02 January 2010

What kind of a world shall we create?

We're nearly 48 hours into the new year, and like many people I've been talking to, I have an invigorating sense of possibility. Not some heady, pie-in-the-sky fantasy of a world that fixes all our woes and has none of the smudges and smears of yesteryear, but a solid, certain sense that there is always a chance that we can -- and will -- make more of our future than our past.

I may very well be in the minority, in this regard. All over, I hear people talking about how the next generation can expect less than the previous ones. I hear people talking about how America is on the way out. I hear people proclaiming that the future is far bleaker than the past, and we're all going to have to adjust down our expectations and learn to do less with more.

Gas prices, after all, are going up.

But I'm not convinced that things are really that grim. Someone who "is supposed to know about these things" once told me that 'round about 900 AD, in western Europe, Christianized rulers (and their subjects) thought that the first millennium BCE was going to herald the End of the World. And so they started building lots of ornate cathedrals to convince God not to wipe them off the earth.

1,000 rolled around, and the earth didn't disintegrate. Everyone wasn't wiped off the face of the planet. And the unfinished churches which apparently ran into scheduling issues prior to the turn of the millennium were completed in a flurry of "Whew! That was close!" gratitude to God for not wiping everyone out.

I'm sure that's a gross over-simplification of what was probably a very complex and intricate relgio-socio-economic forumula for collective panic, but the general idea stands -- people are always looking for reasons to preach doom and gloom and convince others that they should be Very Very Worried about our chances for survival.

And yet we survive. We persist. We manage to muddle through, bit by bit, generation after generation. Cuban missiles and Soviet threats and Influenza Epidemic, Legionnaire's Disease, Avian Flu, Swine Flu, H1N1, global food crises, clean water shortages, extreme weather disasters (and more) notwithstanding, somehow we manage to continue. Granted, the future may look very bleak to folks who follow polar bears and the disappearance of ice and the decimation of the rain forests (all of which are serious, no doubt), but the future has always looked bleak to people who looked for reasons to be concerned.

We're human. We're small creatures on a big planet. Everything looks bleak, when you think you're up against the infinite.

But let's not forget -- we're small creatures who are capable of great things. And for the life of me, I cannot see why in heaven's name we should give up, when we have such a profoundly amazing history of invention, ingeniousness, persistence, and courage. For all the challenges that stand in our way, look to the past, and see there the signs that our future is not hopeless.

It's not in our nature to fall apart when we're up against seemingly insurmountable odds. We have routinely done the impossible. We've caused huge machines to fly. We've rocketed into space. We've come up with amazing inventions that can not only transport us hundreds of miles in one day, but can have us talking and laughing with (or swearing at) people on the other side of the planet. Honestly, look around you and take a moment to wonder at the stuff we've managed to come up with.

Now, I'm not saying that all the stuff we've invented is such a great thing. We routinely dabble in things that I don't think we have any business fiddling with -- like the Large Hadron Collider in France/Switzerland... nuclear fission... and gigantic silicone breast implants. Pharma has come up with some pretty scary stuff that they market like it's candy, and some doctors routinely advocate surgeries to remove organs that they don't think serve any purpose... just because they can (and they can bill the insurance companies to do it).

But the thing that I take away from it all is that, given choice, we have the opportunity to do what we will with our abilities, our powers, our potential. We can use our powers for good or ill, for the sake of self-aggrandizement, or for the benefit of others in desperate need. We can use the same ingenuity that came up with a better way to harm others, and use it to help. Ingenuity (like money) doesn't care how it's used. It's just there, to use as we see fit. And we can do just that.

The trick is figuring out what we want to use it for. And mustering the resources to actually USE it... consistently, persistently, tenaciously keepin' on keepin' on, till the problem is solved, the widget is created and deployed, and the pernicious problems that make it so easy to despair are subdued enough to give us a little breathing room, let us catch up with ourselves, and remember to live our lives -- not just survive.

Call me crazy, call me a blind fool. I have a really hard time believing that all is lost, or that we're doomed. I also don't believe that any group, government, or agency can strip me of my human dignity and prevent me from having the life of my dreams with their laws, their regulations, their tax incentives. I'm too stubborn to let them. And I'm too contrary to give up, till I get where I'm going. People who have been on the receiving end of the cattle prod that is my determination know what it's like to try to oppose me, when I get my heart set on something, and I know I'm not the only one who's single-minded enough to not quit when things get tough.

I can't speak for anyone else, but it seems to me 2010 is shaping up nicely. I'm not saying it's going to be easy... I'm still recovering from my all-night blow-out new year's celebration, and I probably won't be 100% for at least another week. But eventually I will be at 100%... and in the meantime, anything more than 10% is more than enough to get me going in the direction I want to go.

It's a new year and a new decade. Let's make it worth our while.

Becoming Dabrowskian

About a year or so ago, I encountered the work of Kazimierz DÄ…browski, a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician who developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration, which describes how a person's development grows as a result of accumulated experiences. "Disintegration," as I understand it, refers to the separation (or un-integration) of the individual as they mature and realize that being well-adjusted to a mal-adjusted world is not the most, well, mature thing. Dis-integration comes from the maturing of thoughts, and it is positive when the process moves one's personality to a more developed level than what is offered by the dominant paradigm.

I've been intrigued by this idea for some time, in no small part because it reflects my own outlooks and approach to the world. Whereas a fair amount of pressure is placed on us as adults to "adjust" to the world, and there is a fairly large focus in psychology and educational circles on creating "well-adjusted" people who can be productive members of society, it has always seemed to me that about the last thing the world needs is more people who are content to accept things as they are.

It seems to me the world would -- and does -- benefit more from ill-adjusted individuals who take it upon themselves to change the things that are all wrong. Where would we be without these folks?

I've been meaning to make a more concerted study of Dabrowski for some time. Of course, work got in the way, as did life in general. But I'm clearing out a whole bunch of extraneous activities and interests that don't look like they're going to amount to anything productive anytime soon, so I'm making more time in my life for the things I really, truly want to do -- which will bear fruit.

Studying Dabrowski is one of the things I truly want to do. I ordered a CD of his collected works in English, as well as plenty of writings by other folks. It seems like the perfect sort of reading for a snowy day like today.

After I clear the snow off my deck and drive and roof, that is.

Health is...

Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

- World Health Organization