Solutions or Responses?

Public discussion of the various crises we're facing today, from climate change to energy shortages and biodiversity loss, is dominated by the feverish search for "solutions".  While this is a very natural inclination, it is evidence of an incorrect understanding of our situation:

To talk about "a solution" implies the belief that there is something we can do to prevent or fix "the problem".

If you look clearly, dispassionately and holistically at our problem set in all its grim converging glory, it becomes immediately clear that we are well past the point when human action could avert, let alone reverse, the coming changes. We face a range of wicked problems, from overpopulation through climatic, ecological and energy difficulties, dysfunctional human socioeconomic organizations, to outright anthropogenic extinctions.

Any one of these problems could be the trigger for a human collapse of one sort or another, or we might muddle along for quite a while as a sort of entropy degrades our existence bit by bit. What is clear to many of us is that the multidimensional interactions of the component problems make this a large scale macro-problem with no apparent solution.

That doesn't mean we should or will do nothing, however. Even if we don't solve the crisis we will respond to it.

Our responses will probably spring more from local circumstances and personal or cultural preferences than from some overarching global framework. Group responses will run the gamut from resource wars to technological development; community restructuring and local actions of all sorts. Individual responses will range from hoarding canned food and ammunition, through planting gardens and putting up solar panels, to a variety of spiritual responses.  The spiritual responses will include fundamentalist "God will save us" fatalism as well as Buddhist teachings about attachment and change, and all points in between.

This wide variety of responses means that humanity will muddle through, much as we have done when faced with crises in the past. We will do this more successfully in some regions than others, though. Sometimes we will do even more harm on the way down as we cut the remaining forests for firewood and eat the songbirds from the trees. On the other hand, sometimes we will create new social structures that will support rich, meaningful, non-damaging lives for those lucky enough to be part of them.

Change is inevitable, unavoidable and utterly unpredictable. Faced with this uncertainty, a person's best bet is to grow very sensitive to the changes happening around them and to culture a flexible mind and spirit that will let them respond effectively when the local trends become apparent.

To keep hoping for "solutions" is to remain attached to the past and present, trying to close yourself off from (or even reject) the inherently fluid nature of the world and its underlying reality. To do that invites suffering and perpetual heartache, and may keep you from experiencing the joys of life that will inevitably persist, even during periods of severe, irreversible, unsolvable change.

July 31, 2008
© Copyright 2008, Paul Chefurka
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