for-profit medicine have come together in a huge medical-industrial complex. If drug companies in particular would take a fraction of the money they spend developing and marketing drugs and use it to educate people in making sensible, healthy choices in their lives then maybe we wouldn't need all those expensive drugs. But that's not where the money is, is it? When sick people are no longer profitable and healthy people are, then we will get medicine back to being the best it can be.
UPSIDE: People are living longer! Unfortunately some of them are Republicans.

5) Nuclear Energy. Boy, did this sound like a great thing or what? Harnessing one of nature's basic forces and turning it into a nearly limitless amount of energy, to inexpensively supply the world's ever-growing power demands. And didn't it turn into a really bad idea when the military got a hold of it and changed it into the most destructive force ever unleashed on this planet? Today, enough nuclear weapons exist to destroy the earth something like 30 times over, and a small but worrisome number of these weapons are either unaccounted for or not-too-closely guarded. Why, some crazy bunch of religious fundamentalists could conceivably get a hold of a couple of them and ... well, that's kind of too scary to consider. We should have known the idea of extremely cheap, unlimited energy would be too good to be true, and it is.
UPSIDE: Really cool but really scary atomic explosions.

6) Freedom of Speech. Being able to say whatever you want is a relatively new concept in human history, with totalitarianism having been the rule rather than the exception in the past, and tyrants and despots have always taken a dim view of the enslaved masses getting uppity. But once people started backing away from monarchies and dictatorships and education became more widespread, the idea of speaking your mind without fear of dire consequences began to take favor. This of course has achieved its highest expression in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but it also has its drawbacks. Hate speech and bigotry which really need to be controlled are in fact protected, and many people are unable to recognize them when they are all gussied up with patriotism and nationalism. Modern-day blights such as telemarketing and pornography are also considered protected forms of speech, although it's pretty difficult to see any benefit coming from their continued existence. So, we take the good with the bad, even if sometimes the bad gets pretty bad.
UPSIDE: Funny truth-tellers like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Joan Rivers. HA! I made that last one up.

7) Internet. Yes indeed I did list the Internet in my previous post about things mankind has done right. But the Internet is such a vast and powerful entity that we need to look at the other side of the coin. I believe the Internet critically needs to be open and free and pretty much unregulated - that is perhaps its greatest strength. But when we open the doors to the world like that, bad things can sneak in, just like if I left my patio doors open and hordes of repulsive vermin like scorpions and spiders would stampede each other to get in. With just a couple of mouse clicks you can, if you are so inclined, wallow in huge amounts of extremely graphic pornography, learn how to build bombs and engage in terrorist activities, be exposed to the most virulent, loathsome hate-speech and bigotry, and fall victim to a whole galaxy of identity-theft schemes. Spam is a vile, cancerous plague that threatens to bring the Internet to a grinding halt. Does all the good that comes from the Internet outweigh the bad? I think it does, but just barely.
UPSIDE: Online bill-paying, emails from good friends, belch videos on YouTube.

Well, that's all I got. I'm getting depressed thinking about this stuff. It's been such a beautiful, cool autumn morning as I sit on my back patio, with a happy little rabbit playing in the outdoor playpen and another lounging contentedly behind a bougainvillea bush. The world can be a beautiful place, it is too bad humans always have to screw it up.

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