“All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again.”
This is a political post.
Again -- this is a political post.
It isn't going to seem like it to some of you. Hopefully I've earned your trust. I tell you three times...
This is a political post.
Question: How do we save Africa? The children, the people?
Answer: I don't know. Won't have an answer by the end of this post, either. Really, I won't.
I'm going to go off in a different direction briefly. Starting with quoting the bible. Three-fourths of one chapter. A short one. Go on; it won't bite.
Liberal. What's wrong? You don't hate America, do you?
The BibleWhat is this saying to me. Well, lots.THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO
CHAPTER 25Jesus gives the parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats.14 ¶ For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and areckoneth with them.20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou adeliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and afaithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an ahard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:25 And I was aafraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with ausury.28 Take therefore the atalent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.33 And he shall set the sheep on his aright hand, but the goats on the left.37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?42 For I was an ahungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the aleast of these, ye did it not to me.
Some of it is... The people who get the most done, have the most smarts, the most money, the most whatever, give them more work to do. They're able to do more. And competent.
Expect more from the people who get shit done. Put the best people to work on tough problems. Have people work on stuff even harder than the stuff they're working on; it will challenge them.
As for the poor, the sick, the needy. THEY ARE YOU. God is saying here, I am everywhere. I am you and you are me (and no, we're not going to sing a song.) The scripture is literally saying, there is no differentiation between any of us, between anything. Which is only what the fundamental mystical experience of all religions tells us. None of which I give a damn about from a political point of view; that's between you and your own spiritual practices -- which we'll have fun with here on GNB, but isn't what we're talking about right now. I promised you, this is a political post.
What we're talking about right now is simple.
Question: How does one have enough empathy to make a difference when faced with Africa? Is that even possible?
Answers. Two. No, three.
# 1. No, it isn't. When confronted with the heartbreak of Africa, the strongest person among us, crumbles or quits. Yes, going insane is quiting. Dying is quiting. Doing a great job day after day with a smile on your face but more children die than you can possible treat is quiting -- because it doesn't make any damn difference. The fundamental condition isn't changed.
# 2. Yes, but you have to be a saint. Sorry, a mystic. Have gone down into the Valley of the Shadow of Death and come out the other side with authentic wisdom, not some bullshit California (or the eastern Indian version) airy-fairy bullshit. Not for the faint of heart. Perhaps one in two million people can pull this off successfully [my best estimate, and I've given this serious thought; that number is not pulled out of my ass.] Point being, the Age of Aquarius where enlightened ones lead us all through transformation to a better us, is not going to happen. Anyone who says otherwise has a book, tapes, or a weekend educational program they want to sell you (only $440 [$450 in LA, $510 in New York].)
# 3. Clive Thompson in Wired Magazine proposes high-level geeks have the capacity for thinking in large numbers without being blinded by empathy, while making correct choices. He wants us to split the difference.
WiredI don't know. But this is really interesting to me. It questions something very basic to my core, moving a fundamental competency -- if this guy is correct -- from a learned competence to something biological.
As you probably know, Gates is aggressively tackling third world diseases. He has targeted not only high-profile scourges like AIDS but also maladies like malaria, diarrhea, and parasitic infections. These latter illnesses are the really important ones to attack, because they kill millions a year and are entirely preventable. For decades, they flew under the radar of philanthropists in the West. So why did Gates become the first major humanitarian to take action?
The answer lies in the psychology of numeracy — how we understand numbers.
I've been reading the fascinating work of Paul Slovic, a psychologist who runs the social-science think tank Decision Research. He studies a troubling paradox in human empathy: We'll usually race to help a single stranger in dire straits, while ignoring huge numbers of people in precisely the same plight. We'll donate thousands of dollars to bring a single African war orphan to the US for lifesaving surgery, but we don't offer much money or political pressure to stop widespread genocides in Rwanda or Darfur.
You could argue that we're simply callous, or hypocrites. But Slovic doesn't think so. The problem isn't a moral failing: It's a cognitive one. We're very good at processing the plight of tiny groups of people but horrible at conceptualizing the suffering of large ones.
In one recent experiment, Slovic presented subjects with a picture of "Rokia," a starving child in Mali, and asked them how much they'd be willing to give to help feed her. Then he showed a different group photos of two Malinese children — "Rokia and Moussa." The group presented with two kids gave 15 percent less than those shown just one child. In a related experiment, people were asked to donate money to help a dying child. When a second set of subjects was asked to donate to a group of eight children dying of the same cause, the average donation was 50 percent lower.
Slovic suspects this stuff is hardwired. Psychologists have long observed that our ability to discriminate among quantities is finely tuned when dealing with small amounts but quickly degrades as the numbers get larger. Our ears work that way, too. When a very quiet sound becomes slightly louder, we detect the difference right away. But once a noise is really loud, it has to increase dramatically for it to seem "louder." The same holds true for our judgments of weight and, of course, less tangible quantities like money. We'll break the bank to save Baby Jessica, but when half of Africa is dying, we're buying iPhones.
Which brings me back to Gates. The guy is practically a social cripple, and at times he has seemed to lack human empathy. But he's also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers. Their imagination can scale up and down the powers of 10 — mega, giga, tera, peta — because their jobs demand it.
So maybe that's why he is able to truly understand mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: Preventable death = bad; preventable death x 1 million people = 1 million times as bad.
We tend to think that the way to address disease and death is to have more empathy. But maybe that's precisely wrong. Perhaps we should avoid leaders who "feel your pain," because their feelings will crap out at, you know, eight people.
What we need are more Bill Gateses — people with Aspergian focus, with a direct sensual ability to understand what a million means. They've got to be able to envision every angel on the head of a pin. Because when it comes to stopping the mass tragedies of today's world, we're going to need every one of them.
I've spent my life going down the twin roads of competency and compassion. Yet reading this I now am left wondering... how much of my capacity to feel enormously, to have such deep empathy, to reach out and grasp great huge chunks of, um, feeling space, is mediated by that I'm also a great big enormous geek? That I've been in Information Tech since I was 21, when I was asked to throw together a helicopter ambulance system for the State of Arkansas, and given an account on the PDP-10 at the University to do it...and fell in love with the damn computer system.
This guy is telling me my capacity for reaching out to "be with", to feel 500 people's emotions in a room, or 50,000 people's emotions across a live video uplink, as easily as I feel one (well, not as easily certainly, but I can do it) -- which is not easy -- is as much a function of my geekdom, as it is the years and years of deep, serious life-altering work I put in on my Track #2 answer above.
Now that is some interesting shit.
I don't have any solutions to Africa. Frankly, I try and avoid thinking about Africa most of the time. But I don't see how anyone can be in the world as a real political person and not
Perhaps Clive Thompson has part of the answer. To send genuine geeks, really really smart people with a technical bent, to look at Africa's problems, not from an emotional level, but from a "how can we fix this" troubleshooting level. Although I'd damn sure want some people I trust emotionally -- some adults, women and men who are full blown grown ups with active stakes in the results -- to vet what the geeks came up with.
What the hell. What we've got sure as shit ain't working. Anything has got to be better than letting the oil companies send whole African countries to war for the profits under the ground, while the drug companies farm the children and women and sick people like herd animals free of FDA regulations.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO
CHAPTER 2534 Then shall the King say unto them on his aright hand, Come, ye bblessed of my Father, cinherit the dkingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
"Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."