2272 - Pencil Full Of Lead

I’ve read an article yesterday. It is called “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead”. It tells the story of how scientists found strong evidence that lead, mostly from leaded gasoline, is a likely cause for high levels of violent crime. It sounds ridiculous, but really, read it for yourself. I think it is plausible, and even if it ultimately turned out as only a freak series of highly unlikely correlations, let’s for the moment just assume it were all true.

The authors explain the perils of lead, how dangerous lead is still out there, how exposure to it as a child increases the chance of having a lower IQ and becoming a criminal. They also try to make a case for government spending to clean up the environment, and they argue that in the long run, over roughly a generation, it would even be an excellent investment.

Again, let’s assume that it is exactly as they say.

How big do you think are the chances that politicians will tackle the problem at all, how big that they are able to fix it?

Exactly. Zero is my answer as well.

Here we have a problem (always assumed it really exists) that

  • is invisible
  • is indirect
  • is hard to measure
  • is expensive to fix
  • takes a long time to fix
  • can only be shown as fixed after a generation

If you ask me, this is pretty much of a worst case. Would an American president tackle a problem that, even if he solved it perfectly, would have no influence on the chances of a re-election? Would any politician care for a problem, when he is likely to be dead before he even has a chance to know whether he succeeded?

Unfortunately that is exactly the kind of problems that we increasingly face in our interconnected world. Most environmental problems are of that kind: Pollution, the question of clean energy, climate change, everything is complicated, everything has multiple causes, whatever you do has more than one effect, and in order to work at all, actions need to be coordinated on a global basis.

You may probably have heard of Adam Curtis and seen one or all of his brilliant documentaries. The one I recently saw was “The Century of the Self”. In the introduction to his four part series he says it “is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy”. It shows how Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented Public Relations and created the modern consumer, how focus groups were used to analyze consumers and voters, and how the results were used to sell what people didn’t need, and how this could even turn out to decide elections.

Again, all this is hard to explain, you really need to see it, but it completely explains where we are now. Politics are sold just as a commodity, populism reigns and nobody even tries to solve real problems.

Of course I have no solution either. In fact I am worried and what worries me most, is that I have not the slightest idea how we can ever get back to a responsible way of dealing with problems.

See, I have been thinking lately about what’s wrong in this world and how it would be better, and while I have no influence nor reach at all, even if I came up with neat solutions, even if we’d join up and, in a gigantic community effort (say, like creating a Linux free software operating system) we’d find solutions to the world’s major problems (or maybe only one major problem), I am afraid nobody would listen.

This is bad, real bad, and it worries me a lot.

The Song of the Day is “Pencil Full Of Lead” from Paolo Nutini’s 2009 album “Sunny Side Up”. Hear it on YouTube.

There are 5 comments

Juha Haataja   (2013-01-07)

One of the interesting things about leaded fuel is the inventor of this stuff, Thomas Midgley, Jr., who later also invented some of the first chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). It is said that he "had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth's history". But one shouldn't think too much about what is brewing in the laboratories right now...

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andreas   (2013-01-07)

Highly interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Midgley,_Jr. Of course they knew right from the beginning what they were doing, of course this was withheld from the public, about the only astounding aspect is, that Midgley risked and subsequently impaired his own health in a staged demonstration of the "harmlessness" of his stuff. Those things just don't happen any more 🙂

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Juha Haataja   (2013-01-07)

I think Midgley died (after becoming bed-ridden) in a mechanized bed which he invented and which malfunctioned and strangled him... Quite a fate. I think Bill Bryson wrote about him in the book "A Short History..."

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andreas   (2013-01-07)

Yes, I know, one shouldn't say that, but he deserved it 😄 What a character!

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Cedric Canard   (2013-01-10)

I agree with the gist of your post and with your conclusion. And yes it is worrying, this sad state of affairs we are in. I once read (I think this is only a theory) that the Roman Empire collapsed because of lead plumbing and lead cooking utensils. Since only the rich and influential could afford plumbing and lead pots, the people who ruled and made all the decisions slowly went mad and the Empire went into a death spiral. So perhaps, history is simply repeating itself; the rich and influential countries will slowly go crazy and bring upon themselves their own destruction. Maybe it's time to move to Costa Rica 😉

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