Relationships and Systems

It is said that we live in a time where awareness of each other is at its peak in history. Because of the Internet, satellite communications and social media, the experts say we now know the most we have ever known about what happens to other people everywhere. Some even think that we are on the verge of a “great shift in spiritual consciousness” for humanity as a whole, that we approach an era of “oneness”.

Whatever your belief system, there’s also the news. And if you like to believe in the news, then well…maybe there is not as much “oneness” as some people like to think.

For example, I recently read in several well-respected international publications that “by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by weight”. According to them, this is caused by the tremendous amount of plastics we have put in the environment since the “plastics era” started. Plastics, and products made with plastics like synthetic clothing, when discarded eventually break down into “plastic microparticles”, which can last in the environment for many many years. The same people say that these plastic microparticles end up irremediably in our rivers and oceans.

Although news about these microparticles have been in mass media for a few years, other prestigious publications recently published that for the first time they have been detected in human feces. This means humans are now starting to eat food that has these plastic microparticles, because from our rivers and oceans, they get into our food.

You would think that this would be very alarming for most people, and that we would do something drastic to change this. It is, after all, quite an experiment to feed plastics to billions of people and “see what happens”. But it is one thing to be informed of something, a different thing to be conscious of what it means, and an even more different thing to care enough to act.

While a few American cities and corporations are starting to ban plastic straws, and some European countries are working on laws to ban them too, experts say that this is less than the proverbial “drop in the bucket”, and far from enough change to make a difference. Other more optimistic experts say this is a “good first step in the right direction”.

Regardless of how much I choose to believe the media, I am sure of one thing: this is a great example of the power of systems. According to Wikipedia, etimologically “The term “system” comes from the Latin word systēma, in turn from Greek σύστημα systēma: ‘whole concept made of several parts or members, system’, literary ‘composition’.” Their basic definition is, “a regularly interacting or interdependent group of units forming an integrated whole.” In very basic terms this means that if you make tons and tons of plastics, for decades, and spread them around the earth, somebody eventually is going to poop plastics. And that somebody may already be you.

That is the nature of a system. If you affect one part of the system, you affect all of it. There is no part that can be truly isolated, no matter how much we wish for it to be.

This is a constant problem for humans. We would like for this expensive dinner out not to affect our retirement savings. We would like for excessive drinking not to put us at risk of a car accident. We would like as they say, to have our cake and eat it too. But the world does not work that way.

Even more concerning, for some, would be to recognize that affecting a system does not just affect it in the moment, or soon, but it affects it long term. Some of these plastic microparticles were probably manufactured 30 or 40 years ago. Even the discovery of plastics, or the invention of the disposable plastic spoon, directly helped create the problem that now all of us have to digest, pun intended.

This is challenging because many times we cannot see the effects that our actions upon a system will have 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. I am pretty sure whomever invented the plastic spoon was not an evil mad scientist. I am pretty sure they were not trying to poison the entire food supply of humanity in the 21st century.

But we have an extra problem when we don’t even try to think about how our actions will affect systems, some of which are complex beyond understanding. We have an extra problem when we don’t want to consider the long-term effects of our actions because we want the short-term result too much. The extra problem is that, as limited as our capacity is to see into the future, it is even less when we close our eyes.

And so continues the great experiment. Just like I don’t think a mad scientist invented the plastic spoon to poison humanity, I also don’t think that President Trump ran for office with the goal of emboldening neo-Nazi movements in Europe. Nor do I think he set out to destroy the reputation of his office in the international stage. And yet, that seems to be what is happening.

It gets even better (or worse). Most likely the actions of President Obama during his presidency, and those of the liberal urbanites who elected him, had a lot to do with Trump winning the election. The United States is a huge, very complex system: not an easy boat to steer. It is unlikely Mr. Obama planned for this or desired it when he was president. Systems, unfortunately, don’t care what our intentions are, or what we desire. They only react to what we do.

This is playing out in my country too. Years, if not decades, of a certain type of political regime in Mexico most likely contributed to the victory of AMLO in the last presidential election. In fact, the lifestyles of the upper classes, and how much they chose to pay their workers and middle managers, probably also contributed to the current situation. This regardless of how much many of these people would like to say, American style, “he’s not MY president”.

As president elect, Mr. Lopez Obrador is already shaking the financial markets as he attempts to steer the country in the direction where he thinks he is steering it. Where is he really steering it to? That question will take years, maybe even decades, or more, to be answered