Kinkajou : Let’s move on. What forces do you see working against government?
Erasmus : Governments get elected for 3 to 4 year terms. This is not a long time, and certainly not conducive to long-term planning or introducing management strategies for potentially damaging issues. Governments in Australia have generally found that the re-elected government is the one that keeps quiet, doesn’t do too much and just keeps on bumbling on its way.
Kinkajou : Yes, I remember the dams issue in Brisbane.
Erasmus : Brisbane built a flood mitigation dam to minimise flood damage to the city. However, Brisbane became drought stricken. The thoughts of government were on water conservation. So when the flood mitigation dam was 90% full, the management operating under government expectations continued to conserve water. Unfortunately, it kept raining.
The flood mitigation dam was forced to release extra water in the middle of a flood event. Messy. Each side blamed the other. The government blamed the dam managers who should have known better. The dam managers said the manual the government had given them to operate the dam had not told them what to do. Neither party felt empowered to do anything until a crisis situation had arisen.
And there’s more. A large number of properties had been resumed as the drought progressed to allow for the building of new dams. Soon after the flood event, these properties were sold off. The political issue of dams was not a popular one, as no one wanted to live next door to one. To get re-elected, governments normally try to upset as few people as possible so the dams were cancelled.
Kinkajou : I can see how Social pressure has forced changes which are likely not in the community interest especially as a population continues to grow.
Erasmus : And there will be more problems. Droughts of the duration that Brisbane faced are not common. However statistically there will be another. One thing we can say is that next time we have trout there will not be 1 million people living in Brisbane dependent on the water supply. Next time there is likely to be two or 3 million people dependent on the water supply.
We can see in these examples how social pressures have modified how people manage dam and how they managed drought. And not necessarily in a good way. The key issue is short tenure of office and people being short-sighted as the representatives they elect. People don’t want dams next door.
But if you think about it, the ability to tolerate having a dam nearby is all about expectations. 100 years ago people would have been ecstatic to have reliable water storage nearby. And again this expectation that a dam next door is bad, forms a social pressure that creates action that in the long run will not be in the best interests of the community.
Kinkajou : You can’t help some people.
The idyllic past probably never really existed.
Erasmus : That brings to the topic of people who can’t help themselves. The socially disadvantaged. Society has strong expectations that people will always act to look after their interests. Society expects that people will feed themselves and clothe themselves and find themselves a place to live, before spending money on discretionary items.
Unfortunately, some people’s heads just don’t work that well. I have seen people who spend all their money on alcohol and cigarettes, and then wonder what they will eat for the next seven days. I have seen people who are incapable of budgeting who get themselves into a financial mess.
It is obvious that their mental skills are not substantial and that they need assistance. Yet we still allow these people to do whatever they wish with their Social Security monies. We also don’t help these people to do what is in their own best interests. Because their head is not working properly they cannot really make these decisions for themselves.
Homeless Man Brisbane
The social imperative here for many people and the government, is that it is not our problem. We, the government have given them the money required to sustain them. That is all we need to do. And it becomes difficult for us as a society to realise that some people require greater support and involvement than others.
Kinkajou : How soon they forget.
Erasmus : Yes. That is a good summary of the government’s involvement with the space program. After the Soviets had launched Sputnik into orbit, the western block suddenly realised that it was incapable of matching this initiative. Also there was a substantial deficiency of technical skills to support this type of industrial development. (Develop a space program).
This Western society was energized. A new and substantial emphasis was placed on science subjects in schools. Suddenly children found themselves studying mathematics .physics and chemistry. Learning was no longer predicated on the ability to quote poetry or to have read classic literature. This emphasis on technical education drove many of the developments of the technological era.
However currently we are on our way back. In Brisbane there is increasingly less emphasis on technical education such as science, physics, mathematics, and chemistry. There is much more emphasis on arts or Basic education. Supposedly this helps students to prepare for the life within the community.
Strangely enough we do not even insist that our children learn to cook food. In the long term this will mean that takeaway at McDonald’s will be the food of the future. In short, we do not teach children technical life skills necessary to their life.
A story I tell is of a woman at the front of the queue and Red Rooster (a takeaway chicken store). She asked for 21 chicken packs. The girl behind the counter asked “why so many"? The woman replied breakfast lunch and dinner for seven days a week. The girl behind the counter said "why don’t you have some cereal instead"? The woman replied "I do not know how to cook cereal".
Education is a choice. However, choices have consequences. Maybe we need to look at what the consequences are of the choices we, our society and our educational system are making.
Kinkajou : I can see you are not a big fan of government. They must be driving you batty.
Erasmus :That brings us to the issue of cars. In too many places on the planet cars don’t fit on the roads on which they must travel. There are too many people in too much traffic. So why do we keep building vehicles that endanger other road users and which effectively cannot navigate many roads?
I have discussed this in the new cars web page. It makes much more sense to have small cars that are half the width of normal cars. This means you can put twice as many cars on the road, in fact two cars per lane of traffic. As I’ve said before “is it really necessary to have a vehicle weighing 1000 kg to 1500 kg to transport a single person.
Vehicles of this size make sense if you consider transporting four or five people at a time, with payloads of up to several hundred kilograms. However, the average situation in many places is one person with 5 kg of baggage.
Again, companies build cars because that is how they are expected to be built. People use cars because that is the sort of construct you need to travel around. But no one really thinks about the problem of traffic and how changing the car can make it better fit the traffic.
Kinkajou : I’m feeling ill.
Erasmus : Medical science faces great expectations from the public. Teachers teach their students, in much the same way as once they were taught. Because you are taught something, you accept that this is true. However science and technology have changed substantially, especially in the last 100 years.
Things we have managed or explained in particular ways, may be completely irrelevant to the world in which we live today.
Dr Xxxxx : I remember once a patient who came to me, who was ill. I began to wonder whether he may have an unusual infectious illness. I rang up a specialist to ask his advice. The specialist told me that there are three criteria for the presence of this illness. I told the specialist that none of these criteria were present. The specialist told me that I could not diagnose this illness under those circumstances.
I asked the question then what happens if this is just a very early form of this illness before these clinical markers appear. The office has a long incubation period so it would be “normal” for this illness to be present for quite some time before these clinical markers were present. The specialist told me that if the three criteria were not present the illness could not be diagnosed.
Now here’s the dilemma. The criteria are crude, not terribly specific and very hard to assess. So why should we be using criteria created in the early 1900s to assess and illness experienced in 2010. Technology has changed. So the definition of how the illness is diagnosed should have changed as well. All too often old learning is perpetuated by the process of ancient documentation.
Kinkajou : I see. Many doctors never learn how to unlearn what they have learnt.
Erasmus : You could say it that way.
Kinkajou : Any bright sparks in how social engineering may have changed things for the better?
Erasmus : I think the world of the Internet and computers has given us some excellent examples of things changing for the better. People across the planet can cooperate on the same enterprise.
Such work has given us Wikipedia the most comprehensive encyclopaedic reference base on the planet. If you experienced Wikipedia as a reference, you would even laugh at the thought of looking up something in an old encyclopaedia such as the World Book or Britannica. Yet this was a very common thing as little as 20 years ago.
Peer-to-peer programming initiatives in the Linux world and peer-to-peer gaming initiatives have shown us how people can work together for the common good and the good of all . The social imperative of need and the technological platform defeating time and space, has allowed people to work together as they have never been able to before.
Kinkajou : So you are keen on computers and the Internet?
Erasmus : The Internet and computing has changed many things, some perhaps not for the better. Many people play games in their spare time. However, I think this is an activity which generates little knowledge or wisdom. For many people gaming is replaced reading as a leisure activity.
I remember as a young student in early high school struggling with English language studies. I had a pile of Reader’s Digest “it pays to enrich your word power” leaflets. I went through a few of these. I knew very few of the words, but was very disheartened to even think about the process of learning them informally by going through these leaflets.
Five years later at the end of high school I had a look at the same pile of leaflets. I discovered that I knew almost all the words. I considered this strange issue because I’d never really done any learning on the meanings of words. I realised what I’d done is spend a lot of time reading.
By reading my vocabulary and my understanding of the meaning of words had enlarged substantially. Simply by reading novels in my spare time over my high school years, I had significantly improved my language skills. So the process of reading had given me knowledge and through exposure to a depth of experiences even perhaps wisdom.
Contrast this example with the current experience of kids gaming. I don’t think it is all bad though. One thing gaming teaches is developing a strategy and carrying it through. I think you learn the process of taking action. A different sort of learning.
Kinkajou : Any other examples?
Erasmus : Yes. Another example is the government in Australia decrying the lack of savings and investment. Let’s look at the situation of saving. Saving money in the bank is possibly the worst investment you will ever make. The interest rate is usually below inflation. The government taxes any interest. Within 10 years a substantial portion of your capital can evaporate. Only a fool would give money in the bank.
Banks In Brisbane
Kinkajou : I can see your issue. If you want people to put money in the bank you need to give them an incentive to put money in the bank. This allows the financial system to function better and for people saving money via the agency of the financial institution, to loan money to people undertaking activities such as buying a house.
Erasmus : Yes without this sort of incentive, money must be borrowed from overseas. This ties the world financial institutions together. So a disaster in one country automatically spills over into many others.
And it’s all about government greed. The government has to have its cut at any cost and then it cannot understand why there are consequences.
Erasmus :An interesting example of long-term social consequences is urban crime. Some researchers have tied the long-term reduction in urban crime to the introduction of abortion.
When people are forced to have unwanted children, they often do not invest time and resources looking after them. Unwanted children become problem children and the crime rate escalates. Interestingly, the availability of abortion has actually reduced the crime rate over subsequent decades.
Kinkajou : I think another issue is the cheapening of home goods. Many consumer items now within the home are too bulky to steal and with very little. So this is another factor reducing crime. Why steal a DVD player which is worth $70 and sell it for $10. It’s just not worth it.
There are many corollaries. High tax rates engender the tax avoidance industry and reduce incentives to work. High Social Security reduces incentive to work. People who return to work can actually find themselves almost no better off for their labour. So why bother?
Stealing a TV
There is a social imperative here. It is important to maintain standard living for all people. Just because people are poor or disadvantaged, does not mean they will stay here all their lives. Many people end up poor for many reasons. Marital breakdowns, alcohol problems, illness, financial investment reverses, business collapse and lack of motivation.
Erasmus : Paill Spectrum given unusual perspective on poverty. Many people’s mental skills are compromised severely by the illness. People may be stupid, but that does not mean they are genetically stupid. People may have psychiatric illnesses, but that does not mean they have a genetic problem directly causing their psychiatric illness.
Kinkajou : I like the example of world trade. This has resulted in many changes in all our lives. World trade enables people around the world to work for each other. It brings many people across the globe into technical civilisation. It ties us together as a species. It allows us all to innovate and to push the frontiers of science forward.
Goo : I think the message here is about incentives. If you want people to have children or to save money, you need to make it easy for them to do these things. If you want research and innovation to occur, you need to create a milieu in which this can occur, independent of the vagaries of government funding.
If you want to change the world, if you fail to plan, by default you plan to fail. If you plan to recycle, you need to create a system that enables comprehensive recycling, rewarding those who take a substantial role.
Kinkajou : Works for me.
Dr AXxxxx : And if you want to drive innovation in biology and food production, create a world of 70 billion people. Overcrowding or the threat of starvation will definitely drive social engineering and change.