By Roger Diamond
Fashion and faith — more on the differences later — MAY have a role in shaping our destiny as a civilisation, species or society, but then again, they may not. Facts, however, will.
First a bit on fashion. Fashion includes not only the mainstream idea around clothing and other relatively superficial aspects of our society, such as music and art, but also penetrates the more structural elements of our society, such as government, communications and industry. These latter things do suffer from fashions, and I say suffer, because what fashion is ultimately about is “being cool” rather than being clever. Fashions are what easily prevail when there is a lack of real information, or facts. People are making decisions based on how they think other people will perceive them, rather than applying boring old science, engineering and accounting.
Driving your car to work. This can take longer, be more expensive, more stressful (especially with the delightful road manners our fellow South Africans display in thick traffic) and remove your chance of reading a book and having a short, healthy walk at the start and end of every day. Sure, there are some facts regarding overcrowded trains, unsafe streets and getting wet in the rain, but undoubtedly the fashionability of driving your own car weighs heavily in the decision-making process regarding a commute. Well done GM and others! Unfortunately you no longer exist for us to sue you for depletion of fossil fuels and all the other ills cars bring.
Faith is also a lot of fun. This is where people cling to something that has really very little evidence for its existence and generally no obvious material benefits, unless we count the wheelings and dealings made within religious or other faith-like communities, but these are common advantages of belonging to any social group. Note that faith, although mostly related to religions, can come in other forms, such as fatalism, nihilism and existentialism. Whatever the particulars of the faith, however, when people use faith to guide their opinions and decisions, they are likely substituting a set of beliefs over available facts.
Why is all of this important? The problem is that facts are real and our world appears to be in deep trouble, when we look at the facts — increasing population, decreasing finite resources, environmental degradation and so on. So to tackle these problems we surely need to first accept them, understand them and then take the lift to the Solutions Department, which unfortunately is not that well-stocked at the moment, considering the people down in the “Trouble Factory” keep making new gremlins. When people invoke fashions and faith over facts, they will find “solutions” that will not actually work. And that is not going to help is it?
Part of the problem is detecting when fashions and faiths are overriding facts. Amazingly it is not always so clear, especially when we are dealing with complex environmental problems where the science is inadequate to fully understand the situation, and there are no gleaming “Fit It Now” devices. In this situation, in the thick of a discussion or argument, people can steer one away from the facts and into their quagmire of beliefs and desires. Sticking to the facts ain’t so easy, but it’s what we’ve gotta learn to do. Good luck.