System Failure: We Are Approaching the End of Society As We Know It -- And That May Be a Good Thing
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You see with alcoholics and other forms of addiction, when people change, they change dramatically, but not until the consequences are getting very severe. That's what I think is happening in America today. The denial has become so extreme, so ridiculous and so anti-science, that I think we are going to see a change happen very quickly when it does happen.
TM: Let me ask again about your outsider perspective on the US. Many, myself included, believe that the US system of politics and government has changed over the past few decades. Nixon, a Republican, for instance, signed the bill creating the EPA. That kind of thing would seem impossible today. What does it look like has happened and how much tougher does that make our challenge?
PG: A central issue in the US is inequality, in terms of political power, in terms of financial benefit and so on. There has been this very great concentration of wealth and power in a small number of people. That's not inherently structurally imposed by democracy; it's just the way the development of this society has turned out. There used to be a greater sense of responsibility to the greater good, I guess. We had many great Republicans in history in the US who did things because they were the right thing to do without regard for political consequences. Now that sort of behavior is rare. I've many Republican friends who lament that change. It's not a Republican versus Democrat issue. A cultural issue inside the society and inside the Republican party has driven that process.
But it is eminently changeable. Politics is, as Al Gore says, a renewable resource. We can see politics change very fast. As we saw with the Occupy Wall Street movement -- one of the most interesting things to happen in the US in a very long time -- we do see the attitudes of the public change very rapidly.
As a bunch of leaders in the Middle East learned recently, toppled from office by social movements that arose apparently from nowhere. We saw it with the fall of the Berlin Wall. We do see political change happen rapidly in many parts of the world, and I think we'll see a change here in the US as well. The US still has an opportunity to lead in this area and do so quite dramatically.
Even though we don't see those signals today, this is a country that went from George Bush to Barack Obama -- the capacity for change is quite extraordinary. And yes, many have been disappointed with how much Barack Obama has achieved, compared to the hope, but the capacity of the people to demand change I think is as strong as it ever was. You have to have the right constellation of forces happening at the right time, and I think that will occur.
TM: You wrote: "Occupy Wall Street is simply the kid in the fairy tale saying what everyone knows but has until now been afraid to say, the emperor has no clothes, we have system failure." You describe how society will move through denial and anger, finally to acceptance. Turnabout will happen after acceptance of reality. Do you want to speak about that?
PG: We tend to get caught up, as we have in this conversation, in the fascination with the size of the crisis and the complexity of the problem and the fact that we have system failure. But that can be paralyzing if we don't immediately move on, as we are right now, to the fact that humans are very good in a crisis. As we discussed earlier, when things go bad, we do well. When we get focused, we achieve extraordinary things very quickly.