Uncommon Common Sense – November 2017

Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer

Big Challenges Ahead


Bill Frayer 2010The world is in the midst of transition and realignment. This, of course, occurs periodically, and the results of these changes will become obvious over time. It is always difficult for us to see exactly where we are headed even when we can sense that the pace of change itself is accelerating. 

This column has been devoted to clear thinking.  If we are aware of trends that are occurring in the world, and we can assess their origins and effects rationally, we stand a better chance of surviving intact. 

As critical thinkers, we should be focused, in my opinion, on four major areas where we are experiencing major upheavals: the denigration of truth, the rapid pace of climate change, the unanticipated effects of advanced technology, and an unprecedented degree of income inequality. 

The preservation of democracy (and the prevention of tyranny) depend, ultimately, on a respect for truth.  Around the world, and particularly in the United States, truth is suffering from a dangerous relativism. The media, whose job it is to dig out the truth and present it to the citizenry, is being attacked as an actual danger to the American experiment. This regularly occurs in despotic regimes just before the free press is extinguished.  Truth is seen as fluid, and unpleasant facts are attacked as “fake” news. These days, many people believe things that simply are not true.   Politicians are shameless about propagating patently false beliefs.  This threatens the very concept of free democratic rule. 

A second area of concern is the acceleration of human-generated climate change. This is, of course, related to our concept of truth. Science has established that the earth is getting warmer rapidly due to human activity.  Instead of attacking scientific truth, we should be acknowledging the obvious facts and working to figure out what to do. Otherwise the consequences will be cataclysmic in terms of catastrophic storms, coastal flooding, and massive global migration. 

Many believe technology will save us. Perhaps. But, as we have seen, technology always has unintended consequences. A case in point is climate change itself. We certainly did not consider this when we developed fossil fuels. With advances in artificial intelligence, we may also be facing tremendous job loss and consequent changes in how we can guarantee a livable income for everyone, many of whom will soon be unemployable. 

The isolating effects of technology are also increasing rapidly. As more people retreat into their computers, tablets, and smartphones, we are losing the ability to socialize face to face and are increasingly alone. The irony of technology which connects us makes us lonely simultaneously.   

Finally, we are living in a world in which a select few are prospering at the expense of the many.  Economic hopelessness has led to populist, extreme political movements. The disappearance of the middle class is changing our quality of life as we speak. Many are surviving with cheap Walmart products from China, but economies change. Cheap imports may not continue indefinitely, and many would suffer. Income inequality is turning our democracy into a sclerotic oligarchy. 

These are serious developments.  They threaten our way of life and even our survival as a species. Of course, we’ve faced crises before and have risen to the challenge. Yet today’s challenges seem unprecedented and difficult to address especially if we can’t even agree on what’s true.  Perhaps, as Isaac Asimov famously predicted, better technology will be the answer. Perhaps unanticipated trends will mitigate our demise.  In the meantime, we each need to get involved and persist.  There is no other way.

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