The Illusion of Relevance


I’m not a big fan of the human intellect.      In fact I think one of the most obvious points in science – too rarely addressed – is how inadequately evolution has prepared us for the challenges of modern technological times.     A simple example is the fact many of us eat too much, and die early from diseases that we’d rarely get if we maintained a healthy lifestyle of modest calorie intake and modest exercise.

Every year *billions* of life years are lost simply due to minor deviations from our evolutionary designed healthy lifestyle recipe.   This is not to suggest that recipe of modest calorie intake + modest exercise is a health panacea, but those two factors dwarf most others in the developed world.    Poor countries, on the other hand, suffer more from *too few” calories and vices like smoking, war, and poor health standards.      In fact it is in this arena where humanity could have a stunning impact on raising the standard of living for about a billion people with a modest investments in health, water, and infrastructure.

Yet a combination of dictatorial regimes, inept bureaucracies, human ignorance among the victims, and widespread indifference from the affluent countries condemns an extraordinary number of people to a lifetime of relatively poor health and poverty.

What does this have to do with the illusion of relevance?     I think one aspect of our intellectual inadequacy is that we often assign importance to the wrong things.      Why is the death of Michael Jackson so much more interesting to so many than the deaths of some 125,000 children that have happened since Jackson’s untimely demise?   Every week sees hundreds of thousands die – often painfully and miserably – from diseases like malaria, rotoviruses, and malnutrition that are all easily preventable at relatively low cost.     This is NOT to suggest the people dying do not have responsibilities here – they do and I think a key component of bringing higher global health standards is to treat parents in the third world more harshly when they ignore the needs of their children in favor of their own bad habits and bad decisions.   Political correctness prevents using some marketing tactics that might prove effective in combating the profound, pervasive ignorance that often creates irrational aversion to great programs like vaccinations, health, condoms, schooling for girls, and other standard western rights that are currently beyond the grasp of so many in the developing world.

The tragic circumstances of the third world are not generally our *fault* as suggested by the naive who fail to see that it is the *lack of US participation*, not the presence of it, that has condemned so many poor economies to failure.

Still, solving these problems remains a large part of our *responsibility* as global citizens.    Partly due to the moral imperatives that are a product of the worldview most of us share but I think more importantly simply because we *can* solve these problems if we can extract ourselves from the foolish concerns that plague so many otherwise intelligent people.

More importantly, solving these problems requires us to dispense with the illusion of relevance about so many topics that have so little meaning to the collective humanity.     Britney Spears news vs Clean water for a billion people news.

You decide.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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5 Responses to The Illusion of Relevance

  1. leland stamper says:

    Raising the standard of living without some type of population control is an obvious lost cause. – Why is Michael Jackson more interesting than 125,000 other people that have recently died? People feel like they know MJ on a personal level. The other dead people, never heard of them. MJ is a marketable commodity, the other 125,000 are not so valuable. Britney Spears or clean water for a billion people. The people choose Britney. Why? Britney provides entertainment, the billion people provide what? A reminder of how guilty we should feel? Not saying it’s right or wrong, just the way it is. File it under “human nature”.

    • JoeDuck says:

      Raising the standard of living without some type of population control is an obvious lost cause

      Raising standards is one of the BEST forms of population control! The idea of “feed and breed” has been totally discredited for a long time but it persists because folks don’t look it up. I’d encourage you to look into this as it’s one of the great myths that lead to inaction.

      Although I do think we should feel responsibility to help out I agree that guilt may not be a good motivator, so I’m open to alernatives. One reason I like Obama is that he manages to make appeals to the bright side of human nature without pushing the guilt stuff on people.

  2. leland stamper says:

    Human population has more than quadrupled since 1900. A major part of that is due to a huge increase in food supply. Not a myth. The standard of living for most of the planets population will not increase until reproduction is at least stabilized. We are way past the point where an increased birthrate is beneficial.

  3. horatiox says:

    Britney Spears news vs Clean water for a billion people news.

    Say grazi to the corporate media–CBS, MS-NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, etc. as well as blogland really–for keeping the celebrity hype flowing. Water, drought, energy issues, economic crisis and so forth don’t have much appeal for Consumerland: inquiring minds want the latest news on Britney, Jacko, Pitt n Jolie, hot mafia housewives, Star Trek Inc., Bon Jovi news, etc.– which is to say, they crave Simulacra.

  4. You’ve touched on one of the great questions, Joe. Having spent a great deal of time trying to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Congo, I’ve seen how difficult it is to get people to care about six million dead from conflict that’s dragged on for fifteen years. Looking at it objectively, I’ve come to the a few conclusions about the way our minds work when confronted with these kinds of horrors:
    1. Those people on the other side of the world don’t have anything to do with my life, so why should I care?
    2. They’ve probably been doing it to each other for thousands of years, so how can they be stopped?
    3. They’re ignorant, dirty savages, so why does it matter what happens to them?
    4. Even if I cared, I’m just one guy, so what could I do about it?
    I can (and have) answered all those questions, Joe, but they are really all just rationalizations for the human tendencies to look out for number one and always seek the easy route. I don’t have to mentally face my unwillingness or inability to do something about a billion people without water when I can occupy my mind with the minutiae of Michael Jackson’s funeral arrangements.

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