10 July 2006

Science For The Future

From the fertile mind of Dave Pollard, in his How to Save the World blog:


"Advocates of change, be they conservative war-mongers or progressives trying to redress atrocities at home or abroad, are usually quick to jump to conclusions about why the 'needed' change hasn't occurred. And because they assume wrongly, about the cause of the problem, the appropriate solution, and the best process to implement it, such changes usually fail to get implemented, fail to stick, or get undone by the next well-intentioned change agent to come along.

Things are the way they are for a reason, and failure to understand what this reason is, is perilous. Our world is a complex adaptive system, and the reasons for the status quo are usually more subtle and multifarious than we expect...

...There is a way of reducing this massive 'cost of not knowing'. It's called 'cultural anthropology', and it's a form of primary (face-to-face) research. Anthropologists try to understand why different human cultures do what they do. The cultural anthropology approach is one of suspending judgement and observing what is happening objectively and factually until the observer has a deep understanding of the behaviours and the reasons for them...

...Before we can bring about any meaningful and enduring change, in society, in a business, in a smaller community or even in our own personal behaviour, we need to take the time and make the effort to learn and understand thoroughly and objectively how and why things got to the present state, and have a profound appreciation of the validity of those reasons. If the answer is simple and obvious, it's probably wrong." (Emphasis added.)


Last week a young lady, discussing the news of the day and Puerto Rico's general condition, asked Me "Why are We so screwed up?" I answered, as I usually do, with quick soundbites. But given what Pollard writes, I'll save you the trouble of reading them. I'm pretty sure I was wrong.

However, her question is on the lips of most of Us, from the average guy/gal on the street to business people, clergy, civic leaders and even The Fools, who are often blamed for everything bad, but are more likely a symptom rather than a cause. It's a topic of discussion that ranks up there with the weather in popularity and with "The Da Vinci Code" in spawning personal theories. But despite the enormous value--the almost life-or-death stake--of figuring out the answers to this question, I know I neither want to immerse Myself in seeking answers nor do I feel I'm capable of doing it alone. And that, folks, is exactly the root of the problem: We simply don't care enough to try.

I'm talking about "caring" in a dual sense: both in taking the time to engage in the endeavor and engaging in the endeavor in the proper way. To pursue answers in Pollard's manner requires more commitment than I am willing to give, maybe even more than I am capable of giving. And for those who (pretend) to try, their failure is in not maintaining objectivity: they fail to keep rationality at the fore, succumbing almost immediately to emotionality along the lines of "screw the facts, this is what I believe."

Neither position is based on caring enough. Is the future of Puerto Rico valuable? Certainly. Is it valuable enough to Me to dedicate My time and energy to digging deep into its chaos for root causes that can lead to a solution? No. Is it valuable enough to others so that they set aside prejudices and partisanship in their feeble and often superficial searches? No. And that's where We stand right now, with a massive majority who don't want to make the effort or can't make it and a minority who try, but can't do it well at all.

There is a flaw in My argument, though: I don't have to do it alone. (That I actually think I can is why I'm a Jenius.) Properly placing one or two pieces of the puzzle is valuable, for as far as We know, they could be the first pieces so placed. Within the chaotic mäelstrom We call "daily life in Puerto Rico," there must be some partial answers, some glimmer of Truth about Our condition that We can use as starting points. But given the chaos, maybe it's easier if We just start from scratch and try to place whatever pieces We can confirm.

It doesn't have to be a one-person effort; it can't be. It will take several dozen eyes, ears and brains to make it happen. Maybe We're close to the answers and all We need is an aggregator, a consilience in the word of Edward O. Wilson, a unity of knowledge that cuts through the tangled jungle We have spawned to a clearing We can take Our new bearings from.

Cultural anthropology. Consilience. The scientific method in service to Our Future. In a country where science is practically a bad word and teaching its fundamental postulates is barely adequate, the tools to right this foundering ship are rusty and untempered, if not ignored completely. Those of Us who can use them are thus weighed down by added responsibility. And if We don't make it happen, nobody will.


The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

Gabriel said...

Um, not ocmpletely related to your post but something I tought you'd like to read:

http://www.kk.org/helpwanted/archives/001084.php
The Big Here is intriguing. I need to refrlect a bit on the test, I did worse than what I tought I would. Sorry for the digression ;-)