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An old friend and colleague of mine e-mailed me with an intriguing observation. “100 years ago, if you did not have common sense and situational awareness, you would starve or be eaten by a bear. Nature was self correcting. Today, modern society protects people with no common sense or situational awareness. They are growing in numbers and finding careers in politics.” (Thanks, Nick S!)
The more I think about the idea, the more I believe that he’s onto something. It’s especially true when both common sense and situational awareness are considered together. First some definitions. Actually… Everybody knows what common sense is, so let’s just nail down what “Situational Awareness” is all about. It’s pretty straightforward. Think of it as consisting of 3 levels:
- Conscious perception of the vast number of factors in the environment
- Comprehension of the situation – i.e., the interplay of all the relevant factors
- Projection of future status – i.e., perceiving what is likely to happen moving forward in time given the current situation
Now think about how different people stack up. Picture a graph with Common Sense on the horizontal axis. Low Common Sense toward the left and high Common Sense toward the right. Situational Awareness runs from low to high on the vertical axis. Four different quadrants quickly come to mind.
- Low Common Sense and Low Situational Awareness – Let’s label these folks “The Masses.” About half of the population falls into this quadrant.
- High Common Sense and Low Situational Awareness – These folks can get a whole lot accomplished. They’re pragmatic, competent and smart, but not certain what exactly needs to get done or why. Explain to them what needs to get done, and they’ll figure out how to do it, and then make it happen. These are “The Foot Soldiers.” About 25% of the population falls into this quadrant.
- Low Common Sense and High Situational Awareness – Think of the absent-minded professor. Very creative. Able to quickly perceive and instinctively understand all that’s going on around them and what’s going to happen next. To use a classic example, they instantly “get” all of the cosmological and meteorological factors causing the raindrops to be the size, shape and temperature that they are, and how long and how much more it’s going to rain, but don’t know enough to come in out of it. Another 25% of the population falls into this quadrant.
- High Common Sense and High Situational Awareness – These are the folks that traditionally wound up being in charge. They’re the leaders. At most, about 10% of the population legitimately fits here.
Next… I’ve got to quibble with my buddy just a little bit here. I think we need to think in terms of 200 years instead of just a century. 200 years ago, literally 95% of the world’s population lived at subsistence levels – in abject poverty. (Check this out for some data to back that up.) But, in fact… That’s just a detail. His concept is still right on the money.
200 years ago, anybody in that “Low Common Sense, “Low Situational Awareness” category really did either starve or get eaten by a bear!
Not only that, average life expectancy was only about 40 years. Extremely few individuals lived long enough to learn enough and/or experience enough to migrate from one quadrant to another. Wherever you started is pretty much where you stayed.
Leaders emerged at a young age and stayed leaders. Foot Soldiers got good at what they did at a young age and kept on doing it. Absent-Minded Professors started having brilliant flashes of insight at a young age and the flashes kept flashing. The Masses? Well… mostly they stayed busy starving and getting eaten by bears.
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But today it’s different. WAY different. Advances in technology have made all of the knowledge ever discovered accessible to all of us with just a few keystrokes. New knowledge and new insights are shared globally literally at the speed of light.
With a single, short burst of effort, today’s exceedingly average individual is actually able to articulate something that is genuinely valuable.
To that, add our modern, fawning media that is forever vigilant for yet another celebrity to constantly, loudly and endlessly celebrate. Forget about the fact that our friend from “The Masses” was like the proverbial blind pig that stumbled across the acorn. Mr. or Ms. Nobody is now a mass-and-social-media-driven Mr. or Ms. Somebody, and the whole world is duped into craving his or her opinion about everything.
The internet not only enables this phenomenon, it perpetuates it. And that’s a big problem. Especially when you consider the last sentence from my buddy’s e-mail. As a reminder, here it is again, “They are growing in numbers and finding careers in politics.” To reiterate…
Technology and longevity are collaborating with the media to pull AND push Lots and LOTS of bodies that belong with the rest of the Low Common Sense, Low Situational Awareness Masses up into the Leadership ranks.
Any politicians come to your mind? Well that’s a dumb question! OF COURSE some politicians come to your mind. Probably a bunch of them. Take a few minutes… Think about a few politicians that are in leadership roles when in reality they belong among The Masses… Get yourself a worked up a bit about how insane it is… In fact, feel free to get yourself really worked up!
Because now… I’ll throw some gas on the fire.
Is it conceivable that a High Common Sense, High Situational Awareness individual or group might co-opt a Low Common Sense, Low Situational Awareness individual or group for its own purposes? The answer, obviously, is, “Yes!” In fact, it happens all the time. Also obviously, this co-opting at the group level has a dramatically greater – much scarier – impact.
Let’s dissect an example. Personally, I cannot imagine a better one than today’s Democrats and The Green New Deal. It’s brilliant! The co-opting strategy that is – not the Green New Deal itself.
The DNC is behind it. Every declared Democrat with a dream of living in the White House has enthusiastically endorsed it. Consider a few key questions:
- Are the leaders of the DNC, the declared presidential candidates and their top staff members legitimate Leaders with High Common Sense, High Situational Awareness? Unquestionably yes.
- Does the basic concept of the Green New Deal have enormous appeal to environmentalists, big government advocates and a HUGE chunk of the Low CS, Low SA Masses and the Democrat base? Unquestionably yes.
- Is it a great strategy for those in the Democrat “Leader” quadrant to use the GND to energize the Masses around a cause that will generate boat-loads of votes for Democrats? Unquestionably yes.
Now let’s look at a couple more questions:
- Are all those “High/High” Democrats aware of OPEC’s forecast of a 13% increase in oil production over the next five years? And that the increase will be driven by demand from airlines? And that the amount of coal burned in developing countries will increase by 20% to reach five times the volumes currently burned in the west? And that the number of vehicles on the road will double from the current 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion? And that only about 13% of those will be electric? (Here’s a link to verify the numbers.) And let’s not forget by the way, that OPEC knows a thing or two about the energy business and doesn’t give a damn about American political maneuvering.
- Are all those “High/High” Democrats aware of NASA’s report that the world is actually 5% greener than it was 20 years ago? And that China and India with their massively huge tree-planting programs are the main drivers of that progress? That a group from India set a new world’s record by planting 66 million saplings in just 12 hours? (Here’s a link to verify those facts.)
The answer to each of those questions is also, “Unquestionably yes.” The “High/High” Democrats are not stupid. They want to be in control. They want more power. They want more money. To get more control, more power and more money, they need more votes. Will vocal, enthusiastic support of the Green New Deal get them more votes? Ummmmmm… Unquestionably yes.
The High/High few are co-opting the Low Common Sense, Low Situational Awareness many with this lovely little fairy tale.
Since I have now offended half my audience, I acknowledge the undoubted wisdom of working to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. That goal makes all the sense in the world. To pursue it by torpedoing the entire world economy though, is stupendously dumb.
What happens in a country with massive oil reserves that quits drilling for and refining it? Have you heard about Venezuela? Where hospital generators are shutting down due to lack of fuel? Which shuts down critical equipment for things like neonatal care and dialysis? Hours that stretch into a day or more in line at the gas station? Transportation screeching to a halt as result? No food deliveries because of the disruption in transport? Stray dogs and cats for dinner anyone? That’s no joke!
So yes, by all means let’s stay focused on developing new and better and cleaner/greener energy sources. But let’s not blow up 2 centuries of the hard won and truly massive and astounding improvements in worldwide standards of living.
Let us also stay focused on the fact that smart politicians will exploit the daylights out of the Low Common Sense, Low Situational Awareness dumb masses for their own political gain – for their own personal lust for more votes, more power and more money. Let’s think!!! And see through the soaring, political rhetoric for what it truly is.
I’m your Intentionally Vicarious host Todd Youngblood – still striving to develop not only my common sense, but also my deeper, more vital, un-common sense – still striving to become more situationally aware – and still striving to have more fun than anyone else I know.
If this episode got your brain working and/or your blood pumping, please tell all your friends and colleagues about it.
Thanks for paying attention…