we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Thoughts on the 2022 Ontario Election: the Meaning of LEADERSHIP for Human Beings

[If you came across this post in the TWO BUDDHAS sequence, it’s a diversion that belongs with the main sequence of uncategorised posts; just skip it and go on to the next post.]

Many of us are trying to make sense of the desperately apathetic response to the greatest challenge of ALL human history revealed in the results of yesterday’s Ontario Election: We chose “Hold the Course” as we head over the brink of the global-heating/mass-extinction cliff.

After 73 years of watching in real time this “greatest challenge” take shape, I have come to an understanding of human politics following from the Natural-History-based assumption that we are the only species for whom leadership means perspective. As this blog is my way of exploring recent issues using Natural History as a starting point, I’ll try to unpack this (commonly accepted but seldom adhered-to) understanding of electoral politics in the form of a set of postulates in the hope that they might serve as a tentative foundation for adapting existing political science thinking to the Climate Emergency:

  1. Human Beings are the only teamworking animals who must coordinate specialised learning.
    1. Corollary: the ‘majority’ of human beings will never see the Big Picture on their own.
    2. Corollary: the ‘majority’ of human beings cannot decide on specialised issues until a ‘designated coordinator’ communicates the essential details and likely outcomes.
  2. The challenges of postulate 1 require that the first focus of human leadership must be unbiased attention to, and communication of, specialist knowledge to ensure the long term thriving, or at least the long term survival, of the whole group.
    1. Corollary: the first order of business for human leadership must be the building of a ‘comprehensive’ team of specialist and far-sighted advisors.
  3. Throughout the animal kingdom ‘choosing a leader’ involves a balancing act between a display of skills by the chosen and a display of trust by the choosers, so from a Natural History standpoint we might postulate that the unique degree of coordination and communication referenced in postulate 1 requires that, notwithstanding 1.1, some form of variously but systematically organised democracy must be in place.
    1. Corollary: While leaders might retain some animal instinct for ‘holding power’ [for feeding primacy; for preferential reproduction; or for guidance of very occasional (among non-humans) intra-species territorial ‘warfare’], this will never address the challenges of postulate 1.
    2. Corollary: the animal instinct for ‘holding power’ addressed in 3.1 must be set aside as far as possible if we are to have consistency with postulate 2.
  4. Our acceptance of postulates 1 through 3 can only be consistent if ‘choosing a leader’ is not taken to be a specialty; i.e. the ‘majority’ of human beings may disagree about anything else, but they must understand in common the meaning of human leadership.

As we can see from the present inability of our political leaders to take decisive action to mitigate climate change, and from the grotesque concentration of human wealth (i.e. the material and institutional means for “thriving”) in the hands of a few billionaires, as well as from the many recent examples of misdirected dissatisfaction (taking place in our polarised media and even in the streets) which tend to a distrust of the broader community and an anxious defense of the individual (with deregulation widely promoted by the wealthy of course), this last postulated condition has not yet materialised for a majority of ‘voters’, nor has the second postulated condition (focus of leadership on unbiased attention to, and communication of, specialist knowledge) and the corollaries of postulate three (turning focus away from the holding of power) materialised within more than a handful of ‘leaders’.

The desperation and the apathy are real, and our failure seems intractable right now, but here are some questions that arise for me: Is it really likely that a majority of variously engaged individuals will want to adequately address climate change if they’re not hearing the truth from their elected leaders? Can leaders who listen open-mindedly to a ‘comprehensive’ team of far-sighted specialists, and then tell the truth, in fact be chosen when the majority of voters do not understand this attitude to be the true meaning of human leadership (postulate 4)? And finally, could a Natural History approach, such as this, ever make it possible for a universally acceptable understanding of human leadership to become widely established?

Those whom we put forward and who put themselves forward as our leaders are reneging on their uniquely human responsibility, to listen and communicate, when they embrace the popular notion that “the people know best” on arcane issues — scientific issues for instance, like human-caused climate change.

I am going to leave this post open for editing. Everyone is welcome to make serious contributions to the process in the comments.

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