One often hears “History repeats it’s self.” Have you ever wondered why? Are we stupid? Is it human destiny to make the same mistakes again and again until we destroy everything? Individuals and groups are working on the environmental and social problems we face. They have been doing so for years, spending vast amounts of money and time trying to fix the mistakes and secure the future. Despite their noble efforts, the problems are still here and getting worse. None of the programs seem to work.
There are several factors in play here that cause the failure of these noble efforts. One factor is that the problems we face, and pour so much effort into fixing are symptoms, not causes. Working to fix, mitigate, eliminate the symptoms can only succeed if the cause is addressed.
Another factor is inertia. The problems we face were not created by evil companies, or by a group of villains bent on destroying or dominating the world. They were created by the everyday actions and decisions of billions of people. Changing behaviors on this scale is a rather daunting, if not impossible, task.
The last factor is inherent in the nature of all creatures inhabiting this planet. Individually we all have very short memories, we’re selfish, and we are lazy. These are all survival traits, selected over millions of years of evolution because they work. Short memory allows us to act in situations that are unpleasant or painful. If the females of the species could remember in vivid detail the pain of childbirth, they would certainly be less inclined to repeat it. If we could remember clearly the pain and fear that some of our actions brought we would freeze, and die. Such a species would be rather quickly eliminated from the gene pool. Selfishness and laziness serve similar roles. We only act in ways we perceive to be beneficial to us. And, we only expend as much energy as we need to get what we desire. All effort is linked to some reward. We don’t engage in activities that do not produce rewards, at least not more than once. This mean that we make the decisions we do on a daily basis because they are the least costly (at least the immediate cost) way to get what we want/need. These decisions are not influenced by memories of past pain or knowledge of future pain.
When we combine these factors we can see that the cause of our problems must not only produce the destructive end result we now face, but must also provide some immediate individual benefit. If it didn’t, the billions of people choosing to act on a daily basis would make different choices and the end results would be different. We know this because we can see it in human behavior. We often see individuals who engage in what appears to be destructive behavior over and over again. Attempts to help them by limiting or mitigating the effects of the destructive behavior don’t help. Only getting at the root cause and the linked reward and helping them find a new path to that reward result in any long term change in behavior.
Our first challenge is to find the cause of our problems. Until we can clearly identify the cause we can’t act to solve the problems. The cause must fill several criteria. It must be a driving force in civilization, pushing the civilization to dominance. It must be something that is common to our global civilization, and to the failed civilizations from the past. Even though they were very different culturally and geographically these civilizations collapsed due to the same problems we have created, so the same cause must have been in play. The cause must also produce rewards for the individual in a way that meets the selfishness and laziness characteristics of human nature (immediate low cost benefit), while also producing the destructive results we now face. If we can identify that cause we have some hope of solving our problems before we destroy ourselves. If not…