UNSOLICITED WORDS OF ADVICE INSTALLMENT #18

Those who claim that the end is nigh – today it’s anthropogenic global warming that’s most widely thought is going to do us in – are aware, are they not, that the world is going to come to an end sometime. Either it’ll be the universe having so expanded that we’ll freeze to death, or we’ll all be fried when it implodes upon itself, or the sun will burn itself out, or a planet-killer asteroid …

That’s very different, of course, from its coming to an end “e’er this generation shall come to pass”. No one today cares one whit about the end of the world a billion years hence. But here’s the mystery. People are precisely as indifferent to its coming to an end a million years hence, notwithstanding that the latter is a thousand times more immanent than the former. Yet another thousand times more immanent would be the world ending a thousand years hence, and yet people care about the year 3017, if at all, only a nano-whit more than they do about the year 1,003,017.

All this is explained by two considerata. First, each of us has an epoch of interest, and that interest dissipates as it’s projected future-ward. And second, the principle of diminishing utility (or PDU) instructs us to take note that the return on “the best laid plans of mice and men” becomes less certain with each possible actus novus interveniens. Both of these constituents in our decision-protocols have been naturally selected for. And we should be grateful that they have.

And the same is true of our moral weightings. Future generations and distant people matter less than proximal ones. Black lives matter, but if we’re white they matter less. My suffering matters, yours a bit less, theirs less still, and theirs over there hardly at all. And so on.

End of the world prophets would do well to remember this. There’s a reason why most of us Nero’s are fiddling while Rome burns. To get us to man the bucket brigade you’re going to have to do something to reverse, or at least neutralize, the effects of these two perfectly legitimate decision-vectors.

And calling us names just ain’t gonna do it. You’ve got to get down and dirty, and talk to us not as children, taking as given that “father knows best”, but as one equal to another. You do not know something we don’t know. You do not have cares that we don’t share. If anything we have cares that you don’t share. And that’s a problem. You’re a talking head, and from our perspective, well paid for it. We’re just bread-winners of families.

You’re right. Out here in the oil patch, or out here on the farm, whether we drill or not, or whether we fertilize or not, we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. But we do have to worry about paying for Ricky’s hockey equipment, or Melissa’s ballet lessons. No one kills himself out of hunger. People kill themselves over failure. Failure to provide the non-essentials of life? Yes, precisely over those. That’s what you’re up against. And until you have a beer with that father of young children, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!”

Wanna know how to get people to man the bucket brigade? Stop talking and start listening. And start reading about “How to Make Friends and Influence People”. There’s a whole lot of wisdom that’s been accumulated over the past two or three millennia about how to solve a collective action problem. Claiming the high ground is precisely what that wisdom teaches you not to do.

You know that good counsel is out there. If you don’t want to follow it it means there’s something else driving you, and it’s not saving the world. Something others can see even if you can’t. Or choose not to. It’s about you. Which, given those dual aforementioned vectors, is perfectly understandable. It’s just that those vectors are at play on everyone else’s priorities too. And the sad fact is that you’re just not all that important to most of them.

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