by Ted Wachtel
Those who see technology as the solution to humanity’s problems simply don’t get it. They talk about building colonies on Mars and beyond as the way to a better future. The problem with that plan is that we will have to take ourselves with us.
Although humans may have advanced technical skills, our social skills lag far behind. We struggle to make good decisions and to get along with one another without conflict and violence. And we are increasingly disillusioned with democracy. Once seen as the way to give people true representation in their own governance, democracy is now characterized by corruption and political warfare. We don’t know how to govern ourselves and make thoughtful decisions.
This is especially scary, because we humans have achieved such awesome powers through our technology. We can create and destroy as never before. We have the power to melt down the planet, blow each other up or poison everything. We’ve become a threat, not just to ourselves, but to all living things.
Imagine a conversation with a visiting alien from another planet, who is trying to understand how human societies make decisions:
“I don’t get it,” the alien says. “In the countries that claim to be democracies, you still end up with leaders who are more concerned with their own wealth and power than with the needs of the people they’re supposed to represent.
“Your biggest problem is how you Earthlings choose your decision-makers. You have the strangest process in the universe. You call it an election, but a better term would be ‘selection by combat.’ Candidates for public office must convince people to vote for them on election day, even though most voters are so busy with their daily lives that they hardly know anything about the candidates.
“To win an election, candidates must raise huge amounts of money, usually from wealthy donors who will want favors from them in return. They use most of the money to buy television commercials that attack their opponents. They exaggerate and lie, in an effort to destroy their opponents’ reputations. And when candidates talk about the issues that they will face as decision-makers, they still do not speak truthfully. Instead, they say whatever they think voters want to hear.
“Even after the election, winners don’t engage in honest discussion. Rather, they base most of their decisions not on the merits of a proposed law, but on whether their support for that law will help them or hurt them in the next election.”
I can imagine the alien looking at me and asking:
How can you earthlings ever expect to make good decisions when, in your system of governance, truth is irrelevant and winning is everything. You folks have to fix your democracies. Until you do that, you’ll be a threat to life on your own planet, and everywhere else that you take yourselves.
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