Are we all near-sighted?

As we get older, our eyes may get younger. No, I’m not kidding, though that statement is only partly true and only for some of us. People who have been near-sighted from childhood often find that, in their golden years, they can lose their glasses and not miss them for days. Of course, by the time we have reached that happy age most of us are into bifocals or trifocals, so we still need glasses for other purposes.

My attention was drawn to this optic phenomenon recently in the midst of a discussion about the joys and sorrows of globalization.

One member of the group - I’ll call him Michael - pointed out that the idea doesn’t look so great “up close,” but requires long-range vision to understand its true dimensions. Yes, well, we all know the law of unintended consequences, which probably applies here.

However, we are confronted daily with the need to make short-term judgments about things we have right in front of us, and high speed technology keeps us from thinking “long and hard” before we render our decisions.

The group that was discussing globalization referred to a book that tells us globalization is the natural fate of humankind, from the time the first of that species set out from Africa to explore the Near East and, eventually, Europe and Asia and even, after a couple of thousand centuries, Alaska and what we now call the New World. I can’t believe those nautical Chinese got here 71 years before Columbus and didn’t at least set up a trading post - terribly short-sighted of them. Globalization was not all about trade in the 15th century, I guess.

Michael’s point, I believe, was that it’s hard, especially for politicians in an election year, to do much long-range thinking. If the candidates have visions of American society stretching beyond the next eight years, they are being very careful not to alarm any prospective voters by sharing them except in the most nebulous way. I think they learned at least one lesson from those great 20th century Russian planners - Lenin and that crowd with their Five Year Plans, one after another after another - or Hitler’s boast of a Thousand Year Reich.

Now that the neuroscientists have pretty well got the human brain mapped out

and know which parts do which jobs, it would be great if they could tinker around with the prefrontal cortex (the part that does the logical decision making) and arrange for us to have two-part brains, one for instant decisions and another for long-term analysis.

Maybe we already have that and just don’t know how to switch from one to the other.

Selfish interests have a lot to do with our decisions. For example, age might help us decide whether financial risk-taking is good or bad. Easy to say, “let’s do something to ‘fix’ Social Security.” Right, but if you’re already counting on that monthly check, you’re not likely to want a different system that would be, perhaps, riskier while giving those who are still working a chance to invest for themselves those pesky payroll deductions. You’re all too likely to say, “not my problem - leave well enough alone!”

As a senior citizen, I am rather glad that the current candidates are not asking me to do much long-range thinking. You all know the joke about buying green bananas.

Well, someone should share it with the travel industry. I love the gorgeous brochures that arrive every week, but I really don’t want to think about a cruise to the Far East in December 2010. Maybe along about August 2010, after I’ve had my regular annual health check-up, I could be persuaded, if I don’t need major medical treatment by that time.