Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Parable of the Cave


One of our presidential candidates recently stated that the U.S. population has increased 25 million over the last 10 years, but that there has been no increase in U.S. jobs over that same period. Both our donkeys and elephants seek to create more jobs by encouraging the making of more stuff. Our donkeys seem blind and totally oblivious to future implications. Our elephants seem aware that living beyond one's budgetary means may have unpleasant future consequences, but are totally unable to extrapolate this thinking towards natural resources, social tensions, environmental degradation, quality of life, and just about everything else one might care to think about. 

Political debates over subjects like entitlements, national debt, unemployment, illegal immigration – not to mention the multitude of social, political, and human rights issues – remind me of the inhabitants in Socrates' "Parable of the Cave" – an illustration of the difference between enlightened and unenlightened understanding. In this story men have grown up in a cave wearing restraints that allow them to only see one wall of the cave. A variety of shadow shapes are cast onto the wall and manipulated by others hidden from the men's view and understanding. The shadows are the only "reality" the men have ever known and over time they come to comprehend and even be able to predict the timing and sequencing of the shadow show – they believe that they have achieved an understanding of "reality" – which, of course, is merely the shadows of the actions that are creating the shadows. I see the creation of more jobs and a revitalized economy as but a false (unenlightened) "reality" – the continuing depletion of world resources must surely result in unpleasant realities. This, I believe, is the enlightened reality.

If our long term goals are to improve quality of life, end environmental degradation, resolve social tensions, and stabilize our stock of natural resources then we certainly don't want to increase the difficulty of accomplishing this by increasing jobs – our first priority should be to decrease the difficulty by decreasing the population by 25 million people. The benefits of reducing population seem obvious, but to advocate such would, of course, be political suicide. Looking beyond the obvious is not a strategy that very many of us can come to grips with. It is not easy to act in the interest of future common good when it requires sacrificing some of our present prosperity. Achieving this kind of enlightenment would require instating eyesight into blind eyes.


  1. Actually Democrats have done little and Republicans have nothing to create jobs. Intellectual capital and ideas are the contemporary, competitive business model and making stuff does not and is not going to play a major part in the future United States economy. Really that notion itself is inaccurate, as it’s really becoming an international market where cities and states compete against each other globally not simply countries pitted against one another.

    I think it’s inaccurate at best to suggest Republicans are aware and Democrats are blind to the bigger picture and the long-term implications of our current economic issues. The borrowing and spending approach has been perfected by the Republicans and relies on the use of smoke and mirrors. The past decade says it all. Now Republicans are going to have to decide whether it’s more important to protect special-interest tax breaks for corporations, not to mention big oil and gas, or the national security of the United States.

    The debt limit increase has not really delivered any real cuts in spending. They have merely cut the forecast growth in spending. Since his election President Obama has advocated for removing tax-cuts and that is the only thing he was able to accomplish in the debt ceiling debacle. Congress has meanwhile wasted more tax-dollars and distracted the populace from the reality that the debt is just one of several factors that need to be addressed with their clowning around.

    However as you point out your Republicans and the Tea Partiers rigid ideological positions about the environment, society, social rights, etc. continue to reinforce an inability to think beyond one’s own existence. They are wholly committed to the military industrial complex, protecting rich investors and unregulated businesses, and thereby continue to demonstrate blissful ignorance and a general defiance to face the greater consequences of the complexities that lie before us. Certainly not visionary just armed to bitterly fight for small-minded, self-preservation using mass deception and misinformation.

  2. Lets not forget social conservatives attempts to undermine publicly funded birth control methods of all types... How does one begin to address the problems of population growth without being cruel and inhumane? Are education and access the only methods?

  3. Response to Andrew

    Unless somebody comes up with some kind of significant breakthrough I'm afraid it's going to take government control. I think it will take more than education and access…look at me – I not only have education and access, but concern too – and I've got four kids! As population pressure builds I'm sure things will resolve themselves – but what a shame to do so with perhaps twice the present population sharing perhaps half the present resources. For starters I'd like to see our leaders putting some kind of a target out there (i.e. 400 M, 800 M, a googolplex) just so people start to see that this can't go on forever. Meanwhile I keep drawing away…

  4. "Increased political and financial commitment at the global level to achieving universal access to reproductive health is necessary if there is to be progress, for women and for the planet."

    This excerpt is from The World at Seven Billion: Global Milestone A Reflection of Individual Needs

    In order for policy changes to gain momentum, we have the ability to take action in simple ways such as by supporting related institutes and organizations, writing/calling representatives in congress and voting for political "leaders" who are taking/have taken initiative in this broad arena.