The Election: Where’s the Leadership?

I submitted the following for consideration as a Letter to the Editor in the Milford Cabinet. I’m not sure it will be printed, so I’m posting it here — I think it reflects, at least in part, some of the thinking behind the Transition Town movement. And implicitly it suggests that our principal focus should be on raising the general consciousness of the citizenry — much more than on trying to get this or that politician elected, at least as far as certain long-term issues are concerned.

An Absence of Leadership on Long-Term Issues

Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law of Triviality? (I first learned of it as the “color of the bicycle shed” effect.) You can look it up for the details, but it boils down to this:

When we face a big, complex, expensive, and difficult problem alongside another that’s relatively trivial and easy to understand, we’ll always ignore the big issues and argue interminably about the little ones.

I think that’s what’s happening in this election year.

An election means making choices about the future. But it’s so easy to think of the future as an extension of the present, only with a few adjustments and improvements. So we argue interminably about what those adjustments and improvements should be and do our best to pretend that no really big changes are in the offing.

But not that far down the road, within the lifetimes of many of us, we are going to see a very different world. And dealing with these changes will require something more than a few adjustments to our present policies and habits.

Here are some of things that the coming decades hold:

  • exponential population growth, perhaps doubling world-wide over the next 6 decades, with myriad social and political repercussions;
  • depletion of oil resources even as demand increases, with an accompanying escalation in the prices of gasoline, home heating oil, and electricity;
  • depletion or degradation of other resources (water, most critically);
  • global warming, first predicted in the 1970s and right on course in 2012 (melting ice caps, sea temperatures rising, and other harbingers of cataclysmic change).

These events, along with many others, will bring enormous challenges to each and every one of us. The dislocations (economic, social, political, and psychological) will be at least as massive as those produced by the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

There may not be a lot that we can do to avert these changes, though we may be able to delay them a little. But more important, we can at least try to prepare ourselves for them.

So why are our political leaders too timid even to mention such matters?

Because they are political poison, of course. We the people just don’t want to think about them. They are way too scary, way too difficult. We too prefer to argue about the correct configuration of the deck chairs on our global Titanic.

Mr. Romney appears to be in denial — equivocating, pandering to his base, and pretending that the future will be secured by bringing so-called sound business practices to managing the federal government. There’s no sign that he has the courage and vision to mobilize the American people to prepare for the inevitable challenges.

Mr. Obama at least hints that he recognizes these long term issues, and he’s even taken action in several important ways. But he too does not dare to propose solutions that might require us Americans to change our lifestyles or make sacrifices. Although he will get my vote, his failure to provide leadership in this area is deeply disappointing.

I recognize that politicians, if they want to be elected, are wary of getting too far out in front of the electorate on difficult issues. We the voters seem to demand that they stick to relatively straightforward, short-term issues. We insist, that is, on obedience to Parkinson’s Law. So I suppose we get what we deserve.

I only wish we deserved strong, thoughtful, far-seeing leadership that would speak the truth to us and energize us to face up to the truly important issues that are coming our way.

Article written by Mike Anderson

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