27 September 2008

Conspiracy to distract - or just too much information?

Peter W Galbraith writes:
John McCain proclaims his goal [in Iraq]to be victory and says we are now winning in Iraq .... He considers victory to be an Iraq that is "a democratic ally." George W. Bush has defined victory as a unified, democratic, and stable Iraq. Neither man explained how he will transform Iraq's ruling theocrats into democrats, diminish Iran's vast influence in Baghdad, or reconcile Kurds and Sunnis to Iraq's new order. Remarkably, neither the Democrats nor the press has challenged them to do so. Is This a 'Victory'?
Is there too much information about? Do we miss the forest for the trees? It's easier to believe not so much that there is a conspiracy to keep us focused on the celebrities, sport or petty politics, but that, being ceaselessly bombarded with information and entertainment, we lose perspective. That goes not only for ourselves as citizens and voters, but perhaps also for the decision makers and the media. The Democrats and the press have little incentive to focus on what's important, because that's not we, as voters, are urging them to do, even supposing they do have the capacity. With our shrinking attention spans, and the sheer volume of information and entertainment available, we tend to focus on the immediate, the visual, and, often, the trivial. Disasters that are too slow moving or too complex for the visual media - the unravelling of our financial system, nuclear proliferation, for instance - cannot compete with the proverbial skate-boarding rhinoceros or the religious beliefs of would-be political leaders.

One way a Social Policy Bond regime would be an improvement over the current system is that it would focus our resources, if not our constant attention, on what is important. We can all understand outcomes, even if we don't know how to reach them. Indeed, we cannot be expected to know how to achieve them, because that often takes a long time and is rarely amenable to a single, simple, predictable approach. Experimentation, the exploration of alternatives, the termination of failed methods: all these are essential to finding the best solutions to our social and environmental problems. Under a bond regime, we might still follow trivial issues, but most of our scarce resources would be channeled into achieving social goals. Right from the outset, and at every time thereafter until they are achieved, we'd know exactly what those goals are.

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