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John Colson: Hit and Run

Sometimes I get the feeling we’re all riding in a bus that’s heading hell-bent for leather in the wrong direction, on the wrong side of the highway, in a whiteout, and the driver is not heeding our warning cries.

The metaphor came up strongly while I was reading about the accident this week on Highway 82, in which a RFTA bus did exactly that. The driver, disoriented in a blizzard and initially unaware of his mistake, apparently veered out of his own lane, got into an opposing lane, and was hit by a car coming the other way.

Leaving aside the tragic nature of that actual accident, I started thinking about our society at large, and the fact that we’re all trapped in that bus, in a manner of speaking, and we don’t know what’s ahead.



There are many aspects to this outlook that bear scrutiny, probably more than can be covered in one newspaper column. But some are quite obvious.

The driver’s role, for example.




In our metaphor, the driver is, of course, not one person but an amalgamation of vast numbers of people who, for one reason or another, are in a position to make decisions that affect us all.

In the current worldwide economic meltdown, the first group to come to mind is the bankers, the brokers and the government watchdogs who let us all down in such a catastrophic way, by not taking action a couple of years ago when it became apparent (to some, at least) that the economy was headed for a black hole.

What was the blizzard that blinded them, you ask?

Why, it was a green blizzard instead of a white one, of course. Rather than swirling eddies of wind-whipped snow, they were staring into a maelstrom of money, and it obviously blinded them to the curves and dips of the road they were traveling.

Naturally, like the passengers on the bus, our whole society bears some of the blame for not jumping up and yelling at the top of our lungs, “Watch out!”

Some did, of course. The news has been full of stories lately about a certain money manager type who tried several years ago to alert his bosses at a leading financial institution that the company was veering off the path of righteous dealings and in danger of crashing. Had anyone listened to him back then, it’s just possible that his company and the many others that were headed down the same wrong-headed path of sketchy loans and improperly “bundled” assets might have opened their corporate eyes and caught themselves before they tumbled over the brink.

Of course, we’ll never know whether the current recession might have been avoided by any such warnings, but it’s tempting to think that things might have gone differently had this hypothetical driver looked a little more closely into the whirling fog ahead of him and taken a different route.

The same metaphor holds true for the world’s environment.

As others have noted in forums too numerous to list, the world is teetering on the brink of environmental changes that we not only fail to understand, but in fact refuse to even contemplate.

The oceans, for instance, have been humanity’s dumping ground for centuries, and much of the stuff we’ve poured into the waters has been of such a toxic nature that, had we kept it around on the ground, it would likely have killed off huge numbers of us long ago. But burying it under fathoms of salt water has hidden its potentially ruinous nature, at least so far.

But the upper atmosphere, into which we also have been pumping vast quantities of waste for centuries, has borne toxic fruit more quickly.

We are seeing one outcome of our behavior in the phenomenon of global warming, which is threatening entire species that have been around for millennia, not to mention human settlements on low ground near the ocean shores as the ice caps melt and the ocean surface rises.

As I mentioned earlier, this bus metaphor has layers that I can’t reach right now. Let’s just say that there are a lot of passengers yelling at the driver, not just me.

I guess we’ll just have to keep on yelling until someone listens up and manages to turn this bus around and get it back in the right lane.

Or not.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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