Wednesday, November 7, 2012


It is no accident that technology advances exponentially. We humans are clever in applying learning in novel ways to solve increasingly complex challenges. Perhaps our greatest challenge going forward is learning how to live with this acceleration. Scientists are discovering that our children's brains are being fundamentally rewired in how they learn, what they learn and how they manipulate these new tools into a world I couldn't have imagined as a youngster.

And yet I did imagine it, and so did others. Twenty years ago I wondered aloud one day where were all those 'cars of the future' I saw in Popular Mechanics. Now I look around and see them everywhere (okay, I still don't have my flying car, but I remain optimistic). In fiction, Captain Nemo, Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy preceded Gene Roddenberry's Kirk and Spock, predicting 4G cell phones, medical diagnostics, voice actuated equipment, satellite navigation systems, e books, tablet computers. These were delivered by scientists inspired as children to ask, 'why not?' and refusing to take no for an answer.

The problem is that all these quantum advances scientifically aren't designed to work well with the linear evolution of us as human animals. We've transmogrified from hunter-gathers of food, shelter and clothing into hunter-gatherers of data, comfort and entertainment. Our girth (physically and in our credit card statements) reflects our appetites both literally and figuratively and the trends aren't showing much chance of improvement anytime soon.

It may be that this political election season just concluded is illustrative of the disconnect between the linear and the quantum side of human evolution. The majority of voting citizens re-elected a liberal, multi-ethnic president with Hussein as a middle name over a conservative, rich, white, Mormon. Convincingly in the electoral college, marginally in the popular vote, but substantially in the direction in which the country is headed culturally. That the Grand Old Party is on the verge of becoming the Grand Obsolete Party is startling to  the party faithful mainly because they simply could not (and for many still do not) see the forest for the trees. The signs of change have been apparent to demographers for decades, but the mostly old, white, rich men that direct the party have sequestered themselves in an isolated echo chamber where they hear only what they wish to hear as told to them by only those to whom they wish to listen. (An excellent analysis of this phenomenon can be found here.)

Personally, I think the tipping point has been reached, and the brittle rhetoric of theocratic underpinnings for governance is increasingly rejected as harsh, doctrinaire and unresponsive to the greater needs of a plural society. A society that was founded on the absence of church doctrine in governance, and a system of justice blind (and therefore not beholden) to race, religion, social status and financial means. In the two plus centuries since our Founders cobbled together this nation, each step toward the perfection of the union has been a struggle. In the beginning they couldn't even agree to outlaw slavery and it took over two hundred years for a person of color to ascend to the highest office, and we have yet to elect a woman. Women's rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, and whatever oppressive practices we continue to fight were, and are, ongoing struggles to adapt to change. The reins of power are changing from the Baby Boomers to the Next Gen, and each transition meets resistance and disbelief from the old guards.

Coming to grips with the velocity of change, reexamining our basic assumptions about who and what we are as a nation, and stepping back from the hollow grandiloquence of insisting the old ways are the only ways will be essential moving forward. Wallowing in self-pity and bemoaning the fate of the Union at the election results is delusional. Each time we come together to vote as a nation we tell our leaders where and how we wish to advance our grand experiment called the United States. To the extent our leaders cling to broken models and irrelevant posturing forestalls the inevitable. Conservatives wishing to have a seat at the table going forward need new leadership that understands function must drive form, that making reasonable compromises doesn't equate to 'my way or the highway', nor does it equal moral equivocation. Not even the church still thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, so let's roll up our sleeves and get to work on what needs to be done to plan for the future, for however much some among us might wish it, the past has passed and a new paradigm calls for fresh thinking. As my fourth grade teacher used to say, "Let's put our thinking caps on, shall we?"

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