15 November 2000
Questions to which Many deserve Answers !
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Parents are traditionally challenged by awkward questions from young children
concerning the reality of symbolic figures, such as
Father Christmas, monsters, and the like.
The leaders of society are faced
with other kinds of questions, for which the available answers
are equally unsatisfactory -- when set against how these elders urge people
Questions about questions
Why is so much information classified? What confidence can people have that
the truth is not completely otherwise and that official public assertions are
not invalidated by withheld information?
Why would some assume that questions, such as those above, deserve to be answered?
Governance and democracy
How is it that in a Europe of democratic countries, there was no referendum
on the switch to the Euro - whose value subsequently decreased by 20% ?
Why does the world's greatest superpower (and self-acclaimed model society)
have the highest proportion of its population in jail, who have been in jail,
or who have some form of criminal record? How are these proportions to be explained
to those with minimal understanding of the historical details of the gulag
policy of the USSR?
How is that no database is maintained on the promises, pledges and commitments
made by those seeking election or holding power - with a view to making
it transparent as to if, or when, they fulfilled these commitments?
With the rise of just-in-time inventory management, how vulnerable has society
become to unforeseen disruption of transportation and communication processes?
When voter turnout sinks below 50% of the electorate, how is the democratic
nature of decision-making to be explained -- when the "silent majority"
indeed remains silent?
Why do government leaders, members of parliament, and diplomatic personnel
need immunity against prosecution? What proportion of parliamentarians in any
country has been indicted or convicted for offences? Who holds this information?
Since its foundation, what proportion of those representing their country in
the General Assembly of the United Nations has been indicted for offences in
their own country? Why does nobody know?
Why does a country with a population of hundreds of thousands have the same
voting power in international assemblies as one of hundreds of millions?
How was it possible for the world's superpowers to elect a former Nazi as a
2-term secretary general of the United Nations? Why did a successor publicly
embrace President Mobutu and great him as his "brother"?
After the massacre of Srebrenica, betraying the trust of those who were promised
"safe haven" there by the United Nations, why should anybody have
confidence in the promises of the UN system?
How do the world's greatest democracies reconcile their self-satisfaction with
the soft-money associated with their electoral processes and the subsequent
effects on official policy decisions?
How should the influence of parliamentary lobbyists and "cash for questions"
be explained as characteristic of the democratic process?
How is it that governments are so categorical in their assessment of dissidents
as "terrorists", when the independence of their own country has usually
been achieved by people who have behaved in exactly the same manner, and have
often been honoured leaders of the governments of the new state -- even within
How are the consequences of past national and international promises of "health
for all", "jobs for all", "education for all", "justice
for all", etc to be explained? What credibility is to be given to such
promises in the future?
Why is the bearer of bad news often subject to severe sanction, whereas the
bearer of false promises is acclaimed -- despite consequent technical disasters
such as the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle (due to failure
to take account of warnings by junior engineers)?
Why is it that due process in democracy is unable to acknowledge and deal with
citizen concerns (in a timely and effective manner) -- necessitating their expression
in demonstrations that are characterized as "irresponsible"?
Why is it that despite all the technological and economic "progress" of the
last 35 years (more cars per household, more living space, more TV channels,
food from around the world available at the corner store, motorways, channel
tunnels, jet transport, the Internet . . . etc, etc), polls show that the percentage
of people happy with what they have is exactly the same -- around 30 per cent?
How can a so-called intelligent species become aware of the potentially disastrous
impact it is having on its environment, and thence the possible extinction of
itself, and then continue (and often increase) doing the very things that cause
the problem? Where has the sense of the relationship of individual action and
its collective consequences gone ?
Why are all governments, corporations and systems nowadays changing in a way
to minimise their responsibility ?
History shows that all systems fail, and all governments and economies also
eventually fail. If so, then what is Plan B in the current situation ?
Why is there such a deep commitment to disarming the IRA, or the Kosovar KLA
- when the constitution of the world's superpower (and self-acclaimed
model of democracy) specifically allows every citizen the right to bear arms ?
And when the Irish peace process was chaired by a representative of the country
stressing that right?
Why is the world's only superpower so rated when it has been unable (through
fair means or otherwise) to defeat a small neighbouring regime to which it has
been actively hostile for 40 years?
How can it be claimed that large scale electronic espionage, such as Echelon,
is not used to the benefit of national economic interests -- as a vital dimension
of national security?
How is it that the Israelis and Palestinians have together generated a ghetto-dynamic
for the Palestinians that bears so much resemblance to the practices that justified
the establishment of Israel in the first place?
Why is it that one or two police officers are considered quite adequate protection
for an individual targetted as a key witness, or for other reasons, when the
number required to protect a head of state is measured in hundreds?
How can a disarmed population feel secure in the face of potentially violent
burglars when emergency services will only arrive, if at all, many minutes after
the violence has been perpetrated?
Why does the law assume that a witness in the conviction of the perpetrator
of a crime is not at severe risk, whether from the friends of the criminal,
or after the criminal has been released?
Why is more spent on incarcerating the criminal than on protecting the witness
or compensating the victim?
Why is the annual cost of imprisonment in the world's richest country of the
same order as the cost of an education there at a superior university? And for
what roles in society does the former "education" equip the criminal?
Why is the incidence of brutality and intimidation in prison not widely acknowledged
as an additional, and necessarily more violent, punishment to that of the formal
sentence of incarceration -- and which in the case of male rape by HIV-infected
prisoners may be tantamount to a death sentence, totally disproportionate as
a punishment for the original crime?
Why are many accidental deaths referred to as "instantaneous" when
most technology used in capital punishment requires seconds, if not minutes,
to kill a person?
Why is it that governments have been so reluctant to recognize the health risks
of smoking and alcohol - from which they derive very large tax revenues
- and yet are so deeply antagonistic to the narcotic drugs that generate
large "revenues" for organized crime? How is this reconciled with
the opium drug trade from which these same governments generated so much revenue
a century ago?
Why is Taiwan excluded from the UN analysis of trade statistics - even
though it is one of the world's principal trading nations ?
Justice and equity
Why is it that the standards of proof for some theories of fundamental physics
are so confidently based on parts per hundred million, or less - justifying
further costly experiments -- whereas "proof" of toxic effects, acid
rain, BSE, TV violence, global warming, is considered as inadequate and unworthy
of either research or remedial action?
Why is it so easy for some people to indulge in luxury in hotels surrounded
by streets full of beggars and underprivileged - especially when those
in the hotels are discussing remedies for that condition?
How is that those responsible for development programs, and their implementation
in the Third World, always benefit much more than ordinary citizens of the First
World (let alone the Third), even when the programs are rated a total failure?
How is it that when establishment figures are indicted or convicted, for crimes
or misdemeanours, the convictions tend subsequently to be quashed, or the penalties
How is it that the principal multinational corporations headquartered on the
territory of the world's greatest superpower (and self-acclaimed model
of equity) pay little or no taxes?
Some countries pride themselves on the equality of their citizens before the
law. How is this to be reconciled with the fact that the financial penalty for
the same offence may completely ruin a poorer person but be merely a minor inconvenience
to a person of wealth?
How is it meaningful to distinguish between the nomenklatura of the
USSR and that of the European Union in the light of their respective privileges?
Remedial action strategies
How is it that with respect to long-standing intractable conflicts (Northern
Ireland, Kashmir, Sudan, Middle East, Tibet, etc), there is no publicly available
checklist of what has been tried (whether it failed or not), what has not been
tried (and why), and what has not been considered (and why)? Who conceals this
information and why?
Would it be correct to say that multinational tobacco companies have been more
successful in regulating population growth than official population programs
with that objective?
Why is it assumed that pharmaceutical companies have no interest in discretely
facilitating the emergence of new "incurable" diseases? Or "security"
firms in facilitating burglary and kidnapping in their market area?
How should a meaningful distinction be made between western economic logic
and Pyramid Selling or Ponzi Schemes -- especially when this economic
logic has only been proven to "work" when the pool of disadvantaged is constantly
When barriers are removed, traditional farmers know that crops may be damaged
by animals, or homes may be vulnerable to flooding or entry by unwelcome visitors.
But, although susceptible to simulation, no analogous problems are foreseen
in the case of globalization -- with its removal of buffers -- despite the lessons
of speculative movements of capital (during the Asian financial crisis) and
the flooding aggravated by deforestation and watershed management?
Why is it that the jobs that most need to be done are rated as dishonourable,
whereas most of those rated honourable are of questionable necessity?
Why do efforts to seek solutions to the intractable problems of society rely
so heavily on approaches, models, institutions and people that have such a poor
track record -- whilst denying the existence of possible alternatives and stressing
that "no stone has been left unturned" in the search for innovative
Why is unemployment stigmatized, when so many are unemployed and so many aspire
to being unemployed on retirement?
The world is awash with capital, and no-one really knows what to do with it.
What can be done to absorb the excess and reduce further excess production?
Most mutual benefit organizations are in decline or being corporatised. Why
is this so -- when most people prefer services to be provided in a mutual way?
Why is it assumed that medical doctors have no interest, individually or in
collaboration with colleagues, in prolonging their tests and sessions with a
given pateint beyond the health needs of the patient? Does an equivalent question
not also apply to most professions and service providers?
Why are interpersonal relationships so fragile and increasingly so unsustainable?
Most religious and spiritual leaders claim unique merit for their particular
approaches to peace, insight, and personal and collective well-being. How is
it that they exhibit so little capacity to reconcile their differences creatively
in the light of their insights into the human condition and the disciplines
which they practice?
How is it that humanists/atheists claim religion is the major cause of cruelty,
war and oppression when the 20th Century (surely the most irreligious century
ever) hit the jackpot on all three ?
Why are the relationships between academic disciplines, schools of thought,
or their representatives, so petty, crude and unworthy of the quality of insight
they claim to represent?
Formerly there were clearly identifiable spiritual movements and teachers that
were in a sense "inclusive of rationality". Why has so much been published,
but with so little advance for several decades?
Why are so many aspects of life being capitalized or commodified -- with factors
other than money having decreasing relevance, even in terms of relationships,
family, leisure activities, art, and sport?
Why do so many people identify to a greater degree with their work than with
their family or relationships?
Why does the relationship of masculine/feminine, active/receptive, creative/passive
fall so easily into standard patterns and habits ? Why are these patterns so
difficult to change ? Why are only "nuclear relationships" shown in the media,
with no signs of any holistic relationship between complete persons?
Why is so much investment made in scientific and technical research and development,
despite the problems its products exacerbate -- whereas virtually none is made
in social and psychological research and development to ensure comparable community
If genetic engineering of crops and humans is claimed to be so safe, why are
those developing such products unwilling to set up an insurance fund to recompense
anybody seriously affected by them (say at a rate of $10,000,000 per person)?
Surely their insurance companies would accept that the risk is close to zero?
Natural scientists have been key factors in technological development. Why
is it so difficult to identify any contribution of social scientists to innovative
social development and the reduction of the group tensions challenging modern
civilization? Why have social science insights, and their practitioners, proven
so unremarkable in their capacity to design new styles of community capable
of enhancing a higher degree of individual and collective well-being?
Why does the practice and role of science and scientists in society increasingly
parallel the practice and role of religion and the priesthood during the centuries
of their dominance in western societies?
Anthony Judge. Limits to Human Potential. Mankind 2000, 1976 [text]
Edmond Jabes. The Book of Questions. Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop. Middletown:
Wesleyan University Press, 1976. [text]
Union of International Associations:
of World Problems and Human Potential [commentary]
- Contextual challenge [text]
- Existential challenge [text]