Friday, May 6, 2022

Twenty-first Century Priority Sorting

Having just watched the celebrated Indian film Pather Panchali, I am driven to contemplate what drives our choices when it comes to living. In the film a struggling family must use its talents to scrape by, and yet circumstances limit their success and in the end convinces them to journey down a challenging hopeful path that turns away from their heritage. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs provides a decent summary of what lies at the core when we as humans make hard choices. In short, we seek that which helps us survive and that which helps us thrive. The intermixing of these qualities into our daily decisions is rather complex, and in the end we consciously and unconsciously make trade off choices that benefit us as individuals, those in our sphere, and the world around us.

Critical to making these evaluation is the information that we integrate into these decisions. Too often we never include the impact of our choices on the world that is beyond our sphere. It is a very hard evolutionary trait to overcome. Our gut will tell us that our hunger, the emotions of our inner circle and only the immediate world we can see should be considered. Yet if we allowed only these local factors to influence us, humans would be a rather inconsequential species on our planet.

The fact is the human species has created clever tools that outperforms anything evolution has gifted to nature. Complex language lies at the core, wherein we can communicate ideas far and wide across time and culture to preserve lessons learned that aren't immediately obvious. Additionally, human institutions have risen that command attention and observance of information that we might otherwise discount. Finally, we have developed an abstract system of value exchange that permits these institutions and individuals to secure services that historically would only have been exchanged in direct barter.

One could point out that these tools also have corrupt applications, and part of civilization's responsibility is to keep these in check, to be sure. Still, the net positive permits humans and human groups to thrive in comparison to other species magnitudes upon magnitudes more successfully than other species. And yet, within our social microcosms we are still subject to entropic processes that challenge us.

And so the challenge of our times is to confront macroprocesses like climate change, biome fragility, and healthy planetary human carrying capacity. In many ways we are failing this challenge. The old ways of harvesting whatever one can, believing in ancient ideas, and prioritizing only what is immediate are a built in feature of our biology. Humans must fine tune our tools with rationality and compassion if we are to succeed in sustaining a healthy planet for generations to come.