We Didn’t Start The Fire

I am an avid music lover and listen to a variety of genres.  Music itself reflects cultural ideas and easily highlights cultural evolution.  The music that was popular when I was born, is different than the popular music of today.  My taste in music has also changed and evolved, and what I thought was fantastic music in my early teenage years I no longer think is good.  I listen to mostly country music now, where four years ago I listened to mostly popular rock and roll.  The study of music and cultures is called ethnomusicology. This field of study is a cross-platform in which researchers look at the music of a culture, how that music is generated, and the change of the music during the evolution of the culture itself.  One of my favorite songs, “We didn’t start the Fire” by Billy Joel highlights one hundred events that occurred from 1949 to 1989.  This forty-year span elucidates many of the on-going mistakes that we as a world population are making.  While reflecting on this song, I am more aware of the sustainability of our current culture while comparing that to the self-inflicted apoplectic nature of culture on Easter Island.  This has shaped and changed my view on the sustainability of our cultural, and has brought into question the sustainability of our global society.

Sustainability is something that I have never really thought about.  I have never considered that the way we live our life is anything other than sustainable.  To be really honest, taking this class and learning about wicked problems versus tame problems has been extremely eye-opening.  I have become keenly aware that our way of life is a cycle, and that cycles have a beginning, middle, and end.  Tame problems have solution and therefore can be “fixed.” In 1973 Webber and Rittel coined the term “wicked problems” to elucidate the social and cultural problems that have no clear answer or solution.  These sorts of issues have always been something that I merely dismissed and didn’t spend a lot of time considering or investigating.  I felt that I really didn’t have a lot information on these sorts of problems.  For example, I didn’t know a lot about climate change.  The subject felt big and daunting.  I felt if no one else has a solution, why would I?  Wicked problems have no clear definition, nor do they have a defined or direct solution.  Additionally, wicked problems are unique and have no true endpoint. These problems are progressive in nature and are urgent with their impacts being irreversible.  These wicked problems have generational impact.  In reference to climate change, it has been scientifically proven that the changing climate is in direct correlation to our societies choices to burn fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels was one of the pillars of strength that the industrial revolution was built upon.  The documentary, “11th hour” shows the impact of the on-going choices of the human race.  This film is extremely moving, and I immediately wondered “why does Oklahoma State University have recycling in the dorms?”  To borrow a popular phrase, I am now “woke” where I had not been previously, and concerned. These choices made by previous generations are impacting us now, and how we react and adjust our societal practices will impact the generations to come.  Taking all the information into consideration that I have been given in this class, I really do wonder about our sustainability.

This class has also showed me the burden that each of us has within these wicked problems.  Individual choices do have an impact.  Personally, I have begun to make small changes in my life.  I have begun collecting my own recyclables and then taking them to places on campus that have a receptacle for recyclables.  It seems to me that wicked problems are much like a flooding situation.  Floods start with a simple rain; tiny drips and they do no harm.  Then the rain gets harder, and harder.  It is soaking and penetrating.  Finally, there is too much water, and the accumulation is fast.  It becomes dangerous and deadly, culminating into disaster and washing away cities, and in our case a civilization. So, it begs the question, could the answer to a wicked problem be its inverse?  Instead of making huge and sweeping immediate change, make small changes that can accumulate and become just as overpowering.

I have thought a lot about wicked problems now that I have gone thru Activity I and seen the “11th Hour”.  I have listed to Billy Joel’s song multiple times.  His song was written just over thirty years ago.  I wonder if he was to write a sequel what would that song sound like?  Would the lyrics be more horrific?  Would the lyrics be more hopeful?  I believe that all societies face wicked problems.  I now believe, it is how you face those problems that ensures your survival.  The inhabitants of Easter Island faced their own wicked problems.  The on-going choices of consumption versus choosing to change and adapt led to the collapse of their culture.  The Easter Island status are evidence of a culture that “was” versus a culture that “is”.  The Egyptians thrived for centuries and now we use their hieroglyphics to understand them and maybe even learn the wicked problem that they faced and did not solve.  I certainly hope that Billy Joel writes this song anew.  It could be evidence centuries from now for others to discover our wicked problems if we don’t solve them.

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