The End Is Near?

When I was very young, the idea of “the end is nigh” was somewhat terrifying. Given the possibility of nuclear war, then, not so difficult to accept as a possibility.

Children are very linear and, due to their lack of experience, cannot understand thought cycles, economic cycles, or the vagaries of political thought. Adults who pay attention can assess the nature of life. It has both ups and downs. Like the stock market. Like fashion. Like the dominance of the Yankees,  Patriots, and Lakers.

Things change both internally and externally. People make adjustments to better meet their needs. In society, those adjustments don’t happen in a week; they may take a decade. Eventually, bad ideas are tried and fail. Not because they were without merit, but because better ideas existed or came along.

Our mistake

The mistake we make as a society is to treat all decisions as binary. Two possible answers, this or that. The world that works exists between the two poles. Thomas Sowell’s thinking tells us that it is about tradeoffs and incentives. Have you noticed that children learn the idea reasonably quickly? Most children see the value of cooperation, the tradeoff, by the time they are 4 or 5. Some adults cannot find it in themselves to tolerate any condition that does not match their preferred thought. Children are accustomed to learning from their mistakes, while some adults are less fluid.

And so arises the many mindless positions and conflicts that we face today.

To whom is the good?

It will help you to see the problem if you ask the age-old detective question, “Who benefits?”

The study of that question leads us to people who contribute little other than rhetoric about how some group or other is taking advantage of you personally, and you must act to deny them their victory. There is a long list of these people and positions. From the race hustlers to politicians to activists of every stripe.

Are they all wrong? No. Each has a point, but it is not a point that they can resolve by conflict. The conflict is what sustains the hustlers. In most cases solving the problem would dissolve their influence.

Cooperation and tradeoffs. Keep those in mind as to how problems are solved, and opportunities developed.

If we don’t cooperate

Failing cooperation, we become a dystopian society. Rather than mutually supporting citizens, we each become the chief of our own state. We seek to optimize what is good for us and defeat what is not, even if it might be good for others. Selfishness dominates, and altruism becomes a faint memory.

Recall the idea of cycles. The ebb and flow of ideas. The cycle of social thought eventually moves toward a system that works. Ideas that provide an advantage to a small group at the expense of the rest will gradually disappear. In the meantime, politicians use these “wedge” issues. They divide society into us and them, the better for rhetoric and emotion. Wedge issues strengthen some but at the expense of society as a whole. A functional community is not conceived to make winners of some and losers of the rest.

Where we are heading now

In today’s world, I have noticed that book dealers are moving dystopian fiction to the current affairs section in their stores. Not entirely unreasonable. The question is, will it continue, get worse, or be replaced by more cooperative values?

Being older now and an observer of cycles, I think we will find more people moving toward cooperation. The middle space, where we try better ideas. Not perfect ideas, but ones that help us move forward.

Some I expect:

  • Someday soon, there will be a politician on either the left or the right who will say, “That idea the other side is proposing has some merit, and we should take a harder look at it.” The honest ones all think that now, but their value system does not permit the thought to escape their mouth. Partisan politics is for losers.
  • Governments will seek to govern rather than play political games. That’s my idealist speaking.
  • Religion will become a higher value. Not necessarily the traditional religions, but religion in the sense of a community with mutual support and an attachment to the idea of a higher goal.
  • Unearned self-esteem will gradually disappear. Struggle and achievement using the resources available and learned will again become the basis. It’s like high school. Someone who works hard to get 62 on their math exam should feel better and get more credit from others than someone who should have gotten 90 but settled for 75.
  • The education system will come to value learning over teaching.
  • Leadership and inspiring examples will return. Our “heroes” and “good examples” will change to those who uplift us. Today, some people have become famous by reason of talent and hard work, while others have just become famous. Fame says nothing about value. When I was very young, I read “Fear Strikes Out,” the story of troubled Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall. He was not a conventional role model, but he was tough enough to observe his problems and overcome them. We should pay more attention to that process.

The bit to take away

Cycles are real and swing from one extreme to the other, eventually settling somewhere between. The old idea of the end is near contributes little. I prefer this image and its thought – The beginning is near.

 


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Federal Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

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