Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lessons Learned From Japan's Catastrophe

I can't believe that I haven't posted about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which happened last Friday.  I've been doing most of my commenting on Facebook, which is a little easier.

In any case, here are some lessons I'm learning (relearning!) from this most recent disaster:

1)  Always expect the unexpected (and when you least expect it!).

2)  Things can always get worse in life, so try to be thankful for the way things are, even while pursuing change for the better.

3)  Once again, the superficially appealing libertarian view that government is essentially bad (except perhaps to protect private property), is exposed for the nonsense it is.  In times of disaster (which come along fairly routinely), you need a well-functioning, effective, responsible, and representative (of the people) government.  For proof of this, simply look at Japan today.  And in times between disasters, you need 'good government' to provide regulation of such things as earthquake/tsunami codes, nuclear power plants, as well as the necessary government structures and institutions (aka the hated 'bureaucracy') to provide for when the bad times come.  (And I think the same argument applies with regard to government's role vis-a-vis the financial and economic system as well.)

You cannot simply rely on private corporations or Big Business for these things, because while you need a strong private sector, they are driven primarily, if not exclusively, by the demand for profit and return on investment, and not on public safety, the common good, or the long-term view.  You also cannot simply rely on non-profit or volunteer associations/organizations when disaster strikes.  These will also play an important role (eg the Red Cross), but they cannot replace the essential role of government, in either preparing for or responding to the tough times of natural disaster, war, financial crash, and famine and disease.

This means that such onorous things as government bureaucracy, regulation, taxes, etc. are not evils to be destroyed but rather lesser evils (or, I would submit, even positive goods) to be protected and provided for.  Any political philosophy that does not provide for them (such as seems to be the case with the current radical Republican, Tea Party, and Libertarian orthodoxies) is a bit ridiculous or worse.  In the final analysis, there must be a precarious balance maintained between the individual, volunteer social groups, non-profit associations, private corporations and businesses, and government.  All of these are needed in a properly functioning society.

4)  Modern life in advanced industrial democracies, while appearing to be insured and guaranteed, a 'sure thing', is actually quite fragile.  (I think many people rediscovered that truth in 2008 with the Great Recession.)  It can be upset by any number of factors: natural disasters, outbreak of war, shortage of natural resources, financial/economic disturbances, disease, etc.  While enjoying one's life as much as you can, it's probably a good idea to not get too comfortable, because that can all end in the 'twinkling of an eye', and you may need to resort to reserve caches of strength and character (and food?) in order to simply survive.

5)  And always remember what virtually all great religions teach us: that material things can literally be washed away in an instant, and that family, friends, faith, and the simpler things in life are also the truly important things in life.  "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

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