As 2008 fades out we’re in the customary, but now bewildering, position of reflecting on the past year, putting it into proper perspective and labeling it for memory. It’s difficult to be accurate and thorough in any ordinary December. How shall we approach it this year when — many of us fear — we’ve had a lifetime’s progress erased?
Everything’s changed so suddenly. One minute, we were managing our business, studying our choices, and planning for some eventual payoff. Restful retirement, at the least, and, if we’re clever and capable, maybe something even more rewarding.
Now this? How did this happen? Perhaps a longer view is in order?
Over the past two and a half decades we’ve been accustomed to steady economic growth and expanding individual choices. We thought this was a virtue of our society. The 1980s were marked by the end of inflation. The 1990s brought forth the influence of individual consumers. In this decade, the global market took shape. These advances have been so consistent that the pace of change has been little noticed.
We now think nothing of instant communication, customized solutions, and global searches. If I have a problem, I assume that somewhere in the world someone has the product or service or answer for me. What is remarkable is not that this is assumed by me to be true, but that it is assumed by most of us to be an ordinary and permanent way of life. More specifically, we’ve forgotten how things used to be done.
We move through this life at a rate of speed that would astonish our former selves. In our working lives, we communicate with suppliers and customers in a constant flow of information. Inquiries are made, details are discussed, designs are proposed, orders are approved, products are shipped, invoices are submitted, payments are issued. “We’ll talk again next month.”
We buy things with promises of payment. To speed our progress through these matters we share critical details with nameless, faceless “agents.” We verify too little and trust too much.
Perhaps, speeding along, we’ve lost the sense of risk that is attached to progress. Risk has been pushed to the margins of our awareness. Home mortgages once were seen as a down payment on future security; lately, they are just another investment strategy. Arrangements that once were recognized as lifetime commitments now are reviewed or reconsidered as “choices.”
Failures carry lesser penalties than once we believed were necessary to uphold social, financial, or ethical standards. Progress, and resolution, are more important to us than regularity. So, we move forward.
All this progress in recent decades has dulled our judgment. We cannot figure out how we got into this predicament. We don’t know how welloff we were, or how far we’ve fallen. And we don’t know how to proceed beyond this year of failure. So many interests and institutions have been bailed out that those now in line see their pending requests as “desserts.” We rescued X and Y; how can we turn away Z?
Metalcasters can be proud of the fact that their industry remains today as much the product of human ingenuity and effort as it did for the ancient craftsmen who discovered the process, or of the pioneers who assembled the means to manufacture on an industrial scale.
Modern technology makes the current methods more thorough, certainly less wasteful, and obviously faster than metalcasting of past decades. But pouring molten metal is always risky, and that’s a good thing. Errors are part of the process that are well known. Sometimes, too well known. Failures clarify facts and standards as well as successes. Sometimes, more so.
The world needs to learn again what metalcasters know. We need to re-acknowledge failure as a consequence of our decisions. We need to remind ourselves of the risks that accompany reward, and the failures that shape progress.