Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Responsibility and Power

If, as in my version of an ideal world, every person and organization took full responsibility for their impact on each other and other species, including those in the future, it is safe to say that the human enterprise would slow to a crawl, contract in scale to an extremely modest level, or both.

I've done a lot of studying so I can begin to grasp the scope of my own impact. I suspect that this alone puts me in the minority, at least in terms of motivation. Yet I'm only now becoming aware of the outlines of my impact, and am still hard-pressed to make more than modest adjustments to my behavior. Much of what I study is work done by others, typically from academic science; if I limited my activities to things I had direct experience or knowledge of, I might be forced by my ignorance to live a much more primitive existence.

One of the advantages of living in a community, as I've said many times, is compensating for each other's weaknesses, one being our lack of knowledge. When I read, I'm relying on part of the larger community of people who have collected, distilled, and disseminated their experience, and lessons from it, in a usable form. A fundamental duty of being part of a community is to share our own experience and insights, which I try to do with my writing. Another advantage of being in a community is the use of social pressure to encourage some behaviors and discourage others, when it would be inefficient or impractical to educate us about the impact of our actions in appropriate time.

If we try to opt out of being in community with others, we risk increasing the amount of harm (or decreasing the mount of good) we might do to them, ourselves, and future generations, not to mention the other forms of life that interact to keep the world livable for all. Social pressure helps to mitigate this risk if we are still physically (if not intentionally acting as) part of a community. If we are successfully able to dampen that pressure, then we are a threat to the extent of our personal power, and some other way must be found to either educate us or limit our power to a safe level.

When as a global community we are not unwilling or incapable of discharging our responsibilities, then it is incumbent on us to find a way to do so, even if it means reducing our collective power over the world. If we don't do so, then the many variables we can't control will eventually lead to a blunt reduction of our power through population decline, which is failure by definition.