I attended a condominium owners’ meeting in late August 2022. It was the first meeting of the condominium’s owners in more than two (2) decades. For so long, I and my fellow condominium unit owners have had no issues to contend with. We (most of us anyway) paid our dues and everyone lived in peaceful harmony.
A meeting of the owners was held after so many years because one unit owner refused to pay her dues and she was raising a ruckus. She accused the present association as illegitimate and she via a lawyer demanded action on her complaints.
During that owners’ meeting, the complaining unit owner griped that the association lacked legal ground. She produced copies of documents to back her case but refused to share them. And she refused to pay her dues until her demands were met, which included re-organising the association (with herself preferably as president or chairwoman). To most of the owners, the griping unit owner was an annoying person. She often complained but did not pay what she owed for the upkeep of the condominium.
The chairman of the owners’ meeting promised the complaining owner that the condominium association board would act on her demands. More than a month later, however, nothing had happened. The condominium’s board had yet to release the summary of the meeting. Most of the owners meanwhile continued with their routines and just about forgot what had transpired during that meeting. It would probably take another crisis for the condominium owners to convene another meeting.
We human beings have a propensity to prioritise tasks when we perceive them as urgent and pressing. When we think we need to do it, we will. If we think we don’t need to do anything, we won’t.
The late Carl Sagan in a 1990 speech lamented that the United States had budgeted and spent a total of 10 trillion US dollars during the Cold War which lasted almost five decades.
He wonders how political leaders could allocate so much money for military budgets when the United States and the Soviet Union dealt with each other peacefully during the Cold War and it seemed unlikely they would get into armed conflict that would lead to mutual destruction. And even if there may have been times where both sides were disagreeing with each other, was it necessary to spend ten trillion dollars for weapons which had the cumulative capability to wipe out human life on Earth many times over?
Carl Sagan was perplexed that leaders would not hesitate to spend so much for the possibility of war but would balk at spending to fight global warming* which many scientists agreed was quite likely the way things were going.
We human beings will pay a lot of money for security. Security is a basic need, one among Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It manifests as the need for having more than enough to protect ourselves from danger and to keep safe our comfort zones.
We base how much security we need on how dangerous we perceive our surroundings. During the Cold War, politicians from both sides preached the threats of the other. They used mass media showing images of weapons of their opponents to justify the need to develop superior ones. Politicians persuaded taxpayers that their nation’s armed forces needed to be stronger than their opponents. They justified military budgets based on the need for security.
Climate change, however, was another story. When Al Gore presented the award-winning documentary, The Inconvenient Truth, in 2006, it visualised the threat of man-made climate change. Mr. Gore’s brought climate change to the forefront of public attention, to the extent that nations came together to draft manifestos of commitment for environmental protection.
But unlike the threat posed by the Cold War, climate change didn’t bring about massive investment. Instead, it brought debate as climate change doubters fought climate change protagonists on the grounds that it was not really a threat. The science behind climate change was flawed and needed to be reviewed. There was no justification for investment and immediate change in economic policies.
Persuading people to acknowledge a threat requires them to perceive the probability of harm. One way to do this is via fear. The Cold War scared people in Russia and the United States about each other’s capacity to destroy their respective countries, not to mention their ways of life, whether it be communist or capitalist. Climate change, however, was seen more as a potential disruption more than a threat. People didn’t find climate change as fearful as that of the Cold War.
When we are scared, we either act or look for people to act against what is causing us to be scared. Citizens scared about another superpower’s weapons therefore would look to their governments and armed forces to protect them. People who would be scared about climate change would look to the scientists for solutions.
But before anything is acted upon, there must first be the fear, or at least a level of insecurity enough to prompt us or somebody else to do something about it.
In that condominium owners’ meeting, the people in attendance were glancing at each other and hoping someone would volunteer to do something about the complaints raised by the annoying unit owner. A few did step up albeit reluctantly even as the owners as a majority agreed there was a need to do something. They were willing to put some trust into any individuals who they wish could be counted on.
Fear and insecurity typically underlie what we determine as urgent and requiring action. We may act on our own but usually we’d seek someone we trust that would have the knowledge and competence to take care of what’s causing us to be scared.
We express our faith in the talents of the people we trust. We therefore seek those who we feel would have the talents relevant to resolving what is making us insecure or fearful.
The Cold War ended shortly after Carl Sagan’s speech in 1990. The coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and supply chain snarls emerged in 2022 as issues that got everyone’s attention. We live in a complicated world in which we are anxious about disruption and uncertainty.
Hope lies in the talents of the people we trust to resolve these issues. We just have to decide what we should really fear most and find the people with the right talents to trust and somehow help us solve our problems.
*Global Warming was the 1990’s moniker for climate change.