May 26, 2012

Warnings: When It's Not Just "Crying Wolf"

There is a famous saying that "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana 

An editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal (10 April 2012) by French philosopher Pascal Bruckner called "The Ideology of Catastrophe" that accuses those who warn others of danger as having "tiny minds who wish us suffering."

This "philosopher" maligns both Jewish prophets and Christian "millenarian movements" for having "no function other than indignation...and [the Prophet] becomes intoxicated with his own words and claims a legitimacy with no basis."

Mr. Bruckner must be completely clueless of those throughout history that have sought to warn us of dangers that if the world would but have listened, untold numbers of millions could have been saved. 

From the earliest of times, there have been warnings about pending catastrophes and those that paid attention were able to make a difference. 

In the Torah (Bible), G-d warned Noah of the impending flood, and Noah was able to save humankind and animals--2 by 2 they went unto the ark for 40 days and nights of pouring rain that vanquished the earth.

In the Prophets, G-d has Yonah (after being swallowed by the whale) warn the the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent and prevents them and their city from destruction. 

In the 20th century, if only the world had paid attention to the genocidal desires of maniacs like Adolph Hitler (may his name be cursed) in books like Mein Kampf, how many tens of millions may have been spared. 

In terms of the advent of nukes and other weapons of mass destructions, to at least some extent people and governments have listened to warning and retreated from a philosophy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) to instead move toward anti-proliferation, arms reduction treaties, and other safeguards, and we have thank G-d been able to avoid major catastrophes from these dangers. 

Thankfully, with dire medical issuances about various diseases, pandemics, and even warning about the dangers of obesity, smoking, and drinking, we have been able to curb harmful behaviors, promote healthier living, and lengthen life spans.

Similarly, with environmental warnings, we have been able to create awareness and educate people on more sustainable living--through conservation, recycling, reuse, as well as renewable energy sources, and more. 

Moreover, warnings about runaway spending and the national deficit have been heard for decades, but having ignored these for the most part, we now face a $16,000,000,000,000 bill and growing rapidly--soon coming due to future generations of Americans.  And we are already witnessing the effects--inflation, unemployment, default, and perhaps succession from the Euro and the EU itself--of countries on the other side of the Atlantic that have made the similar errors in their wild spending ways.

While some corporate, religious, and political leaders do use fear tactics to gain power or whatever they are personally-seeking that does not make every warning false and malevolent. 

Certainly, at the other end of the spectrum, some people would rather live in denial of any issues and pretend that everything is just hunky-dory all the time. 

Bruckner does makes some superficial and one-sided arguments--denouncing warnings and claiming that:

- Warnings cause fear, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

- Warnings "though they try to awaken us...eventually deadens us."

- People who warn "do not [really] intend to warn us as much as to condem us."

- Leaders issue warnings "to dazzle us in order to make us docile."

Unfortunately, Bruckner has failed to distinguish between fear-mongering and fact. 

Bruckner missed the point of how real warnings can help people--which is through changing hearts, minds, and behaviors. 

1) Fear is not a self-fulfilling prophecy unless people do not act in time to change dangerous and irresponsible behaviors.

2) Genuine warnings do not deaden those who seek truth and a way forward--it only deadens those who are unwilling or unable to adapt. 

3) People who warn based on facts and with sincerity to help others do not wish to condem us--rather they wish to alleviate unnecessary suffering.

4) Leaders who issue warnings to alert people to very real dangers out there in order to seek safety or change course are not trying to dazzle and make docile, but rather they seek to save lives by creating awareness, educating, and empowering people to change before it is too late.

Some people understand well from history as well as from common sense that our behaviors have consequences--other do not. 

For me, when we stray into dangerous waters, I am glad for the true heros out there looking out for us and helping guide us live better and longer lives. 

While it is good to be critical of unfounded warnings and charlatans, it is necessary to have warnings that are grounded in fact, given sincerely, not forced on others, and help people stay successfully on the road to health, prosperity, and human rights.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Alex Peruso)


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