Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Oh yeah! That's the title of a great old Clint Eastwood movie dating back to 1966. It was an Italian western, dubbed back in those days, a "Spaghetti Western." The theme song may have been the most popular part of the movie. It's not only recognizable, but also haunting.

Well, this post isn't about the movie. Actually, I may use the title as a recurring theme from time to time, so don't be surprised if you see it again. However, the content will be different. The content will be about things I find good, bad and ugly in our world, country and society. For some reason I find that while most people are inherently good, the "devices" of human kind can be twisted from good to bad and sometimes to flat out ugly. It, of course, all depends on the individual perspective.

You may not agree with me on all my points and that's good, I don't even mind if you want to share your opinion in the comments. Just do it civilly, don't be bad and turn things ugly. So, here go a few things that just happen to be on my mind today.

The Good

Technology is good. Remembering our history, humans have continually found ways to progress from the Stone Age through the Iron Age through the Bronze Age and right on through the agricultural age, the industrial age, the information age and now the digital age. As the old cigarette commercial for Virginia Slims (not part of the good, by the way) went, "You've come a long way, baby!"

Technology has turned the world into a neighborhood of sorts with efficient air transportation, high-speed trains and huge tanker and container ships. Communications have improved to where we can literally talk, text and email friends, family and business associates around the world for virtually nothing or very little expense.

Movies, television shows, radio and music are international in scope.

And computers have gone from huge machines requiring rooms to house them to small tablet computing devices and smart phones, even the Dick Tracy (for those readers old enough to remember the Dick Tracy comic strip) wrist two way radio is becoming a reality. And, digital technology, the basis for all computing devices, now is the foundation and pulse of just about every field of human endeavor including art, music, TV, radio, medicine, transportation of every kind, manufacturing, accounting, marketing our homes and offices and it keeps expanding.

In general, we live better, healthier (with some caveats) and longer (also with some caveats) then ever before. From what I understand, the first human who will live to the age of 150 has been born and the technology to make it possible for a human to live for a thousand years is in development. Who could have ever imagined all this, even 50 or 60 years ago when I was a child and teenager? I was pretty amazed when I installed ham radio equipment in my vehicles that allowed me to, literally, communicate with people around the world while driving on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey or the New York State Thruway in New York.

This, I see as the Good.

The Bad

The bad that has happened, from my humble perspective, is that we have increased the population of the U.S. from 150,000,000 in 1950 when I was 5 years old to more than 317,000,000 as of the time I'm writing this post. That's an increase of 167,000,000 people in just less than 64 years. But, consider this. The population of the entire planet in 1927 hit the 2,000,000,000 mark and today it is in excess of 7,130,000,000. It took from the beginning of the human being's existence on the planet to 1927 (probably an estimated 100,000 plus years to reach the 2,000,000,000 point and only another 86 years to increase by more than 2.5 times.

I say this is bad because the exponential growth of the U.S. and world population is countered by the even more rapid acceleration of what technology is doing for our world. Exactly what is technology doing? Exactly what I stated in the Good section of this post. The real clear illustration of this factor was the recent "Great Recession" we're supposedly recovering from (that just happens to be the slowest recovery in the history of our country, including the Great Depression). When the real estate bubble and financial markets collapsed, millions of people were fired, permanently laid off and many of the major corporations (as well as untold numbers of banks and small businesses) filed for bankruptcy. Some never recovered.

What transpired is that technology rushed in to fill the gap. Computers and computer operated machines that were far most cost effective than the human labor replaced jobs that were being done by humans . It's not that this hadn't been occurring for decades. I saw the earliest stages of this transformation in the mid-1960's, when as an Industrial Arts major I took a field studies course on U.S. industries and saw all kinds of machines being operated by, at that time, mainframe computers. It was only a very small segment of industry then, but I don't think the American worker had a clue what was coming. For example, where are the phone operators, secretarial pools, automobile manufacturing workers, machinists, draftsmen and I could go on and on. The "Great Recession" not only gave industry and business the opportunity to make a major transformation, it required it to make the transformation for survival.

So, we have at least twice the number of people in the U.S. as we had in 1950 (and proportionately the same around the world (some countries with even larger population growth - most notably China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Mexico to mention a few). At the same time, we are creating less and less jobs that require human labor. So, more people, less work, how long can a country or the world's economy continue to grow under these conditions?

The Ugly

The Ugly is real simple. Governments grow larger and are creating more and more programs to support the growing number of unproductive and unemployed/unemployable. In order to finance this growing social support program, the governments have to extract more and more money from the part of the population (on the decline) who are productively producing income. The impact is, of course, out of balance since the wealthiest 1% of the population, while still bearing the largest, overall percentage of tax burden, pay, in many instances the least amount of taxes as a percentage of their huge income. This, of course, is due to the tax laws that were created to supposedly benefit the wealthy so they would invest in growing new businesses, creating more jobs and growing the economic base. The laws were written and enacted in what has become an ever less fair way and changing those laws now comes with extreme opposition from the wealthy. Oh, and of course, the wealthy finance the elections of the elected representatives who make the laws. Thus, more of the burden rests on the dwindling middle class who is sliding back into the poverty level. And, in the U.S. at least, many of those earning what's left of middle class incomes are becoming eligible for more and more government assistance programs.

There may actually be a "Mad Max" scenario on the horizon somewhere. It may not be during the 21st Century, however, if the population continues to increase, as it is fully expected to. And, if people continue living longer and requiring more services to keep them alive and healthy (at least, hopefully, creating more jobs in the health and geriatric care industries) it could be in the 22nd Century. We are raping our planet of its natural resources and stores of energy. It's easy to say that we have enough coal to last for X number of years. The same is true for oil and natural gas. But, if we extract more of these energy resources than the planet can replenish, at some point in time the supply will be depleted. Currently there is one net new person on this planet (accounting for new births and deaths) every 16 seconds. That's 5,400 new people everyday or 1,971,000 new people per year. That means there will be another billion people to feed, clothe and shelter every five years and that could increase. Will there actually be a time when we won't be able to produce enough nutritious food for the world population? Will the ideal revealed in the old Sci-fi movie, "Soylent Green" actually become a reality and necessity?

We are eating genetically modified food and food full of artificial ingredients already. Much of our clothing is synthetic instead of natural materials. We still live in a plastic throw away world of baby diapers, water bottles, cars not to mention the amount of paper used to package and paper plates, napkins, etc. we use.

This is the Ugly.

My Conclusion

But, after all the gloom and doom of the Bad and the Ugly, I still see a bright side. Unfortunately, I don't see that bright side for everyone. I believe we're seeing a trend by a tiny and growing percentage of the population. There are freedom-loving individuals who are finding ways to cut back on the footprint they make on the planet and society. They are learning to "Live Small" instead of "Living Large" that seemed to be a trend during the 80's, 90's and early 2000's. This group is learning to be happy with what they have and realizing it's unrealistic and unsustainable to have everything they want. They use less energy, often creating more energy efficient dwellings, transportation and lifestyles. Living "off the grid" is a popular and growing theme. Many are raising some or all of their food, making or recycling and buying perfectly serviceable clothing and other necessities of daily living. Frugality and simplicity are allowing this segment of society to live happier, healthier and freer lifestyles while not becoming dependent on government assistance.

And, best of all, I believe it's stirring up the pot of creativity. Unfortunately, this isn't so apparent in the Millennial Generation. It's their parents and the Boomer Generation who are being slapped in the face of reality hardest and who are stepping back, reevaluating and establishing new standards. Will the top 1% still have more money than they know what to do with and live excessive and opulent lifestyles? Most assuredly, yes, for the most part. Though even a percentage of the super rich are realizing the futility in accumulating massive amounts of unspendable money. So, they are finding ways to channel it back into society for the common good. But, the pot of creativity I mentioned is also sparking the entrepreneurial ambitious and motivated to create new ideas, new products and services to fill in the niches that are opening up everyday. The human spirit is boundless when it doesn't become mired in hopelessness.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the future will live as well as many once did. That's just the way it's going to be. Some may call me a naysayer or doomsayer for saying that, but too many people have gone down their primrose path with their rose colored glasses on. The spirit that built the U.S. that the pioneers had, the survival mentality, the do whatever it takes attitude just seems to have slipped into oblivion for most. I guess that's why there is something like 25% or more of the 22 to 31 year olds in this country living at home, YET, off their parents. That was not even a consideration for those of us growing up during the 50's and 60's. But, for those who get it, I not only see them surviving . . . I see them thriving and hopefully, passing on their spirit to their children.  


Rob said...

I have always enjoyed Larry Niven's (SF writer) view of the future, technology comes thru & the government is not as bad as it could be.
I'm thinking we are seeing the results of the the modern age-factory food with the expanded forms of demintia that seem to be everywhere. People may live to 150 but they won't remember who they are.
I realize that GMO foods may deal with the population problem. We are the subjects in an experiment and it will take years to see what changing food at the genitic level in the lab has done to the human race.
I grew up on factory food so I won't notice ... my mind will be gone even if my body lives on.

(Spell check does not seem to be working on my phone this morning. Sorry about that Chief...)

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Interesting perspective, Rob. This may be, yet, another manifestation of the Ugly. I love technology and, believe me, as a serial entrepreneur, technology has definitely been of great benefit to me in my business life. I remember when I had 30 employees and then a few years later I had about six employees and generated 50% greater revenue. There's a paper mill in WV not far from my eastern base camp where 30 to 40 years ago they ran 5 calendaring lines 24/7 with 2,500 employees. Today that same mill has two calendaring lines and only 750 employees and turns out 2.5 time more product. However, those examples illustrate the point that we have more people and because of technological advances, less jobs.

The dementia issue hadn't crossed my mind, but you bring up an excellent point. We know that introducing foreign substances into the human system can damage cell structure, cause cancer and other diseases as well as a variety of mental problems. Maybe we really are just like lab rats in a big cage and we're all part of experiments. Maybe, reaching an age of 150 and not remembering might be a good thing???

Rob said...

Technology is here, not much we can do about it. On the other hand it has allowed the world to get as populated as it is, we are in fact riding on the back of a tiger named Technology. If we fall off that tiger it is going to be ugly for a lot of people.

If we're 150 and don't know who we are it means our kids are spending their lives changing our diapers and passing on most of what they earn to others. It also means we forgot to hold on to the tiger's back so it will cure itself.
I guess that's more 'ugly', yes we are the lab rats. Right now someone is living very well of the money they are making while the human race sees how bad their actions really were.

Pandora's box has already been opened & the GMO pollen is blowing in the wind, experiments on humans are already happening.

Science fiction is a crystal ball... Remember the movies, "Terminator" or "The Matrix"? How about "X-Man" or "The Wrath of Kahn"?
The basic idea for all those movies is being worked on today..

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Absolutely, Rob! And if we go back a little earlier we can look at the books "Brave New World," "Animal Farm," "1984," Atlas Shrugged," some of Isaac Asimov's works and some others. My book publishing company, Oakhill Press, published a book titled "2025: Scenarios of US and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology" (not sci-fi) that was released in 1996. The three co-authors are prominent futurists and members of The World Future Society. It's interestingly written from an historical perspective (as if the reader is living n the year 2025) and it tracks the science and technology that changed the U.S. and the world from 1990 to 2025. It went through two printings in hard cover (about 10K copies) and was used around the world in colleges, professional and industrial organizations and corporations. And, it was pretty accurate considering the research for it was done over three years from 1993 to 1996. It's out of print (for at least five years) but used copies pop up on Amazon. I have at least one copy of every book of the 50+ books I published in storage. I may actually have some extra copies of 2025 in my storage unit. I kept a small number of the several books I published that were especially interesting and sold well.