Imagination Deficit Disorder

December 2, 2012

Sandy visits NJThe smell of deficits is in the air, but as bad as fiscal deficits are, there is lethality in a deficit of imagination. Just as vigorous imagination has given us the modern world, a fatal lack of it is a condition that willful ignorance is no protection against.

The problem is we’ve failed to imagine a world without us. We’ve failed to imagine the possibility of it. We’ve failed to admit into our mind’s eye the truth that the same process that raised us from the level of brutes has turned out to be brutal itself. We’ve become the T-Rex of the planet; so mighty, yet so vain and oblivious of our fragility.

When was the last time you bumped into a T-Rex on this jet-setting globe?

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” which gets at my point. We’ve known enough to create fossil fuel-burning systems to capture energy, we’ve known the comfort they bring, and even known of their destructive side-effects, but have refused to imagine the future implications of them.

Einstein also gave an implicit warning about imagination, but expressed it in positive tones.

“Imagination is everything,” he said. “It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

How wonderful, Al, but did you hint that a rotten nut may hunker within that bright shell?

I mean, in my home state recently, a storm named Sandy was one such coming attraction that cruelly came. Who could have imagined a Jersey shore so devastated, a rollercoaster forlorn in the surf, miles of dunes blown across an isthmus into a bay, shattered boardwalks where once pizzas and hoagies were sold? 

Sandy was a massive storm and an unusual one for the northeast, but “unusual” may become a word less and less appropriate as we continue to pour CO2 into the atmosphere. You may not get a fossil fuel CEO to admit it, but there is a knowledgeable consensus that pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causes global warming, which causes our seas to warm and results in hurricanes.

“Yes,” says writer George Lakoff, “global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy — and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let’s say it out loud: it was causation, systemic causation.”

Now there’s a term worth considering. Take a system, any system, and screw it up and you’ll produce effects of systemic causation.

Consider the electrical system in your house. Power passing through your main breaker fires up bulbs at the flick of a switch, the frig hums; everything’s copacetic — as long as nothing changes the system’s conditions. But, if in an impulse to test your mortality, you stand in a bucket of water and stick your finger in a light socket, not only will you cause the house’s electrical system to blow a breaker, you’ll also probably blow your personal life system. Systems are like that. Add some new influence anywhere along the line and bad things might happen: the steak in your freezer starts to smell, you wind up having your ashes tossed into the ecosystem off Shelburne’s High Ledges . . .

Now, for anti-scientific senators like James, Global-Warming’s-a-Hoax, Inhofe (R-OK) or Dan Lundgren (R-CA), the idea of systemic causation is as absurd as the idea: lobbyists hate money. The anti-intellectual attitudes of guys like Inhofe and Lundgren insist that systemic causation is a figment of some earth scientist’s imagination rather than their lack of it.

The problem is that systemic causation is more subtle than getting whacked in the nose from standing on a rake, which is why we have experts, specialists, who devote their lives to saving us from our deficits of imagination. Call them scientists.

As Lakoff points out, we need scientists to help us understand because “Systemic causation . . .is less obvious . . .it may be working through a network of causes.”

“In general,” Lakoff continues, “causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tends not to be direct . . .(and so) requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled.”

And here’s the thing: there is, in fact, scientific consensus that systemic causation is as real as electrocution by means of ignorance of electrical systems.

In fact, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) concluded in its second assessment report that “that there is a discernible human influence on global climate,” based in fact on a variety of different techniques,” at

Inhofe’s and Lundgren’s progeny will suffer along with yours and mine from global systemic causation despite their stunted imaginations, stupidity or personal corruption — or despite other more traditionally ingrained, anti-intellectual modes of thought. Case in point:

“Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), who said he opposed cap and trade legislation because God would not allow the earth to be destroyed by global warming, is seeking the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.” — The Raw, Nov. 2010

Imagine that! A 21st-century T-Rex with an inclination to a dangerous sort of imagination, one appropriate to Dr. Seuss, who said, “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

Tune your imaginations, planet-mates, because other Sandies and other systemically caused events are surely on their way, bringing incidental tsunamis and earth-cooking effects not the least of which is a lack of food.

It’s past time to get serious, my friends; bone up on your science, curtail your excesses, call your reps and demand they act on behalf of the earth and its contents, bug your President, marginalize the fossil fuel industry, pump up renewables and throw idiots like John Shimkus out on their ears.

by Jim Culleny
for the West County Independent




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