So we have a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government in the UK (or a Con/Dem Nation, as the internet’s calling it). I don’t think anyone was really expecting this, and it sounds from Westminster gossip that Labour deliberately scuppered the chance of a Lib/Lab alliance. From my completely and utterly uneducated reading of that situation, I suspect that it’s a ‘long term’ strategy – let Labour’s two main rivals make all the horrible public sector cuts said to be necessary to get us out of the economic mire, then come back in four years as the party untainted by public anger.
Okay, that’s probably completely cyncical and speculative, but it got me thinking about how politics is really all about the short-term – no-one really thinks beyond the next election, even if the published strategies say otherwise. That’s probably fair enough in a way – you can’t predict what’s going to happen next week, let alone in ten years time. All the same, quite often the stuff that really matters is the stuff that’s been coming down the line for decades – like, say, computers and telecommunications over the last twenty years or so.
It’s why I find the Long Now Blog interesting – their aim is "to provide counterpoint to today’s "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking", although that’s a bit mission statement-y. I actually prefer a comment from elsewhere on their site – "Our species-wide ADD started out as a feature, but in our present situation it’s a bug."
The blog is based around the fairly simple idea that a lot of the issues we face need to be seen within the context of centuries rather than years, and we need to plan for these issues in the light of that. For instance, the internet is a fantastic resource, but what happens if/when western civilisation falls apart (like every other civilisation before it)? Or, more immediately, what happens to all the data we’ve got stored on cassettes and early computer discs?
We’re not great at long term planning. I guess that’s understandable, given that the average human lifespan is a twinkling of the eye compared to the geological timescales experienced by the planet around us. We find it hard to believe that, one day, we won’t be here; western civilisation crumbling is almost unthinkable. Maybe that’s why books like Left Behind have been such a hit in recent years (armageddon has to happen in our lifetime because we’re so unique in history…). Maybe that’s why post-apocalyptic movies are so successful – how would the survivors handle a meteor strike/plague/zombie apocalypse?
Well, it’s kinda hard to prepare for a zombie apocalypse when you’ve got to win an election in five years. And maybe we’re down with that – after all, in a lot of post-apocalypic movies, the people who’re prepared for things are the bad guys, or die because one simple mistake renders all their preparation useless. Only while ‘live for the now’ might be a legitimate personal philiosphy, I don’t think it’s something society as a whole should be adopting any time soon.
Whatever happens as a result of the LibDem/Tory coalition, life will go on. The world will keep turning. We may find things difficult, but it’s all a part of history. It’s not the end of the world; well, at least until it’s the end of the world….
PS. The irony is, this post was inspired by a message board thread on this rogue black hole, which innaccurately suggested it was heading this was. Figuring it was one of those ‘apocalypse in 700 million years’ stories, I figured it would make a good metaphor for this post. Turns out that no-one’s said the black hole’s coming this way, so it probably won’t eat David Cameron after all. Still, I’m keeping the title – bet it made you look, at least… 😉