Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The problem with the world (second try)

A few weeks ago I did a post about the problem with the world and I got one of my best comments ever. It was from Norm and he said that my post lacked substance. He was right. I had some ideas, I threw them together and I posted a sub-par rant that never successfully made a point. Thank you Norm for holding me to a higher standard than that. I'm taking a break from nutrition. I may return at some point.

As I look around me I see a lot of things wrong with the world as a result of the people who live in it. I also see a lot that is right in the world around me, but I chose not to write about that today, I'm in one of those moods. I think that the big point that I'm trying to make today is that many of the world's ills come from one or a small handful of human characteristics that are becoming more predominate. If I could put a word to that characteristic, this blog would be short, but I can't so I'm going to write a little about it. First I liked this comic that is sort of on topic. If you haven't yet, check out the website.

In my previous attempt at this post I wrote about people who will participate in research studies, say they will do something and then not follow through with their commitment. Yes, this is a huge inconvenience for me as a researcher, but I think it extends well beyond that. One of the major problems the world faces is the lack of integrity that is developing. If you give someone your word, it should mean something, in fact, it should mean a lot. I recognize that stuff arises and you have to alter previously made plans and that's fine, but 99.9% of the time if you make a commitment to do something you either need to do it, or not agree to do it in the first place. There's a word that we can put to this problem, lack of integrity.

It goes well beyond that though. Previously, I posted about social capital and how people tend to be isolating themselves. Dr. Putnam wrote a book entitled "Bowling Alone" (I hope to read it someday), that talks about the movement from bowling leagues to a culture where we are bowling alone. There seems to be a movement away from groups and toward individual interest. Of course bowling leagues are only one example. As I walk around campus I see this everywhere. When I attended this University as an undergraduate I could leave a class, find myself walking next to a stranger and start a conversation. I could gain some social capital and meet a new person. Today on my walk to stats class I could probably count one hand the number of people who weren't talking on a cell phone, listening to an i-pod or talking with friends they already had. Cell phones, i-pods and friends aren't bad things, but they prevent me from talking with new people because people tend to stick with the familiar or isolate themselves. OK, I'll stick another word onto what I think is contributing to the ills of the world...isolation.

One of the huge ills of the world is the Jones family. Everyone is trying to keep up with them and we have to have more. The country seems to be moving toward recycling, which is a good thing... sort of. I think the recycling program had three parts (you know the symbol with the three arrows going in a triangle): reduce, reuse recycle. Recycling is good, but reducing (not buying the junk in the first place) and reusing (opposed to replacing) are far better. Wal-mart is trying hard to make a "green" impression (and I am impressed with some of their efforts), but they really wouldn't like it if people really started following the other two parts of the recycling program. Our country is driven by consumption and I think it's leading us in the wrong way. Consumerism, that's another word that explains the ills of the country.

I have a lot more ideas, but I'm afraid that only two people are still reading at this point, so I'm going to conclude. I think the common denominator of all those things is selfishness to some degree. I don't keep my word because I can do better things with my time. I don't talk with new people because I like my friends. I don't share rides or tools because I need my own for my convenience. I don't think that we should go back to the dark ages, but maybe we should take a step back to pre-school when we learned to share.

Thank you Norm for having the nerve to not put up with mediocre writing. I hope this better explains the ills of the world. I realize that it differs greatly from the last time I attempted to write on this topic. That is because it wasn't thought through enough. This is what I really meant. Most of the ills of the world are centered around selfishness in some way or another.


Anonymous said...

Great post. You nailed some of the key problems in a clear and concise manner.

But...and here's the one I've been mulling... how to fix the problem?

Here's the solutions I've come up with so far.
1. ban advertising. All of it. Everywhere. Advertising, in my opinion, (which along with $5 will buy you a beer), is the single biggest driver to the "keeping up with the Jones" problem.
2. get people out of private cars. In my opinion (see disclaimer above) the most effective way to do this would be to significantly raise the price of fuel. But this would only work if the money raised were pumped back into alternate modes of transporation for people, like car sharing schemes, bike lanes, public transit (I prefer trains over buses myself).

But the above don't tackle the i-pod / cell phone problem. I'm still wrestling with those.

Any ideas?

Emily said...

You brought up some intersting ideas. I think you are most frustrated because you are a student working with other students. We know for a fact that students are at an age where they are self absorbed and oblivious to anyone but themselves and their friends. Thats part of the culture of the age group.
While I have worked at Pop Copy, I have actually been mighty impressed by the integrity of most people. It is a common occurance for people to leave their credit cards in our machines. I have never had an instance where the card wasn't turned in by a complete stranger. Usually the card owner will call us on the phone, frantic to find their credit card, and be pleasantly suprised when we tell them someone turned it in and it is being kept in our safe.
On the other hand, it is those few who do not have integrity, that cause me to get the most frustrated at work. There are people who lie and cheat, but for the most part, people are honest and expect that others aren't.
That is what I have observed in the world of retail and commerce.

Emily said...

One more thing.....I heard that people are becoming less and less chatty and personable in the world, but as a result, they are drawing closer to family members instead of outside acquaintances. Do I think its annoying that jim bob talks on his cell in the grocery store? Yes. But, if he is talking to family, then I guess I don't mind so much.
Technology isn't making us grow farther apart, but its changing the way we communicate and relate to others. Just wait till next year when the generation that starts college is the generation that grew up on the internet. Times are a changing.

Emily said...

Oh...and about the Jones family...well...I've had enough of them. In the seattle area, everyone drives nice big cars. That annoys the heck out of me. I think it is important for society to pull away from the rat race and gain perspective every once in awhile. We have the gospel, which gives us perspective. Others dont have that, and with the emergence of creditors that will give you what you want, self control is the problem. If I don't feel good about who I am and what i do, i want to buy. I deserve it.

Memily said...

P.S. G. don't take offense to this okay? You sound like you have been working to hard and you need a break. Anyone who spends that much time away from his family is going to find that he feels like the world is selfish. I'm not saying you are selfish because you are the opposite, but you might think about how your time away from your family effects your feelings of isolation.

Phil said...

Good post, I often feel the same way, but I think the "keeping up with the Jones" is almost an instinctual thing. Even when you look at developing economies like Nigeria, India and China, you quickly see people buying luxury cars to show off their wealth.

Almost all of my friends are the typical "buy a nice car and big house to keep up" type people, and they question why I drive a beat up old used car, don't wear nice clothes and live in a small house when I make more then them. But instead of getting annoyed with them bragging about their sports cars and fancy watches, I really take pleasure in how happy I can be with simplicity.

I was reading a book about people who got wealthy starting successful companies, and one of the people mentioned how he still lives in a modest apartment and eats fast food despite being a multi millionaire. His point was that as soon as you start living the lush live you no longer appreciate it, and this is so true. Middle class people are buying BMW's on credit now to show off their bling. But now they have nothing to work for. Having a nice car means little once you own one.

So while the consumerism may be a problem with the world, there's no sense in getting angry with it, just take joy in the fact that you can appreciate the simple life.

Chad said...

About a month ago one of the readers of my blog wrote to me and told me that he had been riding his bike to work all winter because I do. The story goes that one particularly cold morning his wife saw him suiting up for a ride and asked him what he was doing. After telling her he was riding to work and she asked why, he replied “Because Chad does it.” Apparently I had inspired him to make a lifestyle change.

Several months ago I read your ‘Social Capital’ entry and felt the ring of truth. I checked Bowling Alone out from the library, thumbed through the pages, looked at the charts and read the captions. Then I decided not to read it. It was too thick. Instead, I would use the time I could have spent reading it making new friends in a bowling league. I recruited some guys from my office, found a league and signed us up. As bowlers, we’re terrible, but we have managed to win a few games. More importantly, we’ve managed to develop friendships with some of the other bowlers in the league, most of whom are in very different social and economic classes than us. I want you to know you inspired me to join the league.

Those are just two examples of people making small choices to improve things for all of us. It’s small but it’s progress. Don’t lose hope because you see so many problems with the world. By unselfishly sharing your feelings and impressions, you have corrected some of the ills of which you write. We just need to find a way to get more people to think about the consequences of the choices thy make.