The Obama Opportunity?

If it is possible to right the good ship “Human Society” from the inside, without fundamental structural change, then Obama would appear to be the test of that.

Massive investment focused on greening the infrastructure, the pursuit of peace from a position of power and the development of a sufficiently holistic social support system that it liberates the true production capacity of the macro and micro economy are hallmarks of Obama’s proposed agenda. While not undertaken with the same reforming and restructuring zeal at the Standards of LIFE proposes as necessary, the goals are sufficiently closely aligned that it tests the premise that fundamental reform of our basic social, political and economic structures are necessary.

The dilemma intrinsic to the Standards of LIFE is that the changes it proposes are both necessary and seemingly impossible. It is difficult for some to imagine being able to overcome the inertia in the present time based on consequences in the future. To some the changes proposed in the Standards of LIFE seem to be beyond the attainable reach of our generation, at exactly the same time that the outcomes and goals are understood to be vital to the survival of this and the next generation.

If a path to a sustainable future is available by working “within the system” then surely the Obama administration is the embodiment of that option. Formulated within the context of the legacy political process, staffed by the quintessential inside players and blessed by the traditional power centers, the Obama administration appears to offer a road to salvation without upsetting any of the existing norms or disturbing any of the current structures. If it can be done in this way, from the inside, then surely this charismatic leader and his insider team are the ones to do it.

If so, we can rent a villa in Marbella and retire to the sunny beaches of Unnecessario. We’ll see.

That would be nice and easy, wouldn’t it? If we could just leave it there and see how the next eight years turns out. Nice and easy, if you live substantially above sea level in a peaceful part of the world with a house and a job, access to healthcare and education for your kids. Nice and easy if we hadn’t frittered away the last two decades. But many of us don’t and we did.

Obama’s plan is a good one and probably the best available option within the parameters of the legacy 20th century construct that is the matrix within which he is operating. The mere fact of his success in the election is enormously important for it cracks the veneer of the barrier to what is possible, it shifts the line between what is and what can be, between what we settle for and what we hope for. But if the result is that we wait to see what happens we may miss a crucial window of opportunity to start the changes that we know we need to make. So we must wish the entire Obama administration all the very best and offer them our support for every progressive change they attempt and, at the same time, we must move forward along the path that we have confidence will deliver the outcomes we need.

The trouble is time; we just don’t have a lot of it. Moving “Human Society” off the sandbanks of fossil-fueled industrialization before the tide pushes her onto the rocks of temperature tweaked turmoil is a time sensitive endeavor. It also seems highly unlikely that the required rebalancing of global resource utilization will be possible without a fundamental restructuring of society that offers the populations of industrialized societies continued security and a path to peaceful coexistence with the populations of emerging societies, who will also insist on their prospects for security and prosperity. This requires a global shift of focus from the standard of living to the standard of life.

The truth is that a course that does not fundamentally change the quality of life in today’s exploiting societies is doomed to fail because it will not arrest catastrophic environmental degradation, which will result in social upheaval with chaotic outcomes(1). We can change the quality of life for the vast majority of the populations of the exploiting world in a way that dramatically reduces environmental impact, and providence has seen fit to make those societies democracies, so the change is possible and in the hands of the very populations in question. Failure to rapidly address the quality of life issues will obstruct changes to resource consumption in both the exploiting and emerging worlds, leading to even greater pressures on both.

This is why tweaking at the edges of social security, global enfranchisement and economic reform are not going to deliver the intended outcome. We don’t have enough time to try the soft options of hope, hint and nudge — we know what to do and we must start doing it now. Freedom, basic social security and economic reform are the way to save our environment, and saving our environment is the key to saving “Human Society”. We wish the Obama administration all the best in their endeavors and we are confident they wish us the same, as we are all pursuing the same objectives: sustainable peace and prosperity for all.


(1) – Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

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