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Life Arts    H2'ed 6/20/10

What Do Adults Do?

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My last article focused on the need for humanity to rise above 'us against them' thinking somewhat, in order to deal with the problems we face realistically. I argued that if we spend all of our time playing the 'blame game' this will only deter our efforts to deal with the immediate problems squarely and as adults. I'd like to expand on this notion, because of the shameful display of adolescent behavior by the legislators of my country this week, when they spent 95 percent of their time and effort BP bashing, or seeking reparation for damages, and almost no attention was paid to how many resources could be brought to bear to relieve the pressure, stop the leak, and clean up the Gulf. They had a chance to do the adult thing, assuring that the best interests of their constituents would be served, but instead chose to play the situation for all it was worth as a PR opportunity, appealing to the lowest common denominator of the presumed adolescent mentality of the masses. In my opinion; what is required to turn things around regarding the sad state of affairs in the world today is a bit more maturity than we have shown, as a race. We need to ask "What do adults do, in a situation like this?" or "What is the adult response to this problem?" more often.

The mood or tone of humanity as a whole appears closer to that of an adolescent than a fully adult human, at this point. For clarity's sake, I will simplify things and say that human children are born dependent, and they have varying degrees of independence and dependency on adult care, while they grow up. Then when adolescence is reached, there is a growing mood of rebellion, as a sense of 'rebellious independence' asserts itself. Of course; this is triggered by hormones and ties in with the developmental spurt of growth where the deeper structures of the 'lizard brain' become fully formed, just prior to the final stage of our brain's development when the emphasis becomes expanding the associative capacity of the brain in the neocortex. In this context; adulthood is reached when a progressively greater sense of 'cooperative independence' displaces or replaces the rebellious way that adolescents relate to the world. While adolescents tend to prefer more purely competitive win-lose games, adults have an increasing sense of the value of win-win scenarios as they become more mature, and aware of how things are interconnected. At least this is how human development is supposed to work, according to the neurological and cognitive experts.

Unfortunately; our society does too little to nurture or encourage this final stage in human development, with the media playing to an adolescent mentality and the lowest common denominator instead, despite the fact their audience is becoming more mature and sophisticated. In his recent book "The Biology of Transcendence" Joseph Chilton Pearce shows in great detail how the evolution and development of human culture and the evolution and development of the human brain are intimately linked. And at this juncture, our very survival may depend on our knowing how to maximize our available brain power, both as individuals and for the whole human race. Many of today's problems require both more creative thinking and more collaboration between creative minds, than ever before. It has been said that some problems will never be solved unless there is an unprecedented level of cooperation between great thinkers. So I'd like to offer a brief review of some very basic insights offered by Cognitive Science, including those of Pearce and others, which might give us an idea of how to make the situation better.

You see.even though on some level using our brains is what got us into this mess, it's fairly easy to show that using our brains better is really the only way out of the sorry situation the world is currently in. Only if we can make more use of the last brain structures to evolve and develop, which set human brains apart from those of more primitive creatures, can we hope to solve some of the complex problems which now face us. If we can use our individual and collective brain power more effectively, this can help us make things better, but if we do not use all of the intelligence we have things will only get worse. The solution to ignorance is knowledge or awakening to what is known. Sometimes this is tricky, however, as knowledge gets arranged in 'silos' isolated collections of greatly detailed information, with no effective way to cross-reference it. This has become a real problem in Physics, for example, as different areas of study are so highly specialized that people working down the hall from each other in that department might as well be speaking different languages, for all their ideas have in common. But speak they must; if some of the advances we look for are ever to take place, according to Nobel laureate in Physics Gerard 't Hooft. And that is why I shall be speaking on solutions to this problem for the Physics community, at a conference in Paris (FFP11) the first full week of July.

I expect I'll have an easier time convincing scientists, however, than I would have changing the minds of our elected officials and business leaders, or the general public, of the need for a more adult outlook, and a more mature attitude. But maturity is what is called for, if we want to actually solve problems like the undersea oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, and cleaning up the oil afterward. I wish there was at least 10 times as much focus on how we are going to fix the problem, and one tenth as much emphasis on how much blame and liability we can heap on BP. The tricky piece is; people can cast blame while looking the other way about the growing nature of the problem, and denying the need to expedite the solution above all else. Our political community in the U.S. is so much the product of our litigious legal system that the sole focus of the first inquiry (from what I saw) was on establishing the guilt of BP, and on how much money might be obtained for damages, with few serious questions about BP's efforts to cap the well and alleviate the effects of the spill. Such an inane display makes me almost ashamed to call myself a human being.

This is not an adult response! Any sane adult would put out the fire on their stove first, and call the fire department the moment the blaze got out of hand, then go on to confront the person who left a pan unattended on the stove, in the first place. What do adults do, when confronted with a dire emergency? They deal with the urgent situation or emergency first, bringing whatever resources they have to bear, and calling for additional help if it is necessary, then they try to figure out who or what was at fault. Adolescents tend to do things the other way around, making a big show of casting blame and deflecting blame from themselves, while ignoring the fact that their house is burning down. This is due, in part, to the fact that their actions are spurred by the rapid development of the 'lizard brain,' which is better equipped to attack and defend, than to cooperate. The point is that this is never wise, and is not sane behavior for adults. Yet we seemingly tolerate this from our elected officials, in some cases believing we have no alternative. We must demand better! But we must behave as adults too. When Bill Clinton was beset by a scandal over inappropriate sexual behavior, the German chancellor called for an adult response, and expressed a hope that his own people at least would not engage in the kind of adolescent Clinton-bashing he saw in the American media, but perhaps most Americans really don't know better.

The civilized and adult response to his comment is neither a defensive retort about American greatness, nor a rude remark about Clinton or the Germans, as either response evokes the adolescent or 'lizard brain' mentality and 'us against them' thinking. Surely we are a great people, but we Americans will have to grow up some along with the rest of the world's peoples in order to overcome the problems which face us today. A massively huge oil spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico will require massive cooperation and collaboration, on an unprecedented scale, in order to properly remediate things. No nation or corporation could handle something like this on their own and neither should they have to. But we are more geared to competition than cooperation. And that brings the tendency for the people in charge to say "I can handle this" in a show of toughness, and willingness to confront the problem, but this doesn't get the job done. What needs to happen, if we are to actually solve some complex problems, is for a different mindset to prevail. When President Obama says that we "declare all-out war" against the oil spill, this may impress some folks, but it does not inspire me to believe his approach will provide fixes. The problem, as I see it, is that this wording inspires a mindset which again has its roots in "lizard brain' thinking, where what is required is a more thoughtful or cerebral approach that explores possible solutions, and admits the possibility there may be several of them needed.

Instead of an all-out war; what we may need is all-out cooperation or all-out peace, and instead of a singular solution we may need a scenario that effectively utilizes every form of assistance we can garner which might actually help. We live in a world where sometimes great ideas go unutilized, while mediocre ones are put into practice at great cost. But this situation is changing with the advent of connective technologies like the internet, which allow ideas of merit to at least get the opportunity to be examined. Sometimes, however, the sense of futility people feel gets in the way of progress and stifles cooperation, when individuals are attempting to be more responsible or adult, since all too often others higher up the ladder behave so badly. This makes it hard for people who are exercising maturity to feel they can really make a difference, in some instances. At best, some folks end up feeling that they don't have to lower themselves to the mentality of others, but neither do they have any power to change things. This is sad; because it is only by behaving as adults, and encouraging others who would choose to behave maturely, that we can hope to turn things around. I believe it is within our power to do so. We can create a lot of positive change, if we humans learn to cooperate. Let us hope this is something we are willing to work toward, and play with. We need to start by believing it is possible.

So; what is it that adults do? They handle delicate and difficult situations intelligently.

2010 Jonathan J. Dickau all rights reserved
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Jonathan is a modern Renaissance man. He is a Grammy award-winning engineer, a performer, a writer and lecturer, and a scientific researcher. Since recording "At 89" Jonathan has worked on other projects with Pete Seeger, including a 300 song (more...)
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