12 Dec 2012

Dark days of December

My life, by nearly every measure, is good. And yet, I face a crisis of confidence every so often -- I wonder whether my work and effort have any value and whether we, humans, are making any progress. Yes, we have whizzier phones, arts and entertainment, but what of our politics, economies, environments and communities? On politics, I fume at the failure to face hard decisions and the power that special interests exert in driving policies away from what's good for all to what's good for a few. Economics and economies are often robust -- despite political interference and misdirection -- but waste in countering those attacks (and promoting false values) means that we are much poorer than we need be. The local environment is improving in some places and failing in others; the global environment is truly headed for disaster, as far as our human needs and wants are concerned.* Our communities are sometimes resilient and sometimes torn by evolving economic, technological and social forces; nasty political opportunists are happy to wreck them for cheap publicity.

I'm an economist by training and inclination. I speak truth to power because I am annoyed by silly ideas and angered by transparent failure. Economics is known as the "dismal science" for its brutal analysis of the facts and forces that make our lives better or worse. We earned that title for denouncing slavery -- not a Malthusian prediction of overpopulation -- but those are just two examples of where our unpopular views have turned out to be right. The trouble with being critical -- and right -- is that people tend to give you more blame for the pain caused by changing to the right course than they give you credit for seeing which path to take.

I sometimes get depressed at the lack of perception and progress towards the "right policies" that we discuss and explore here (this is not my first complaint), but I always seem to bounce back and fight on. I don't do that because I enjoy pain. I do it because I hear hints and murmurs of agreement and consent. I do it because I can answer people's questions, teach students to see, or notice that others are -- finally -- seeing that some emperors really lack the figleaf of a wardrobe.**

I've managed to build a small platform here and connect with people interested in these issues -- and solving them. I wonder constantly how I (or we) can improve our chances for being heard and "making a difference." I'm too old to think that "all things turn out for the best in all worlds," but I've never looked back with regret at the decisions I've made or the actions I've taken.

And so I sit here on an early morning train, trying to reconcile my frustration, excitement, pleasure and doubt. I'd love to follow a clear, certain and just path, but life is not that clear to me. I wander (and wonder) in the dark room of potentials, hoping to get to the other side (wherever that is) without breaking the china or bumping my knees.

The good news is that I am just now getting "out of the house" to spend 7 weeks in Asia with Cornelia [we left 7 Dec]. I enjoy traveling for the novelty and adventures, but I also benefit from "eating with the people" (see photo) -- when I am reminded of the resourceful, generous, joyous and curious energies exerted by everyday people in their pursuit of life.

Bottom Line: Life isn't easy, but it would be boring if it was. We may struggle to succeed, but the lessons learned -- and occasional successes -- are what result in progress, wisdom and satisfaction.

* But see yesterday's post. A new hope or false dawn?

**I was right about the corn ethanol disaster, Venezuela falling apart, disputes over oil money in Iraq, water management failure in Southern California, and many other issues. I'd be proud of those facts if it wasn't so depressing to consider the extent of gratuitous suffering that's resulted from a failure of others to see what I see and take action to end it.

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