Monday, February 13, 2012

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Politics & Society

During the winter doldrums one has a lot of time to think. One of the constants of winter here in Montreal is its consistency, which can be boring. You seen one snowflake, you seem them all, despite scientific claims that no two snowflakes are alike. What does it matter? Snow is snow, and unless you are a kid or an avid skier, it is a nuisance. (Yes, I am aware of the argument of the resident beauty of crystals, but not everyone finds solace or delight in this endeavour.)

Consistency is fine in nature, and we come to expect it, rely on it to attune our lives, including the changing of the seasons, the celebration of festivals and the planning of gardens. Consistency is good and wonderful for our lives, but harmful when it's perceived as a negative consistency. In other words, same old thing. Then, we crave for positive change, and scientific studies have shown that we need such change in order to survive. Variety is necessary in human affairs as it is in cooking, in meeting the varied needs of our palates.

The desire for positive change becomes greatest when prospects, life in general, seem poor, unfair, and unhappy. It becomes acute when we have no progress in humanity's moral standing. Call it a sort of moral index of human goodness. Is the moral index rising or falling? People often turn to religion when society's problems seem intractable, humanly impossible to solve. Or amusements to distract. We can expect more of such distractions.

Many psychologists and religious leaders say happy thoughts dictate our feelings. Perhaps so, to a point. Happy talk might change some people's perceptions, but not their harsh reality. It's also no use comparing ourselves to years ago, a neat trick of distraction that some commentators perform, since such comparisons can't immediately offer any change (or even hope) to people's lives.

So, we are left with the ugly reality. Many people are unhappy with their governments and their unfair policies, an intrusion so unkind and unexpected that they have been compelled to act emotionally, irrationally, often violently, surprising even themselves. Alas, such explains the protests, the eruptions around the world. It's the attempt of the denied to salvage their human dignity.

Will things improve for humanity? Many think not, at least not in the near term. Such is the view today for the majority of the world's people, including many in the world's most-developed nations. As for the world's leaders, they are outwardly deaf and blind to the everyday reality, chiefly because they are sheltered from it. The vaccine of elitism inoculates them, protects them from any plague of conscience. No ugly reality invades their lives; any and all dissent seem like an anomaly, a gesture of fools who understand not. So, when the leaders of the G8 or G20 or other nations get together at summits or at economic forums, enjoying a fine meal and a glass of wine or two, it's no surprise that little is accomplished. How can it be otherwise?

The sad things is that we now rarely expect anything of substance to be accomplished. It's the same old routine, the same old faces and types, generally speaking the same old ideas. These forums, like many other conferences, bring forth little original ideas. How could they? It would be a pleasant surprise if original ideas made it to the final communique.

One of the reasons is that the leaders themselves are stuck in a rut, their speeches written beforehand and the meetings laden down with boring and predictable routine. As if performing a role in a badly scripted feature film. Truly, it must be equally boring for these leaders, who are expected to stay on script. No surprises in store for the journalists, who also must sit through another predictably stifling conference. The leaders, the handlers, the managers and their aides probably feel the same. When will we escape from such madness?

The world's leaders ought to break away from their tightly scripted routine. Perhaps act like they do when they are out campaigning trying to win each citizen's vote. They are out there listening to real people who have different ideas, often in a charged and energetic atmosphere. It might bring some fresh insight and recharge the batteries (and minds) of the world's economic and political elites. You can't eat steak every day.

Sometimes, humble pie is on the menu.


  1. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the world is becoming ever more extremist. Religions are increasingly subject to fundamentalism, and leftists are increasingly anti-democratic and mysteriously pro-Islam. They are joined by a commitment to blind faith, which is necessarily wrong, whether it is religious or political. We human beings were meant to question and reconsider, which we did, bit by bit, for most of history.

  2. Prof Jochnowitz:

    You named one component. But I don't necessarily think the problem is caused solely by either self-declared Leftists or Rightists. The current strain has deeper roots: human greed and lack of compassion.


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