Demographics -- The 500 Pound Gorilla

Back when Arafat looked like a viable leader of the Palestinian people, Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times Middle East correspondent, was interviewed on NPR. The major portion of the interview focused on the impossibility of an Israeli Palestinian peace settlement based on the incompatibility of Arafat's and Sharon's objectives.

Other, lessor impediments were due to history, economics, emotional momentum, religious doctrine, and demographics. Friedman said the Gaza Strip had "50% unemployment. 40% of its population was under the age 15 and little capital to create new jobs.

He rattled off these demographic facts as if they created a no larger impediment to resolving the conflict than the personalities of Sharon and Arafat.

Isn't worrying about these personalities like worrying about house mice when a 500 pound gorilla (demographics) is ravaging the kitchen.

Why do we give demographics such low importance in the peace process? Why, in most peace processes, is the demographic problem dealt with last instead of first? Why don't we see that if the demographics are not addressed first, they will undo any peace we can create?

Several answers are:
   a) people are failing to make correct predictions of future
   b) they are failing to give these future conditions full meaning,
   c) they are failing to connect future conditions to the behaviors
          that cause them, and
   d) with future conditions undervalued and not connected to their
          causing behaviors, people are unwilling to pay present costs
          of alternative behaviors that would provide better conditions
          to their great grand children.

I call these cognitive failures "temporal blindness." With temporal blindness, the demographic contributions to conflict appear much too small.

We have lived with temporal blindness for all of our existence. Why do we have to do something about it now? Because September 11th showed us a different view of global problems. In this view old solutions appeared powerless to contain let alone solve them.

The new problems can only be solved with a decrease in human footprint coupled with a universal and continuous rapid increase in human well being, (e.g. more than a couple of doublings during a lifetime.) This could only be accomplished by a continuous and rapid decrease in population. A condition that would be produced by six billion people choosing one-child-per-family.

To achieve these strange new behaviors, at least without institutional coercion, would require a more temporal view of human existence. A view that could exist only in the absence of temporal blindness. For example, if conditions are good but decaying its time to change behavior. If conditions are bad but improving, hold the course.

Our task is "to get the whole next generation to appreciate a difference in a system-trend that this generation can not." To get control over the demographic gorilla, to set society's course toward peace based on ever increasing abundance, we must universally extinguish temporal blindness.


Jack Alpert (Bio)     mail to:      (homepage)      Other position papers

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