Sunday, February 24, 2019

Head Through The Windshield School Of Learning

                                                                                                written 17 February 2019
                                                                                       published 24 February 2019

            As finite humans, contemplating the infinite universe, everything we know is either wrong, or at best incomplete, demanding a degree of humility.  Acquiring new information, skills, and patterns is hindered by the certainty of our knowledge and our preference for the familiar.  Learning is more than accumulating facts, and often requires a new perspective. Most of us have had an "aha" moment of sudden awareness: nothing external changed, but we see the situation differently.  
            There is a spectrum of how skillfully and gracefully we gather in new information.  One end of the spectrum can be described as "to the wise, a word is sufficient".  A person lightly attached to their concepts and perspectives can experience a cascade of shifting awareness triggered by a single word, opening a path to new understanding and action.  The other end of the spectrum is what I call the "head through the windshield school of learning".  The image says it all.
            I had a friend who learned this way.  He denied that he was addicted to alcohol, insisting he was in control.  For years he refused to accept the truth, degrading the quality of his life until he eventually crashed his car.  Fortunately for him, he lived through his windshield encounter, and embraced the need to change his perspective.  Not everyone gets the message even at this point.
            Our society is following this "windshield" learning process by repeating old patterns with certainty and denying our addictions.  Take the economy and the climate for example.
            President Trump and his Republican sycophants boast about how well the economy is doing.  The billionaire class is thriving, but everyone else is only staying even, or losing ground. The stock market traded in the same narrow range for the last 14 months, and real GDP growth is barely 1%, despite the $1.5 trillion tax give away that was supposed to make the economy boom.  Profitable corporations pay no taxes, while working people get smaller refunds.  The government shutdown, tariffs from the "easy" trade war with China, and the general slowing of the global economy due to debt saturation, have increased business uncertainty and adversely affected the consumer economy.
            The number of jobs has increased, but the quality and pay are poor.  Most job growth is in the minimum wage service sector which can't be easily outsourced.  The number of high paying jobs is shrinking due to robotic automation.  Millions of Americans have stopped paying their car loans, and 80% live pay check to pay check.  The low price of gasoline hurts domestic oil producers, and the high price of diesel hurts the transportation industry.  More real estate listings have "price reduced" banners, and the international production of computer chip has plateaued. 
            Trump's response is to reduce public aid, kill affordable health care, support payday loans, and bail out corporations by eliminating regulations which protect worker safety and prohibit poisoning our air, food, and water.  Such denial of our real economic needs means the next economic downturn will be a big "windshield" event, but the consequences of economic denial pale in comparison to the outcome of climate denial.
            In his State of the Union speech, the president never once referred to the climate issue.  Almost 200 million trees are dead in California and the firestorms of the last two years have bankrupted PG&E, America's 10th largest utility.  The northeast is having one of the coldest winters in decades due to the shifted Polar vortex.  The global populations of a third of the insect species, including the Monarch butterfly, are crashing.  Coral reefs, which support millions of species and feeds 1/6 of humanity, are bleaching and dying due to the increasing ocean temperatures.  Extreme weather cost the American economy $300 billion last year, 50 times what Trump wants for his wall.
            The alarms bells are ringing and the canary in the coal mine is long dead, but our "leaders" are deaf and in denial, still laboring to preserve the short-term financial gains of a few already rich people.  However, the economy rests on the environment.  When this slowly accelerating disaster hits a critical tipping point, the climate "windshield" event will affect even the wealthy "preppers" fleeing to New Zealand.