Our only choice is to work together — our future depends on it
This article was written by Jerry Levitan and was published in the Toronto Star on November 26, 2022.
“For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
—John F. Kennedy, commencement address at American University, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1963
What goes through the minds of those with power and influence who make the decisions that affect people’s lives? Given the overwhelming existential challenges humanity faces, we have more in common than ever before, including how imperilled we all are.
None of us can escape from our deteriorating environment, contagions that spread and mutate so quickly, economic dysfunction and the reckless selfishness that characterizes our species. All the while, the powerful make decisions that impact us, many times with devastating consequences.
Most of us have no choice but to focus on our day-today struggles. We do not have the time or capacities to keep up with all the swirling havoc that surrounds us. The powerful have that time and the resources to define our economic and social systems to reflect their interests, priorities and perspectives.
Nothing proves this point more than the atrocious election turnouts in Ontario’s and Toronto’s past elections. Is the reason as simple as people are giving up on having a say in their lives and are resigned to survival? If that is true, where in heavens are we all headed?
A decades-old scientific theory explores why we have not yet discovered any sign of alien life on Earth or in the vast reaches of the universe. “The Great Filter” postulates that nobody else is out there because intelligent life inevitably reaches a stage at which it destroys itself.
A great piece in the Daily Beast highlights NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s examination of that theory, developed by economist Robin Hanson in 1996, who wrote: “The fact that our universe seems basically dead suggests that it is very, very hard for advanced, explosive, lasting life to arise.”
Assuming this theory has validity, astrophysicist Jonathan Jiang and his co-authors are quoted in the piece to say: “The key to humanity successfully traversing such a universal filter is … identifying those attributes in ourselves and neutralizing them in advance.”
This brings me back to my question: What goes through the minds of the people who make decisions that impact us? Imagine having the opportunity to decide on how to treat workers in our educational system and how to fund it, the system that takes care of and nurtures our children.
Or, health care workers who risked their lives during the pandemic to protect strangers and funding that system for our well-being. Would you want these workers to be treated fairly and show gratitude and support for what they do? Would you want your tax dollars to go to those systems so they could operate effectively for our collective benefit? Or would you rather spend taxpayer money elsewhere, like giving motorists rebates for licence plate renewals before an election, or building billion-dollar highways? Remember, this is our money.
Imagine the thought process and discussion that leads to decisions to open up Ontario’s Greenbelt to development, or using the notwithstanding clause to suspend the applicability of our Charter of Rights. How about diminishing the power of councillors, who we just elected by empowering the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to force passage of bylaws that align with provincial priorities, whatever that means, if more than one-third of council members vote in favour.
Are these the decisions you would make if you had power and influence? Do you want your children and their children to get used to this kind of exercise of arbitrary power in a mutated form of democracy?
We have the ability to replace the Great Filter and not succumb to Hanson’s theory. We can replace that filter with one that neutralizes our destructive attributes. We can find our common ground recognizing that we breathe the same air, cherish our children’s future and know that we are all mortal.
To do that, we need leadership of courage and vision, dedication to addressing our existential challenges and we need, all of us, to vote.