Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tell Me That I Am Not Prescient

Tell Me That I Am Not Prescient

I keep seeing the noun “prescience,” and the adjective, “prescient,” in a lot of things I read. These words, which at root, mean, “the foreknowledge of events,” for some reason seem to be popping up in my reading more and more.

It reminds of a movie, the title of which I can’t recall, where the protagonist works for the CIA and has a great job: his job, every day, simply is to read new books and other current publications, and, over time, to note any repeated themes or ideas. The CIA’s premise, in this movie, is that indicators of future trends or events often emerge simultaneously, through the general unconscious, finding expression in a variety of writings. So, I’m wondering if the increased use of the word, “prescience,” that I am noting, indicates that more and more people are feeling prescient. Or is it just me?

Foreknowledge does not require magical powers, it may require simply paying some attention. Maybe it is that more and more people are paying attention. Many people are losing their jobs, losing their pensions. The national debt keeps increasing at a dizzying rate. We are sucked into an expensive war, with increasing atrocities, with increasing degradation of any respect for life, and there is no end in sight. Our political leadership, Democratic and Republican, demonstrates again and again that it is incompetent, unprincipled, full of confused thinking. We see unfolding situations that makes us wonder how any positive outcomes ever will be found.

Humans, it seems, are sort of hard-wired to be optimistic. Our ancestors had to overcome much adversity and, in order to survive, had to make huge efforts. Without the inclination to convince themselves that a better day was coming, our ancestors could never have succeeded. In the face of continuing bad news, however, there is a tipping point -- where fear overcomes optimism. The problem is that when this tipping point is reached, it is not easily reversed.

Everyone knows that our economic system depends on a foundation of confidence, optimism, to sustain itself. When confidence is strong, the stock market goes up, and billions of dollars of value are created seemingly out of thin air; property values increase and owners have new wealth. But when confidence is shaken, the stock market slides and suddenly billions of dollars are missing. A lack of confidence, a sense of fear, has huge potential consequences.

FDR famously said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He was speaking of the debilitating fear that feeds upon itself and destroys everything in its path. But, not all fear is bad. Fear may serve the useful purpose to warn us, to guide us away from danger, to motivate us to make wise plans.

Under George W. Bush, our national debt has grown $3 trillion to a total of $9 trillion. At that rate, by the end of George W’s term, by conservative estimates, the debt will easily be $11 trillion. And all signs indicate that it will probably be more. An $11 trillion debt, at even a modest rate of interest, will absorb over $500 billion of tax revenues each year. That causes me to wonder: Where will the money for an increasingly needed social safety net come from? How much deprivation and disparity is possible before destructive social unrest develops? Will a decreasing sense of confidence, in time, accelerate to the point where it becomes destructive fear? Could there be a collapse of confidence leading to a 1930’s type of national economic disaster?

The foundation of our democracy relies on a sense of confidence, a sense of confidence built on the reality that in America we live in a fair society with democratically elected leaders who are responsive to the needs and values of the citizenry. The arrogance, carelessness, lies, and twisted values of George W. and his crowd, however, have caused realities that, I believe, are dangerously eroding the foundation of our democracy.

A disaster, an earthquake, known as George W. Bush has happened, and, now, all the signs point to the fact that a tsunami is headed our way. We cannot be sure what this tsunami will be like or what its outcome will be, but all signs point to tough times ahead. We are not prepared and it appears that the shock of it all could provoke a devastation of confidence that could put our economy and entire democracy in jeopardy. Stop me from going on. Tell me that I am not prescient.

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