Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Throughout the weeks, and sometimes months, that I don't come to this spot and share my life's activities with you, I try to set interesting ideas and thoughts aside in my mind for sharing here. When I finally get back here to share something, they're usually all gone, and I end up doing a re-cap of the activities, without any thoughts or feelings shared.

No remedy here, just noting what happened again this morning.

One major exception. I have been struggling to grasp the number of living, thinking, feeling creatures on this planet, let alone what might be beyond. Last year Time magazine had a one page filler article that listed the sales of specific products in the world by day. I tore the page out and posted it on my office wall, and almost every day would find myself trying to bring those numbers into my head and get comfortable with them. They were things like 15,000 bottles of one vineyards specific zinfandel, or 36 Porsches, hundreds of thousands of cans of certain types of beer.

Theoretically 5 to 6 billion people is no trouble. Sure. Large population masses, social behavior on grand scales, nations and their conflicts, religious groups and their disagreements, at this conceptual level my mind relaxes and can cruise through. But when I try to think of 60 thousand people getting together to watch an athletic event, or 11 million sitting in bed or on a couch at the same time to watch the same television program, or 100 thousand people wiped out by a wall of water, or 500 million parents picking up babies and worrying about feeding them, or thousands of individuals getting angry for different or the same reasons and striking each other. This is the stuff I can't open up and examine. Getting on a plane, seeing 100 faces that are all headed somewhere, for so many reasons, each with its own complex process of arriving at a decision, based on 1 to 90 years of experience leading up to their being on that plane.

I haven;t been able to do it. I can't sidle up to all that information, I find myself zooming out, back to the conceptual level or experiencing the more basic blind spot to this sort of data overload.

For two reasons, I keep returning, trying to find something. The first reason I think has to do with the challenge. This is a new sensation, where I feel separate from my computing power, and am observing the struggle from some other position.

The second is that there is a problem with all these people, and it needs to be fixed. And I want to find that solution. (Disclaimer, as this has distracted some I have talked this over with. I do not need to be the source of the solution, the source of the idea, the recipient of credit, etc. But this is what I want to work towards. It's a variation of the fixer complex, but in this case I want to see this problem fixed, and I want to be involved.)

The problem is that we have 6 billion people. (all these numbers are going to be very rounded.) And a good half of those are under educated, under fed, mis treated.

There are many people who dedicate their intellectual or physical pursuits to solving parts of this problem. They help victims of natural and people-driven disasters. They help feed, clothe, medicate, protect, and educate groups of people. They protest the destructive impulses of large groups of people. They make sacrifices for these things, and change many lives for the better.

But what they are up against is a crushing force of violent, negative, and greedy people in huge numbers.

There is a problem, and an opportunity. Using that guess of 3 billion above: We have as an asset, 3 billion human beings. Each with a mind, a heart, and an opposable thumb. I read a number of years ago that if the Sudan alone was cultivated into farm land, that piece of land would produce sufficient food for the entire globe. I'm sure that is out of date now, but I believe that feeding every being on the planet is not a challenge, or a strain on the planet's resources. It simply is not a priority for the other 3 billion.

I don't believe in giving people something for nothing. Not because I begrudge sharing the fruits of my labors with someone who is not working, though I certainly understand that emotional response and have experienced it myself. I think that receiving something for nothing is bad for the soul. (I would take exception to this for things like Grace, but for another time.) I believe a person derives their sense of self worth through their contribution. These contributions take all manner of shape and form; contributing food, art, love, friendship, ideas. People do not feel good if their only contribution is need.

And this comes down to their self perception.

So the problem is both to gainfully employ, by whatever standard each individual needs to be for their self perception to be healthy, these 3 billion individuals. (Two asides: 1) I do not limit this to those 3 billion, there could be great cases made that the currently active, and well fed half of the world could do with some serious re-purposing. 2) I don't accept the arguments that the world is overpopulated, full stop. That may be the case, but this is pulling the discussion away from a solution, and focusing on a symptom.)

Think of the cost to feed, clothe, house, and educate these 3 billion.

Now think of what 3 billion people could produce. This gets us back to my shortcomings at the micro-level. First think of what you could do with 20 skilled people. That is a solid software company, a decent engineering firm, a very well staffed kitchen, and in some cases 5 decently sized farms. Now think of 2,000 people, educated and motivated. Even at this point my head starts to hurt.

Let's guess that it would take 25% of the efforts of those 3 billion to feed/clothe/house/educate the full number. That may be high, it may be half the amount, change that number to whatever makes you comfortable to proceed. I don't think an argument can be made that it would ever be greater than 50%. (Keep the damn military budgets out of this. Another symptom.)

With this huge amount of productivity, what is being produced?

What is the goal? And very importantly, what types of education will get there.

Now lets drop the us and them. Honestly, what's the goal for all 6 billion of us?

I strongly feel that success here is not having 6 billion producing refrigerators, tvs, computers, and entertainment for each other. I may be wrong, but it makes my chest hurt to think that is the pinnacle for humans.

Is it exploration of the universe? Turning the planet into a well manicured, preserved, safe environment for all? Extending life spans, or working towards a departure as a species from our corporeal restrictions? I have no idea. Because it is not only the task of finding a direction to head as a species, it's also determining the necessary steps to redirect, and compel each individual mind and heart to participate.

I don't know if the process is the solution, or if the solution is the goal.

But we have incredible abilities, as individuals, and as a species. We have a huge number of us, and if we make it a priority, a little work can bring a huge additional amount of potential online.

To make it a priority, I believe the need for those resources is the only thing that will drive this. So, what can we do, what do we need to do, that will take every man woman and child on this planet to play an important role in?

Think huge.

And get back to me. Even with two children who aren't fans of sleeping, and an inordinate number of things on my plate each day, I lose sleep over this.

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