08 January 2019

Climate change, war and celibacy

Why do wars happen? Why do crime rates go up and down? The answers to these and other complex social and environmental questions are many and varied. What about climate change? It appears that it is most probably caused by mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. But not definitely - and that uncertainty partly explains why, despite all the conferences, treaties, entreaties, agreements and commitments, our greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels.

I think we face these challenges using outdated thinking. For historical reasons, policymaking is almost entirely a top-down activity. Politicians and public servants see a problem, try to identify its causes, then decide what needs to be done about them. If they aren't certain what needs to be done, either they guess at the causes or ignore the problem. 'Ignoring' takes the usual costly bureaucratic forms: setting up bodies, forming committees, holding meetings, and generating worthy but useless reports and agreements.

The problem is that no single body can identify the causes of such problems as war or crime or even climate change, and then work on them in the ways that used to work on more obvious social and environmental problems. Our biggest and most urgent problems are too diverse, and their causes change to rapidly, for the old ways of making policy to address them adequately.

The question then becomes: do we need to identify a problem's root causes before we try to solve it?

John Michael Greer asks why celibacy fosters the long-term survival of monastic systems:
Perhaps celibacy works because it prevents sexual jealousies from spinning out of control, as they so often do in the hothouse environment of communal living. Perhaps celibacy works because pair bonds between lovers are the most potent source of the private loyalties that so often distract members of communal groups from their loyalty to the project as a whole. Perhaps celibacy works because all that creative energy has to go somewhere — the Shakers birthed an astonishing range of artistic and creative endeavors.... Perhaps it’s some other reason entirely. The point that needs to be kept in mind, though, is that in a monastic setting, celibacy works, and many other ways of managing human sexuality in that setting pretty reliably don’t. The question “does x happen?” is logically distinct from the question “why does x happen?” It’s possible to be utterly correct about the fact that something is the case while being just as utterly clueless about the reasons why it is the case. (My italics.) After Progress, John Michael Greer, 2015
So, do we really need to identify the causes of climate change or war or crime, before we try to eliminate them? I don't think we do (and, incidentally, I don't think we can, definitively).

I suggest that instead of opting, in effect, for inaction by sending people off on a fruitless, never-ending search for 'root causes', we take steps to reward the solution of these complex problems, and let a motivated coalition work out the most efficient ways of solving them, whether or not such ways have anything to do with root causes.

Social Policy Bonds are a way in which we can do this. The bonds would target outcomes, rather than the alleged means of achieving them. Instead of targeting climate change, they would target for reduction the negative impacts of adverse climate events on human, animal and plant life. Instead of trying (or pretending to try) to prevent conflict in Africa or the Middle East, a Social Policy Bond regime would target for reduction the numbers of people killed and made homeless in those regions and reward whoever achieves and sustains such reductions. Complex social and environmental problems require diverse, adaptive approaches for their solution. They don't require that we identify their real or mythical 'root causes' before doing anything. By contracting out the achievement of solutions to a motivated coalition of holders of Social Policy Bonds, we could avoid endless searches for nebulous root causes and instead devote our energies to finding solutions to the problems they create.

For more about my approach to climate change see other posts on this blog, or this essay. For more about my approach to achieving peace, follow this link.

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