Evaluating Decisions and the Long Term Perspective

Published on Dissident Voice, by Jim Brumm, July 28, 2009.

Here are three major considerations that we must keep in mind when we evaluate a decision with a long term perspective.

The first is sustainability. The best plans and ideas, no matter how profitable, or altruistic, or wonderful they may be, are doomed to eventual failure if the processes driving them are not sustainable over time. Long-term thinking and sustainability inexorably go hand in hand; they are the two sides of the same coin, and it’s the coin we should be using to fund our future. In practice, however, the question of sustainability rarely comes up when making decisions. Governments and elected officials rush into new policies and pass laws that will temporarily please their constituents and earn them some votes, or will give momentary upper hand in some political situation.

Often they find that what they put into motion comes back to bite them, as when we trained and armed the Taliban to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, only to find them years later using their training and weapons on us. We typically only question the sustainability of a situation when we realize—too late—that’s it’s not in fact sustainable …

… Even if we honestly couldn’t have predicted the problems some of our decisions would create in the past, we can at least start now to honestly acknowledge that the problems do in fact exist and take measures to correct them. But too often we have in gotten so deep that fixing the problem seems worse than ignoring it; the cure scares us more than the disease. Many of the worst problems we face today are things that are so deeply intertwined in our economy that even the thought of changing them causes panic. We are so afraid of affecting the economy, of losing jobs, of changing the status quo or the balance of power that we will ignore something that is obviously going to blow up in our face down the road in order to continue to benefit in the short run. We pretend it isn’t happening and just pass it on to the next administration or the next generation. In therapy they call this denial.

Denial has become necessary for us to get up in the morning and go about our business as though everything is going to be okay. Because if we were to face reality, we would be forced to see that there are many, many things that demand our attention, things that are going to bite us badly when they reach the point where we can no longer deny them. When it comes to facing the fact that we are rapidly approaching peak oil and a post-carbon world, that our environment is degrading faster than it can repair itself, that our obsession on growth and profit is unsustainable, for a long time we have been collectively sticking our fingers in our ears and singing, la, la, la… In his excellent and funny book, Farewell, My Subaru, Doug Fine called this “the societal equivalent of not thinking about dying.” But our way of doing things is dying, and denying it won’t make it go away. The good news is that if we are willing to stand up together and tackle these problems head-on, we can solve them. We have the intelligence, the know-how, and the technology. We just need to find the desire and the will. (full text).

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