Living in the Age of the Unthinkable

Immediately after I finished reading Joshua Cooper Ramo’s The Age of the Unthinkable, the Washington, DC area got slammed with “Snowmageddon”, a historic snowstorm followed days later by a second storm just as the city began to dig out.

To keep things in perspective, who can shake the devastating images of Haiti after last month’s earthquake? Our hearts break over the continuing challenges of survival there.  

These acts of nature are not exactly the surprises Ramo’s describes in his book about the dynamic and uncontrollable security challenges facing our world’s complex and interconnected systems. But they do fit with his admonishment to get used to surprising changes. This is an age of the unthinkable and lots of surprises can and will bring our worlds to an abrupt halt.

Natural disasters expose the vulnerability of the systems we depend on, whether we are searching for water and shelter in Haiti or groceries and transportation in Washington, DC.  What Ramos recommends is that we build resilience into our systems through lots of creative, distributed and indirect acts. Centralized bureaucracies and solutions alone will never dig us out of the messes we face.

 “We can each start to live more resiliently; saving more, eating better, driving smart, educating our children to be global and competitive, volunteering, reaching out to neighbors and new friends. Such things are the essential elements of deep security,” Ramos says. He has great hope for empowered individuals working collaboratively to strengthen our society.

As my neighbor, the homeowner association board member said, when I asked if we should expect our snow removal contractor crew soon, “Don’t count on it.”  In times like these, everyone has to grab a shovel and start digging.