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What's the Opposite of Triage?

impact.jpgI've been thinking quite a bit lately about how we make long-term decisions. The trite reply of "poorly" is perhaps correct, but only underscores the necessity of coming up with reliable (or, at least, trustable) mechanisms for thinking about the very long tomorrow. Many of the biggest crises likely to face human civilization in the 21st century have important long-term characteristics, and our relative inability to think in both complex and actionable ways about slow processes may be our fundamental problem.

Whether we're talking about asteroid impact, global warming, introduction of engineered self-replicating devices (biotech or nanotech) into the environment, or radical longevity, we seem stuck in the mindset that says "if it's not a squeaky wheel, it gets no grease." It's a triage mentality -- we're dealing with bloody, awful problems right here and right now, and something that won't affect us for decades is something we can ignore for the moment. The thing is, these aren't the kinds of problems where the cause and the effect happen close together, and they're not the kinds of problems that can be dealt with quickly. If we wait until they're the bloody, awful problems of right here and right now, it's far too late. So why is it so hard to think in the long term?

Our brains evolved in conditions where individuals would likely live just a few decades, and some of the explanation for why it's so hard for us to think long-term comes from that. We may not be wired to do so easily, and teaching ourselves to think creatively about the future might be as difficult as training any other kind of behavior that runs against biological pressures. If this is so, it would suggest that long-term thinkers may end up a kind of "monk," disconnected from the everyday world, potentially given respect and support but rarely completely understood by society at large.

It could also be a function of the relatively rapid pace of technological innovation. This would have two big repercussions: the first is that we become accustomed to thinking of present-day problems as simply being a matter of engineering -- we may not be able to do X now, but surely we'll come up with a way to do it cheaply and easily in The Future, so why worry?; the second is that we are often burned by attempts to "predict" the future of technology, and find the pace of change a bit overwhelming. If so, this suggests that better thinking about longer-term problems is a process issue, and a better methodology would potentially work well.

A lot to mull on here, and I don't have good answers yet.


Part of the way I understand this is the veto effect.

Consider it on the individual level. Most of the time, as I get older, many of my actions are locked in. I don't think as much about seemingly minor decisions I make, even if I should.

However, if I become aware of a warning sign -- (huffing and puffing, time to get more excercise?) I can choose to step back and start to veto those unconcious decisions, even if they take me out of a comfort zone.

Or, not. Ignore the warnings and stroll along.

So, I can veto my own bad practices. I have domain.

At the level of general society, how can bad cultural patterns, memes, decisions, be vetoed? What reinforces them?

Opposite of triage is everybody is treated all at once. Adequacy (plus?) is the opposite of scarcity.

Buckminster Fuller talked about bare maximum rather than bare minimum which, in my understanding, means something more than subsistence and less than luxury sorta kinda like satisficing, if you will. Maybe that's a place to start with the material needs.

Gary Sniyder in "Four Changes" (see _Turtle Island_ ) wrote in 1969:

"A monk and an old master were once walking in the mountains. They noticed a little hut uupstream. The Monk said, 'A wise hermit must live there' - the master said, 'That's no wise hermit, you see that lettuce leaf floating down the stream, he's a Waster.' Just then an old man came running down the hill with his beard flying and caught the floating lettuce leaf."

there's another image from "Four Changes" that has always stuck with me:

"Computer technicains who run the plant part of the year and walk along with the Elk in their migrations during the rest."

Those seem to me ways of life that will allow for maximum survivability in case of most emergencies.

Personally, I do small scale solar and try to think about devices and technics that will work from the refugee camp on up.

'Human Instinct' by Robert Winston might be worth skimming... he talks about how what we were affects what we are. I think that's a parallel path, if not the same path, you started on with this post...

I'm toying with the idea that we are temporal creatures. Toying, mind you.

Personally, it seems to me that you are on the right track. And I think that mass media may magnify that effect, which would explain that even with massive moves toward pointing out that a lot of things could happen tomorrow, people still do not see it seriously.

And yes, I am pondering what the reverse of triage would be. That's a wonderful, thought provoking phrase. I have to really think on that.

A lot to mull about, indeed.



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