From Jared Diamond's NYT's editorial today:
Other lessons involve failures of group decision-making. There are many reasons why past societies made bad decisions, and thereby failed to solve or even to perceive the problems that would eventually destroy them. One reason involves conflicts of interest, whereby one group within a society (for instance, the pig farmers who caused the worst erosion in medieval Greenland and Iceland) can profit by engaging in practices that damage the rest of society. Another is the pursuit of short-term gains at the expense of long-term survival, as when fishermen overfish the stocks on which their livelihoods ultimately depend.
History also teaches us two deeper lessons about what separates successful societies from those heading toward failure. A society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if the elite insulates itself from the consequences of its actions. That's why Maya kings, Norse Greenlanders and Easter Island chiefs made choices that eventually undermined their societies. They themselves did not begin to feel deprived until they had irreversibly destroyed their landscape.
Could this happen in the United States? It's a thought that often occurs to me here in Los Angeles, when I drive by gated communities, guarded by private security patrols, and filled with people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send their children to private schools. By doing these things, they lose the motivation to support the police force, the municipal water supply, Social Security and public schools. If conditions deteriorate too much for poorer people, gates will not keep the rioters out. Rioters eventually burned the palaces of Maya kings and tore down the statues of Easter Island chiefs; they have also already threatened wealthy districts in Los Angeles twice in recent decades.In contrast, the elite in 17th-century Japan, as in modern Scandinavia and the Netherlands, could not ignore or insulate themselves from broad societal problems. For instance, the Dutch upper class for hundreds of years has been unable to insulate itself from the Netherlands' water management problems for a simple reason: the rich live in the same drained lands below sea level as the poor. If the dikes and pumps keeping out the sea fail, the well-off Dutch know that they will drown along with everybody else.
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I sometimes wonder how people can support lower taxes at at time of record deficits that our children will pay for, or how they can still support Prop. 13 in California (which destroyed the property tax base that California's school system relied upon in exchange for lower property taxes) when it moved California's schools from the best in the world to among the worst in only 20 years. This explains Bush voters and their motivations. Those that pay the cost in bad school systems, or huge national debts, or avoidable and mistaken military misadventures, aren't those that voted for Bush. Schools going to hell? "It is those nasty poor people and their kids. Our kids go to private schools." High unemployment? "Well, the stock market went up and I just made $200K on the sale of my house - tax free!" Dead soldiers in Iraq? "We support the President and our troops. But no, I never served myself, but I love the military and always have." See, they can justify the destructive policies to themselves easily, because it isn't destructive to them.
Oh, and Jesus apparently supports the invasion of Iraq and deficit spending while college funds are cut and the social safety net collapses. Just ask Dr. James Dobson.
"James C. Dobson, the nation's most influential evangelical leader, is threatening to put six potentially vulnerable Democratic senators "in the 'bull's-eye' " if they block conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.
In a letter his aides say is being sent to more than one million of his supporters, Dr. Dobson, the child psychologist and founder of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, promises "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if President Bush fails to appoint "strict constructionist" jurists or if Democrats filibuster to block conservative nominees."
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Interestingly enough for a "strict constructionist" point of view, but he supported the nutbag Alabama Supreme Court jurist that insisted on the ten commandments in the courthouse, despite the evidence of Founding Fathers like Jefferson, who wrote Virginia's "Declaration of Religious Freedom" and would surely have agreed with the court who found the display a violation of the US Constitution's separation of church and state ("Congress shall make NO law respecting... religion, or the free establishment thereof.") Apparently "strict constructionist" applies only when it goes their way, and of course "strict constructionists" ignore the actions of the men who wrote the US Constitution and how they interpreted the document they themselves wrote, seeing it as a flexible document. Marbury v Madison would never have been written by Scalia or Thomas. But who cares? The key is "what would Jesus do?"
In my opinion, having READ THE NEW TESTAMENT, Jesus was as liberal as they come. He fed the masses, spoke of the poor and meek inheriting the earth, cared for the disposesed, was tolerant and loving, spoke of "turning the other cheek," and of course was nailed to a tree by the religious leaders and government leaders of His day for suggesting that we all be nice to each other and be less judgmental. But what do I know? I vote Democrat, so in a "red" state I'm unpatriotic and certainly not a "good" Christian.
But I forgive them, for they know not what they do. And I support their right to be willfully, deliberately ignorant, because I understand what is great about America, and it isn't our land or our wealth or our "Christianity." It is self-government and freedom, freedom even for those who are different from us, whom we don't agree with, whom we don't like.