The Inmates & the Asylum

<June 1/09>

The phrase “The inmates are running the asylum” has been running through my head a lot lately. Of course, the inmates have been running the asylum for quite a long while now…

Last night I watched the documentary film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” & was blown away by the story of greed, short-sightedness & sheer stupidity in the tale of how General Motors & the California Air Resources Board (or whatever they’re called) conspired to trash the electric car.

It’s yet another example (if we needed any more) of the deadly epidemic of short-term thinking that is so characteristic of the corporate (& human) mindset.

California’s air is wickedly polluted & alternative methods of transportation desperately needed – yet all General Motors could think of, seemingly, was their “bottom line” over the very short-term – willfully neglecting the obvious truths that (a) everyone there has to breathe the air, even the families of bigshot auto industry executives & (b) recklessly ignoring the perils of the short-term mindset lead ultimately to financial ruin (can anyone say “General Motors bailout” & “General Motors bankruptcy protection?”)

Short-term thinking (which involves denial & greed & stupidity) appears to be the nemesis of our species. Our Achilles heel, as it were. We are unable to look beyond our very own noses, which we all too frequently cut off to spite our faces.

Foolish creatures!?!?!?

I recall taking part several years ago in a committee formed by the local health unit to discuss & strategize about West Nile virus, a relatively rare ailment that mostly affects people whose immune systems are already seriously weakened. The Health Unit (the Health Unit!?!?!) proposed spraying a dangerous chemical to prevent mosquitoes from breeding & potentially spreading the disease – conveniently ignoring the fact that such chemicals suppress the human immune system (which would then lead to there being more cases of West Nile Virus).

In other words, it was one of those instances of the cure being worse than the disease. Along the lines of “destroying the village in order to save it.” We’ll poison everyone so we can keep a tiny percentage of the population from contracting what is actually a quite mild virus that will not affect anywhere near the majority of the population.

Well. There are endless examples of this phenomenon – at the societal level &, of course, also at the individual.

I’m probably as guilty as anyone else. I’ve been a smoker, & I eat foods I know aren’t good for me, & I knowingly drive a car that pollutes the air we all share in breathing.(1)

I’m one of those crazy inmates too; it’s true! I know this, & I wrestle with it, trust me.

I guess, though, that the only way we can improve conditions in the asylum (our reckless & rapacious, greedy culture) is to step consciously away from the mindless treadmill that keeps us all running – running – running in pointless circles – endlessly chasing & consuming more, more, more.

I’m not convinced that the long-term survival of our species is even a serious prospect anymore – yet for sure the status quo does not appear a very attractive option…does it?

If more of us begin stepping off the treadmill (or resigning from the rat race), we will figure out our way forward. As an old saying has it, “The longest journey begins with one step.” (& as a Chinese proverb says, “Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.”)


(1) I am writing this on the bus, though, on my way home from crazy old Toronto…