Persico Challenge:  Issue Number 3 – What Will Be the Impact from Increased Life Expectancies Around the World?

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This is the third of three “Challenge” questions that my friend Jane Fritz and I agreed to reply to.  We each sent three questions to the other and we had 12 months to reply to all three questions.  I answered Jane’s first question on Feb 19th of this year.  (American Exceptionalism).  I answered her second question on April 3rd (How Can We Save the Environment)  This is Jane’s 3rd and final question followed by my reply.  I think Jane “cheated” a little on this one since you may notice that there are actually several questions connected to the issue that Jane describes.

Jane’s Third and Final Question:

Life expectancy around the world has increased 10-30 years from 1950 alone, depending on the country.  People born in developed and many developing countries in 2020 can expect to live – on average – to be at least 80 years old.  At the same time, the birthrate is decreasing around the world even faster than was projected.  India’s recent news of its birth rate falling below replacement levels is a case in point.  What will such significant changes in population demographics have on people 30 years from now, when the baby boomers still alive will be 85-105 years old?  What will the impact be on children?  On young adults?  On mid-career adults?  On retirees?  When will people be able to retire when 30% or more of the population is over 65?  Any position(s) on any part of this question is acceptable!

There are several curious things about the issues that Jane raises.  Let me state them as a sort of preamble to my answer.

  1. Much of the increased longevity is due to falling infant mortality which raises the overall average longevity. Looking at a research study that examined people over age of sixty-five found that longevity has continued to increase even when isolating the more elderly.

“The researchers looked at birth and death data for people above age 65 from 1960-2010. They found that the average age of death in those who live to be older than 65 increased by three years in every 25-year period, which means that people can expect to live about six years longer than their grandparents, on average.”   — Lifespan is continuing to increase regardless of socioeconomic factors, Stanford researchers find

  1. Much of the reason for falling birth rates is correlated with increased incomes throughout the world. Data shows that:

“Countries that experience a decline in their birth rate sometimes realize a demographic dividend, an economic boost that can last years or even decades.  Improving health care and boosting literacy have been shown to break the cycle of extreme poverty and extreme fertility.”  — The Relationship Between Fertility and National Income

There are many exceptions to the above finding.  In addition, the age distribution of the population also plays a role in the wealth of a country.  By and large, countries with more elderly people tend to have higher average incomes than those with younger people.

  1. Happiness does not seem to be correlated with higher incomes.

“The results were almost universally consistent across the United States and much of the world,” Aaker says.  “Among low-income people, having a sense of meaning in one’s life is more closely associated with overall happiness.”A Global Look at the Connections Between Happiness, Income, and Meaning

  1. Several studies I have recently seen show that income inequality leads to lower levels of reported happiness. The greater the income inequality, the less happy people are.

“While happiness did track the level of economic development across these 16 advanced nations, the results changed when inequality was added to the equation.  Higher levels of inequality led to lower levels of happiness, even in the most economically advanced nations. In fact, the researchers found that the percentage of respondents who said they were very happy was inversely correlated with income inequality (with a negative correlation of −.618).”Income Inequality Leads to Less Happy People

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Demographics is an extremely important element of social change.  I bring up some of the above points because the questions that Jane raises are quite involved.  Economics, wealth, social justice, politics, technology, environmental factors, and a universal desire for happiness all play a role in social change that in many cases are just as important as demographics.

Experts also attribute social change to ideological factors and the “great man/woman” theory.  This latter theory posits that social changes are more impacted by leadership issues than any other factors.  We can certainly find evidence to support any one of these theories.  My raising these issues is from a belief that we cannot understand the world by simply looking at any one set of factors.  The world is much more complex than humans or even computer models are able to portray.

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So, without any more “excuses”, how will the world change as birth rates fall?  I think the major impacts will be due to a rising standard of living.  The evidence seems to show that standards of living the world over are rising.  In addition, media and technology link the world in a mutual bond that is tighter than any that ever existed in history.  This will mean rising expectations for a better life for many formerly poor and impoverished people.  My caveat here is that with the environment changing more rapidly than was predicted by climate models, I am unsure how rising incomes will help anyone escape the ever more extreme weather events that beset us daily.  In the past, the rich were always more shielded from such events than the poor.  The poor lived in the valleys while the rich lived in the mountain tops.

A rising standard of living is not necessarily  a panacea or a pathway to happiness as I have shown above with the research on happiness.  If ideology is such that people expect more than they will get, rising standards of living could lead to more of the type of dysfunctions that we see in the USA.  Despite some of the highest income levels in the world, the USA does very poorly on a number of social indicators.  In terms of health, the USA shows very poorly:

  • The United States ranks No. 33 out of 36 OECD countries in infant mortality
  • Among the 33 OECD countries with self-reported obesity data available, the United States ranks last
  • The U.S. life expectancy at birth of 78.6 years ranks No. 28 out of the 36 OECD countries

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Health is a major factor affecting the quality of life we live, and how happy we are.  Incomes and affluence have not been distributed equally in the USA where income inequality is some of the highest in the world.  It would seem that not only does income inequality lead to less happiness but it also impacts health outcomes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States’ Gini coefficient was 48.9% in 2020. This ranks as the country’s highest Gini in at least the past 50 years.  The U.S. also has the highest Gini coefficient among the G7 nations. The top 1% of earners in the United States earn about 40 times more than the bottom 90% of earners, and roughly 33 million U.S. workers earn less than $10 per hour, placing a family of four below the poverty line.

The Gini coefficient, or Gini index, is a statistical measure of income inequality developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912.  There are several caveats and limitations to the Gini coefficient and if you are interested you can find more detail about the coefficient and its limitations at:  World Population Review.

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If the world can adapt to the coming climate changes and if the world will allow incomes and affluence to be more equitable, I think the declining birthrates may be a blessing.  In the sixties, I was part of a movement called ZPG.  This stood for Zero Population Growth.  We believed that stopping population growth was key to living within the limited resources that we thought the planet provided.  The movement was never very popular.  Those pushing for unlimited growth and unlimited development continually won battles for more development and more growth. Those that profited from this growth sold the American people that growth is essential to development and that we would all be happier with more growth.  This has been a bigger lie bought by more Americans than the election lie that Trump has tried to sell.

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Bottom line, lower birthrates may lead to increased affluence which may lead to better health care which may lead to happier people.  However, the happiness factor as well as health care factor will depend on how the affluence is distributed.  If it is distributed as it is in the USA, it will lead to increased social fractioning and decreased levels of happiness and health care.  All of this will be mitigated by more extreme and more volatile weather events.  If the “stress” level of the world increases, we will see more violence and warfare as nations fight for the level of affluence that they believe they deserve or as they try to maintain a level of affluence at the expense of nations that are trying to get their share of the affluence.

Thanks Jane for a great set of questions.  I only wish I could have done more justice to them.  I fear my answers lack the perspicacity to fully address the complexity of so many of the issues that you have raised.

Persico Challenge:  Issue 2 – How Can We Save the Environment?

This is the second of three “Challenge” questions that my friend Jane Fritz and I agreed to reply to.  We each sent three questions to the other and we have 12 months to reply to each question.  I answered Jane’s first question on Feb 19th of this year.  (See American Exceptionalism).  This is her second question followed by my reply.

Second Challenge Question:

There is general agreement that man-made climate change is not only real but largely responsible for the alarming increases in extreme weather events around the world: devastating wildfires, historically intense hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes, punishing droughts, etc.  It appears that the world leaders have committed to too little, too late to save our planet, undoubtedly because of initial damage to economies if the needed transitions were made.  What creative (and acceptable) incentives can you imagine that could accelerate the needed transitions away from fossil fuels?

This question reminds me of the song “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day and Frank De Vol.  In English, it is “Whatever will be, will be.  The futures not ours to see.”  With all the doom and gloom that I see in the news and hear in the news, I have become very cynical.  Should I tell you Jane, that once upon a time there was general agreement in the world that the Earth was flat?  Or that the Sun was actually in orbit around the earth.  Or that no one would ever break four minutes per mile running.  “General agreement” is a dangerous trope.

Scientists now tell us that we have one last chance to stop the disastrous climate change that is afflicting the earth.  These are the same scientists who wanted to devise better and better ways to harness the weather and change weather patterns.  They are now advising us that it might be too late to avoid even worse weather patterns than we have already witnessed.  “Don’t bother getting out your divining rods, cause there ain’t no water down here.” 

Do I disagree with the “majority” of weather experts?  Do I stand with the minority and the Republicans who dispute the evidence that we have really screwed up the environment?  Is climate change simply a big hoax?

“No, no and several hundred other no’s.” 

It is not that I doubt that we have really messed up the planet earth.  It is more like I don’t know if I really care anymore.  Once upon a time I was sitting on a plane next to a woman who started to complain about the increasing natural disasters that were killing more and more people.  Her attitude was one which embraced the idea of human superiority and that in terms of evolution, we were clearly at the top of the heap.  I disputed these ideas and asked her “why she thought that humans had any more right to survive as a species than ants or termites?”  She gave me an angry look and did not say anything else to me for the remainder of the flight.

I think humans could destroy themselves as a species and that might be a good thing for the planet.  Perhaps, the human brain was not a very good evolutionary development.  Looking around at the people I see; it does not seem that it has resulted in truly positive benefits for humanity.  Over my seventy plus years, I have seen little growth in human intelligence.  In fact, given the level of stupidity that abounds today, it appears that intelligence is evolving in the wrong direction.  Humans tend to have short -sighted thinking and regard today as infinitely more important than tomorrow.

For example, here in Arizona this week, the House has passed a bill to remove taxes from firearms and ammunition.  The reasons given by the sponsor of the bill is that firearms are necessary for the health and safety of the population.  Gun deaths keep going up, violence with guns is an epidemic in the USA but we have people who believe that more guns will make us healthier and safer.

Another bill that was recently passed (way down here in Arizona) calls for parents to have access to school materials before they are given to students to ensure that parents approve of what the teachers are teaching.  God forbid that teachers might indoctrinate students with CRT or LGBTQ+ theory.  CRT is not a disease but a series of classes dealing with a modified version of American history which claims that slaves did not spend most of their time singing, dancing, and partying, much like some Americans actually believe.  Proponents of the bill want their kids to believe that slaves were having so much fun, they did not want to leave the plantation, even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

As for LGBTQ+ theory, it would take more time than I want to devote to this issue to explain.  Just know that people object to having transgender people in cisgender bathrooms.  They believe that bathrooms were designed by the Founding Fathers and not Founding Mothers for cisgender people.  How do they know this fact?  Well, I am certain that they must have heard it on Fox News.  Somewhere either in the writings of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine, our Founding Fathers stipulated who could use which bathroom.

So you see, I am not too impressed by the thought processes of either our current leadership or the people that voted them into office.  We have politicians bringing snowballs into Congress to prove that global warming is a myth.  Congress routinely scoffs at bills to promote environmental regulations or efforts for green energy.  Instead, oil, coal and gas companies continue to get obscene subsidies to look for more fossil fuels.  Somehow, more of what has already contaminated and is damaging Mother Earth will restore her health and vitality.

Getting back to Ms. Fritz’s question of what can be done, if anything, to further mitigate environmental damage from climate change, I am not really avoiding the question Jane.  It is just one that I am taking less and less seriously each day.  Call me selfish but I have only about ten years to live, given present actuarial tables, and if I can make it through the heat, tornadoes, snow, floods, drought, hurricanes, and earthquakes for another ten years, I will pass GO and collect my just rewards, whatever they may be.  I am quite certain that I will be free from worrying about climate change.  As for the people left on the planet earth, “They have made their bed, so let them lie in it.”  They will drive around the ruins of our planet with their gas guzzling trucks looking for food that is not too contaminated to eat.  And as they say, “Lots of Luck.”

Unfortunately, too many people on this planet are suffering from climate change who had nothing to do with causing it or contributing to it.  It has been the richer nations in the world with their bloated economies and militaries who have been hell bent on ignoring the repercussions of unbridled capitalism, consumerism, and militarism.

The people who live in the less developed parts of the world as well as millions of the world’s poorest people are suffering disproportionally from the disastrous impacts of the changes taking place in our weather systems.  It is no fault of these people that countries like the USA have done more of the damage to the earth’s environment.  The USA and other developed countries pursue policies that ignore negative environmental impacts from efforts to increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at any cost.  Led by greedy leaders who have little concern for the future and are only concerned with the price of their stocks, the earth has become a cesspool contaminated by fossil fuels, pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, rampant development, and endless tons of garbage.  Our politicians are the Pied Pipers who instead of exercising ethical leadership instead pander to the public giving them what they want but not what they need.  Anything to get reelected has become the slogan of politicians in USA America.

If I could only send the “guilty” people to hell to suffer from fire and droughts, I surely would.  I would start with those who have chosen to lead us down this unsustainable road.  The common people elect their leaders in the mistaken belief that they will do their best to represent their interests.  The average person erroneously believes that their leaders have their best interests at heart.  Nothing ever believed by the human race could be more mistaken than to think that the interests of the rich and the greedy are aligned with the interests of the less fortunate.  There may be no true innocents in the theater of climate change, but business leaders, political leaders and even educational leaders are more guilty than others.  The innocent will suffer along with the guilty as our earth disintegrates into a place that in a not-too-distant future will no longer be habitable for humans.

What would I do to stop the damage we are now doing to Mother Earth?  This was Jane’s original question.  Here are five things I would do today:

  1. Cut Oil, Gas and Coal subsidies to zero for the fossil fuel industry.

As long as the fossil fuel industries continue to be subsidized, they will have less incentive to migrate to more sustainable energy sources.  Much of the subsidies to these industries have simply resulted in insane profits that benefit the rich and wealthy who own these industries.

“Fossil Fuels Received $5.9 Trillion In Subsidies in 2020, Report Finds. Coal, oil, and natural gas received $5.9 trillion in subsidies in 2020 — or roughly $11 million every minute — according to a new analysis from the International Monetary Fund. Explicit subsidies accounted for only 8 percent of the total”. –  Oct 6, 2021

  1. Create financial incentives for employers that allow workers to work from home.

For many years, I preached the economic benefits to workers, employers, and the environment from allowing people to work from home.  Most often my words fell upon deaf ears.  It took the pandemic for some people to finally wake up and realize the savings in time, money, injuries, and mental health that could accrue from more liberal work at home policies.  Unfortunately, many employers want to roll back the clock and are now talking about bringing their employees back to the office.  This is short-sighted and stupid in the extreme.

“Sixty-one percent of workers said their productivity increased from working remotely, according to an Upwork survey. And an Upwork survey of hiring managers found 32.2% of them said they saw overall productivity rise as of late April, compared to 22.5% that felt it decreased.” – 5 ways remote work is changing the economy for the better

  1. Create financial incentives for people to buy solar cars and participate in other “green” efforts.

If we can provide incentives to the fossil fuel companies, there is no reason we cannot provide incentives to people to buy solar cars, to practice recycling and to start making sustainability a part of their lives.  Living down here in Arizona, you have only to look at hundreds of golf courses spewing water on Kentucky bent grass fairways, housing developments with ponds and fountains draining water that is quickly evaporated into the atmosphere.  Here in my area, the recycling bins were recently removed because they cost the county too much.  Many people who could not afford garbage removal were dumping their garbage in the recycling bins.   Perhaps, if the average people had more access to funds and subsidies we could begin to create a mindset that valued recycling, reducing and reuse.

“With market incentives, sources of pollution can see an economic value in reducing pollution because doing so saves them money. Consequently, the difference between a traditional regulatory system and economic incentives can lead to several public health, environmental, and economic benefits.”   The United States Experience with Economic Incentives for Protecting the Environment

  1. Develop a campaign of “Anti-Consumerism.” Make it patriotic to stop buying so much junk and to start saving. 

Everyday USA Americans are bombarded with advertisements for things that you could not even imagine.  Consumers are inundated with ads that tell them how much smarter they will be, how much healthier they will be, and how much happier they will be if they only bought this or that product or service.  Not one of the great religious prophets ever told anyone that buying something or owning something would make them happier.  However, the consumer religion in the USA sports such mantras as, “shop till you drop,” “bigger is better,” and “he/she who has the most toys wins.” Years ago, we started being exposed to more and more slick Madison avenue advertising.  Much of it was shrewdly designed to play to the fears of the average person.

“Fast forward to 2021, and although there are no official figures, the average person is now estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. With the figures nearly double that of 2007, how exactly did we get here? And how did the figure increase so much?” — How Many Advertisements Are We Exposed to Daily?

We need to create a campaign to help people understand that it is a patriotic duty if not to the world at least to their country to help create a sustainable environment for future generations.

  1. De-Militarize the economy

Last and hardly least, we have a budget for the next ten years that will provide more than 3.2 trillion dollars to develop weapons and military hardware to keep the USA safe.  The belief that safety lies in having the most guns or the biggest guns has been spread by what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex.  It is offensive in the extreme to realize that both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans almost unilaterally voted to increase the military budget over the next ten years.  It took months to try to pass Biden’s “Build it Back Better” plan which ultimately was pared down to a trickle but in less than a few weeks, the military budget was not only passed but increased.  The US military budget is now greater than the next nine largest military budgets in the world COMBINED.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”  — Eisenhower’s farewell address

Do we have the will or the leadership to make these changes to current policy?  Can we make the hard choices that will save our environment for the future?  I doubt it.  To date, we have continued to make choices for the short term.  Given a brain and incentives that seek short-term goals and benefits over long term goals and benefits, I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel where change might start to take place.  True, here and there a few seedlings seem to take root, but these exciting efforts are soon choked out by the weeds that abound in our societies.   These weeds start with greedy leaders more concerned with their own short-term interests than with the constituents who elected them.  Shame on voters for being so stupid, but more shame on the leaders who promise and promise but actually deliver lies and lies.

PS:

It is always gratifying to hear one’s remarks vindicated by those who have more credentials and expertise. Yesterday morning, NPR was interviewing Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, about the latest U.N. climate report which is focused on ways to combat climate warming. Here is brief excerpt from their talk:

RACHELL MARTIN: We know that the world is way off track from meeting the goals that were set out in Paris in 2015. What do IPCC experts say is necessary in order to turn things around?

CLEETUS: Yeah, the IPCC report that was released yesterday is a stark warning that global emissions, heat-trapping emissions, are far off track. We’re poised to exceed 1.5 C and even 2 degrees Celsius if we stay on our current path. But it’s also a source of hope, because the report says that we can cut emissions in half by 2030. We have the solutions at hand. They’re within reach. What’s been missing is political will. So we are in this dire climate crisis right now because of decades of failure in global leadership. Fossil fuel companies focus on their profits. This is what has got us in this quandary. But we can get ourselves out. The solutions are there.

This interview was on National Public Radio two days after I wrote my blog. In my blog, I also blamed political leadership or lack thereof for the climate crisis we are now in. For the full interview you can go to https://www.npr.org/2022/04/05/1090992355/the-latest-u-n-climate-report-is-focused-on-climate-warming-solutions

The full interview is about five minutes and worth listening to.

When We Get Back to Normal!

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When we get back to normal.  When everything is like it used to be.  When things are like they were in the good old days.  The good old days when things were normal.  Happy days when father knew best, and bad kids were expelled from school for chewing gum.

But we are not normal now.  We are in a quandary for normal.  We pray for normal.  We look around each corner for normal.  But we cannot find normal.  We talk about the new normal but even that is a myth.  We are now post-normal.  We have never been normal, and we probably will never be normal.

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First smog in the sixties.  Then water pollution in the seventies.  Globalization in the eighties.  A new century with mega storms, wildfires, water shortages, power outages and unprecedented heat spells.  If normal was not elusive enough, in 2020 we get a virus that to date has killed almost 4 million people worldwide.  A little bug that is about 50 nm in size.  A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.  You could put 20 million corona virus side to side and still have room left over on a yardstick.  Has anybody ever asked a coronavirus when things will return to normal?

Just on the outside chance that we do get back to normal, what will it look like?  A vision please, for without a vision, it is said that people will perish.

women-taking-em-back-to-the-kitchen-vi-cine-center-51302934When we get back to normal, two parent families will again reign supreme.  Mom will stay home to cook, while dad goes to work.  There will be no trans-people.  Girls will stick to cheerleading and let the boys play the sports.  Contraceptives will be banned, and no one will dream of getting an abortion.  Priests and ministers will be male, and gay people will disappear.  Everyone in America will go back to being good Christians.

When we get back to normal, people will die of natural causes like alcoholism and tobacco smoking.  Viruses will become a thing of the past as huge walls setup around our borders will prevent any bugs from infecting Americans.  Health care will be readily available to rich people and make certain that the wealthier you are the longer you will live.  Poor people will do the shitty jobs in America and die earlier since they will not be able to afford quality health care.

When we get back to normal, Black people, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Island people will be put into their place so that White people can rule again without challenge.  Only White people will be able to hold office.  Police forces will be given more power to dispense arbitrary justice in minority communities thereby ensuring that minorities do not get too uppity.  White people will be allowed to immigrate to the USA but people from other countries will be given strict orders to stay home.

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When we get back to normal, we will double the size of the defense budget and start a war someplace so that we can test our new arsenals out.  We will try to select enemies who are too weak to really put up much fight.  Our military will be the pride of America, and no one will have the audacity to stand up to it.  Drones will eliminate American casualties and reporters will be prohibited from counting enemy dead.

When we get back to normal, schools will be places where children are taught patriotism and how to fit into the workplace.  Colleges will establish quotas limiting the number of minorities who can enter.  Businesses will be given more tax breaks so that the rich can become richer.  We will spread a great deal of propaganda emphasizing the theory of trickle down.  Poor people will be persuaded to be patient until unfathomable wealth eventually comes down to them.

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When we get back to normal, scientists, Intellectuals, democrats, anti-gun people, liberals, writers, reporters, and teachers espousing critical thinking will be shunned.  Anyone promoting facts and logic over emotions and intuition will be silenced by fines or stiff jail sentences.

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I forgot to add that the Ten Commandments, Confederate Flag, and statues of Confederate heroes will be taken out of storage and placed on the lawn of every state capital in the USA.  Laws will be passed to make sure that people stand for the Flag and kneel for the Cross.  Of course, that is if things get back to normal again.

Do you still want things to get back to normal again?

Optimist, Pessimist or Realist

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Are you an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I have a good friend who always says that he leans towards being a “guy whose glass is half-full.”  I guess he is a pessimist.  I know I am married to an optimist, because whenever I say anything negative about anyone, she will provide a contrasting optimistic perspective.  I tend to believe that I lean towards pessimism.  I like to think that I am a realist.  When someone asks me if my glass is half-full or half-empty my answer will depend on whether my glass is being filled up or emptied.  Nevertheless, I suspect many would find that my blogs reflect a rather negative view of life and humanity.

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Climate Change:

Pessimist: “The end is near; the end is near.  We have destroyed the world with carbon pollution, and it is too late to do anything about it.  Nature magazine published a study which shows that Global Warming stated as early as 1830 CE.”

Optimist: “There is still time to do something about climate change.  Humanity has faced disasters before, and we always overcome them.  They thought that we would destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, but we learned to use other strategies to deal with our differences.”

Realist: “Maybe we have just been lucky.”

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Corrupt Government:

Pessimist:  Politicians since the days of Plato and Socrates have always been corrupt.  There is no such thing as an honest politician.  Lying comes naturally to all politicians and the truth is only an inconvenience for most of them.  Politicians have become worse and worse over the years in terms of lacking morality and ethics.  They will always do what is expedient and they are all amoral.”

Optimist: “How can you make such a blanket generalization?  There have been many good politicians and many or them are very honest and moral.  Look at Marcus Aurelius, Rómulo Betancourt, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Jimmy Carter, and Muhammadu Buhari.  These men were all honest leaders who fought for the welfare of their people and did it selflessly.  They were capable, incorruptible leaders who made a real difference in the lives of their followers.

Realist: “You win some and you lose some.  On the whole, it would seem that we have more leaders like Trump than we do leaders like Gandhi.”

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Education:

Pessimist: “Pouring money into education is a waste of time.  Kids are learning less today than they did in the early days of public education.  Half the kids in school are bored.  Teacher turnover is at an all time high and classrooms are chaotic.  Parents do not support teacher discipline anymore.  Schools have become jails for most students who would rather be home.  Kids today do not see the value in education because parents do not.  Schools are just factories for the more privileged to come out and get the high paying jobs in society while the rest of the pack will work for Walmart or McDonalds.”

Optimist: “We live in a more educated society today then even twenty years ago.  Education has been responsible for raising the standard of living the world over.  People are living longer than ever because of scientific advances in hygiene, medicine, and public health.  Without education, we would still be dying in our mid-forties instead of in our mid-seventies.  Kids today learn different things then when we were in school.  They are more visually literate, and computers have been a new tool that students today are using to change the world for the better.”

Realist: “We seem to take two steps forward and one back.  For every pro about education today, there is a con.  For every pro about technology there is a con.  We need to have a broader perspective on change that will enable us to embrace new ideas and let go of old ideas that no longer work.”  We simply keep adding pages to school textbooks without taking any out.”

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I could go on and on with examples of the quite different outlooks that life provides us.  Who is right?  I doubt that we will ever really know.  Many of the old sayings exist to provide us with some direction on how to live.  A friend of mine tried to convince me that writing should be positive and inspirational.  His motto was, “You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”  According to my friend, people will ignore writing that is too dismal and negative.  It is his opinion that writers should provide a path forward to growth and development.  I told another friend the other day that “hope without action is hopeless.”  It is not enough to just hope for change, you need to do something about it.  I like to think that my writings provide a path forward.

Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the concept of being too “Pollyannish.”  Someone who is too Pollyannish always sees the positive in everything.  Pushing the envelope on optimism they become extremists who see a bright spot in every dark endeavor.  We sometimes refer to these people as wearing “rose colored” glasses.  A realist would argue that sometimes a bright spot does not exist.

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My writing instructor, Dr. Wedin informed our class a few weeks ago that the story of Pollyanna, a 1913 novel written by American author Eleanor H. Porter, has been grossly misrepresented.  In common usage, a Pollyannish person is someone who is too unrealistic about life and its difficulties.  I decided to watch one of the many movies based on the novel and found a quite different interpretation of young Miss Pollyanna.  One that I assume was more in line with the novel.  In the movie, Pollyanna is a young girl who faces her share of joys and unhappiness.  However, remembering what her father told her, she always tries to find a bright spot in life regardless of how difficult things may be going for her.  Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” an optimistic and positive attitude she learned from her father.

As a man who has leaned strongly towards pessimism for most of my life, I found myself admiring Pollyanna’s attitude and efforts.  They say pessimists live longer lives but optimists live happier lives.  There is something about pessimism that wears one down and tires others out.  Friends, family, spouses, siblings, and children all have a difficult time being around someone who is relentlessly pessimistic.  Just as hope without action is useless, pessimism without a plan to change things is depressing, gloomy and dreary.  Would you rather be around a pessimist or an optimist?

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But what about our third choice?  Would you want to choose a realist for a life partner?  Is this the Golden Mean that the Greeks worshipped?  I think not.  The problem with being a so-called realist is twofold.  The first problem is that realism must be based on a foundation of facts and evidence.  Herein, you can immediately understand the problem.  It is difficult if not impossible to obtain evidence that will prove irrefutable and reliable.  Life is full of lies, half-truths, unsubstantiated facts and impossible to find evidence.

The second problem with realism is that it is not useful without a path forward or some means of making sense out of reality.  Knowing reality is meaningless if you cannot do something about it.  Finding the best path forward always involves a number of decisions that go beyond the facts.  For instance, if I decide that my car needs a new engine, will it be more cost effective to purchase a replacement engine or buy a new car?  You might be able to work out an equation to make this decision, but I guarantee you that there will be several unknowns in your equation.  Every unknown impacts the outcome of your decision making.  Then of course, there are what we call “unintended consequences.”  Charting the unknown, even realists must go into mysterious territory.

So we arrive back to where we started.  Would you rather be an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I would love to hear your comments on this question.  Please feel free to send me a reply.

Only send optimistic comments though.  😊

The Alien from Outer Space – Captured in Utah

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As they walked into the large conference room, they saw the alien standing in the middle of the room.  It was about seven feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter.  The alien had what looked like four branches coming off a main trunk and four branches upon which the main trunk was balancing.  The bottom branches were probably legs and the top branches were waving in the air and might have been arms.  No head was apparent on the alien and it was impossible to tell if it had any particular gender.

QVNIMTE2NDI3MjA2The color of its trunk was somewhere between blue and green as its hues ebbed and flowed.  One minute it looked blue and the next minute it looked green.  The most striking feature of all was in the middle of its trunk about five feet above the floor.  It had a large round eye about 9 inches in diameter.  There was no mistaking it as an eye since it included a large red pupil, a green cornea, and a yellow sclera.  The pupil was about two inches wide and the cornea was about four inches wide.  The eye seemed to follow every movement in the room and when you looked at it, the alien seemed to be able to look right through you as though it was reading your mind.

I was surrounded by news reporters, army officers, soldiers with guns at rest and what were obviously many government officials.  This was what the human race had been waiting for.  An alien had been captured and was going to speak to the world.  I had been brought to this well guarded room in Washington D.C. after I had agreed to speak about my purpose in visiting a planet they called Earth.  The major tv networks had all been alerted and were on deck to broadcast whatever the I had to say to the entire world.  News reports said over two billion people had found some way to listen to my talk.

I calmly surveyed the inhabitants of this room who were only a small part of the inhabitants of this planet.  I had been surveying them for 100,000 years but they were not aware of this fact.  They soon would be.  I looked out over the gathering with some amusement.  Shichak is the name that I chose to use with these humans.  They would never have been able to pronounce my real name.  But my name is unimportant.  What is important is what I have to say to the inhabitants of Earth.  At my other visits to Earth, I always observed for some weeks than returned to my home planet.  This time I did not fly away.  My captors did not realize it, but I came to this room entirely voluntarily.  I could have destroyed all of them and a great deal of their planet with a single twist of my antenna.  I chose to stay until I had delivered my message.

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My spacecraft which could travel at warp drive speeds between the galaxies had encountered some minor difficulties.  I had intended to land briefly and repair the ship.  After landing in a remote area of Utah, my ship had been seen by a local paramilitary group which surrounded the space craft.  They threatened to open fire with some high-powered projectiles unless I came out of the craft.  Years earlier I would have ignored them, but I sensed that the weapons they had could do some serious damage to my ship.  I had been seen many times before, but I had quickly opened an invisibility cloak and returned to space.  This time would be different.  After making my decision, I left the vessel to deliver a message to this species that I was certain would surprise and astound them.

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In less than 24 hours, my captors had taken me from the Utah forest to a police station in Monroe, Utah, to a government office in Provo, Utah and to an Army base in Bluffdale, Utah.  It was not only my appearance which surprised all who met me but even more surprising to them was the fact that I spoke perfect English.  I have the ability to speak the language fluently of any species on the planet Earth or any other planet in the universe.

At each site that I was taken to, I indicated that I would only talk to the President of the United States of America.  Finally, I was put under heavy guard and taken in a military cargo plane to Washington D.C.  During my trip, I had been passed up the line from privates to colonels to generals to Army secretaries and finally to this room where the President of the United States of America and the rest of the world waited to hear what I had to say.

It was time to speak.  The President had arrived with his staff and were seated.  I made some bugle like sounds to get everyone’s attention.  They were quite surprised but quieted right down.

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I spoke, “I did not come to your planet on a mission of peace.  Neither did I come on a mission of aggression.  I come as an observer.  I have been observing you for nearly 100,000 years.  I have made many trips to your planet.  Several times in the past, my ship has been spotted by your people.  One other time, I was forced to land and effect some repairs.  My ships have varied in size and shape from ovoid to saucer shaped.”

“I come from a planet my people call Zanist.  It is 7,000 light years away in another galaxy.  Our planet is over twenty billion years old.  Our people refer to themselves as Zanes.  As you calculate your lifespan, the average life of a Zane is about 200,000 earth years.”

“The sun that heats our solar system is dying.  It has been dying for many years.  We developed interstellar travel capabilities nearly a million years ago.  When we realized that our planet was doomed, our leaders decided that we should seek out another planet to inhabit.  Many scouts were sent out to find a new home for our people.  I found your planet over 100,000 years ago.  It was perfect for us except for the fact that a new species was quickly evolving, and you were that species.  We were not sure whether you would survive.  Many other species on your planet have rose up only to disappear in a few centuries.”

“We have what you would call a prime directive.  We do not interfere with the development of a sentient species.  Many on our planet were not sure that humans were sentient.  It was evident from early observations that you were brutal and cruel to other species as well as each other.  Nevertheless, our ethics prevented us from interfering with your development.”

“I was selected to monitor your planet in the event that you did not survive or that you annihilated yourselves.  This latter possibility seemed the most likely given your aggressive tendencies.  I returned after the ice age to find that you had managed to survive.  I watched many battles over the years where I thought you might destroy each other: the Three Kingdom Wars, the Mongolian Wars, the European Wars and two World Wars.”

“Finally, with your development of nuclear weapons, we were sure that you would self-annihilate.  We were quite surprised when you did not.  With my observations on this latest visit, I think it might be close to the end for your species.  Your current disasters due to your destruction of your environment, global warming, and climate change will be your death knell.  Your planet will survive but your species will probably not.  I take no joy in this observation.  My role is simply to observe and to report when your planet will be ready for us to occupy.”

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“We will be able to fix your planet and return it to its former healthy state.  We could tell you how to do this, but it would be a waste of time.  It is apparent that you understand what you need to do but you lack the desire or will power to do it.”

“That is all I have to say.  I am returning to my planet.”

As I spoke these words, I observed one of the military people talking to several of his subordinates.  I could read his mind and see that he was intent on preventing me from leaving.  It was his intention to place me in some sort of a cell.

Milley-talk“You have taken my space craft to one of your many military bases.  Some of you wish to stop me from leaving.  That is impossible.  I have no desire to harm any of you.   I have already repaired my vessel and it is back in orbit.  I will go to my ship.  Perhaps you will see me again in the future if you survive.  I doubt it.  Goodbye.”

“Beam me up Scotty.”  A little phrase I learned from my visits to the planet Earth.

The alien’s colors gave off a burst of blinding light forcing all the participants to close their eyes.  When the gathering opened their eyes, the alien was gone.  A grave like silence blanketed the room.  Reporters, government officials, military people and the President of the United States of America were all speechless.  The first words that everyone at the gathering heard were, “Does anyone know what’s for lunch?”

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