Kelly Parker, PhD – Problem (2009.10.03)

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Grand Valley State University
View more information about Kelly Parker, PhD.

Video Transcript:

Given that we know with a pretty high level of certainty about an awful lot of problems that should give us concern, given that we have a pretty good idea of things that we could change to avoid those problems getting worse, the question naturally comes up, why don’t we do those things?  Why don’t we change the things that would need to be changed?

I’m going to tell a little story.  I think there are 2 often overlooked reasons why we resist change.  There are 2 barriers to change.  I’m going to tell a little story, and this is borrowed from Daniel Quinn’s books, “Ishmael” with a few modifications.

So suppose we see this guy.  He’s walking along the edge of a cliff.  There are warning signs all around that say, hey, look out for the cliff’s edge.  Dangerous here.  He’s had to actually climb over locked gates and fences to get there.  But there he is, walking along the edge of a cliff.  He’s a risk taker.  He’s an innovator.  Sure enough, he stumbles.  He falls over the edge of the cliff.  As he’s plummeting, the first though he has—and this is a very, very long cliff to accommodate the story—the first thing he thinks is, oh man, did I just fall over the cliff?  Is that really my situation?  He thinks about it and his response is, no, that’s not my situation.  I haven’t fallen over the cliff.  That would be too bad to be true.  That can’t be it.  So he’s reassured.  He knows whatever his situation is, it can’t be that because that would be unthinkable.  He continues to fall.  He gets oriented.  He flattens himself out, manages to use his windbreaker as a kind of semi-parachute, parasailing wing, and he discovers he’s got some control over his movement.  He’s just discovered unassisted flight.  And so he’s able to maneuver around in space and see things and go all over the place.  Well now, not only is this not at all the situation he initially feared it was—he hasn’t fallen off a cliff, in fact, this innovator, this risk taker, by going where no one was supposed to go and doing things they weren’t supposed to do, has actually made the greatest discovery in human history!  He has mastered unassisted flight!  So he’s going to continue it.

Now is he going to stop?  No!  This is too important to stop.  And that’s the other principle.  Not only is it not too bad to be true, on the contrary, this is too important to stop.  And so he continues.  Now suppose other people see him and they join him.  Now everyone is doing this, taking part in this miraculous human breakthrough, mastery of the world.  We’ve got a whole new culture.  This is great.  No one wants to stop it.  It’s too important to stop.

The only reason anyone would ever stop this is if they looked at the objective facts of the situation and said, as a matter of fact, we are falling a long way off a cliff and we do need to somehow stop it because there will be a sudden stop at the end.

Topics: Problem — October 2nd by Kelly Parker, PhD


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