What Really Matters

The central issue of the 2004 Presidential election was terrorism and the Iraq war. The first debate of the 2008 election (which I missed – why were there no repeat broadcasts?) also highlighted this topic. But is this what really matters most? Is this what should be getting the money, the manpower, and the attention?

In my opinion, no. The following are what I would choose as the top five issues facing the country and the world today, in roughly descending order of importance:

  1. Global climate change, a.k.a., global warming: This seems like the one that is most likely to make a big difference, up to and including death, to billions of people. If sea levels rise much, big sections of land that people live on will have to be abandoned, and in many cases these are people without the means to start over or even evacuate. In places like Africa there could be devastating and deadly droughts. This could change everything, and probably will. Solving it would also have the side benefit of solving the problem of more demand for oil than the supply can support.
  2. Intolerance: The biggest form of this seems to be religious intolerance: Sunnis and Shias, Catholics and Protestants, Israelis and Palestinians (at least partly religious), religious people and atheists, and so on. Non-religious intolerance includes things like the divisions between gays and straights, Democrats and Republicans, one race and another race, pro-choice and pro-life, and more. When has a war not had intolerance at its core?
  3. Violence and fear: The media encourages us to be fearful, but also to think of violence as a solution (or even the solution) to problems. War and the death penalty is killing done by the government in our names, so it must be okay. Is it?
  4. Politics: Do we have to accept that politicians become corrupt and/or cynical, are beholden to big corporate donors, work harder to ensure their own reelection than they do for their constituents, win elections through mass marketing rather than on the issues, and get elected though voting systems that are unreliable and unauditable? I sure hope not. If so, then it’s much harder to fix the other problems on this list.
  5. Education: The current system doesn’t work very well. Most students don’t work very hard, and their teachers are underpaid, overworked, and the ones who have the ambition to improve things are far too often stuck in an inflexible system. I don’t have a clue what to do about this, but if we keep turning out graduates who have a hard time operating a cash register or understanding the different sides of election issues, we’re in deep trouble.

After that would probably be pandemics (e.g., bird flu and AIDS), and health care availability and costs.

9/11 sucked, but we (the United States) have responded to it so poorly that the cure has become much worse than the disease. And on top of that, the cost and the attention given to it (and especially the Iraq fiasco) makes it impossible to tackle what really matters.

Update: There is a transcript of the Democratic debate here (New York Times).

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