Consider a paradigm shift

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When scientists discover their framework of assumptions and problem-solving methods no longer works, they must move to a new framework in which they do.

It used to be called a paradigm shift.

The shift occurs because the old paradigm no longer can accommodate new variables.

It’s still a mystery exactly when such shifts take place. At times, an obvious observation contradicts old ideas — think of Galileo and his telescope confirming a heliocentric worldview away from the geocentric one. He was considered a heretic by the Catholic Church not because of his observations, but because they shattered a Biblical view about the Earth being at the center of the universe.

We don’t hear much about paradigm shifts anymore. Instead, we hear about something being a “game-changer” that eventually becomes a “new normal.” Paradigm seems too archaic and cumbersome a term, especially as the person most credited with its coinage, Thomas Kuhn, was accused of having more than 35 definitions for it.

We, like scientists, must change some assumptions to see real progress, and sometimes that change is forced upon us.

As the Waldo Canyon fire recedes into our collective history — a horrific natural disaster leaving bills that will be paid for months and years — it can be seen as a game-changer for us as a community.

It has forced us to rethink who we are and what we value.

Solidarity isn’t a term we might have used before, but one we can use now; government assistance is something some have dreaded, but was essential to save lives and property.

The fire will be remembered by Americans across the land, making them more reluctant to come as tourists. So, tourism as we have known it in the cool and dry summers of Colorado may change as well. Our new normal may look quite different from how it has looked in the past, especially when the state boasted that in 2011 we claimed 2.7 percent of the U.S. travel market.

The total spending on overnight trips during 2011 was $10.76 billion, hosting a record 57.9 million travelers. Of them, 29 million were overnight visitors. The Colorado Tourism Office’s budget for 2011 was $13.3 million. Not a bad return on investment!

Our local economy is diversified enough that we aren’t as reliant on tourism as, say, Breckenridge, Vail or Aspen. But we should revitalize our own Convention & Visitors Bureau — finding young and creative leaders rather than hiring outsiders who come to wrap up their career here.

One can see this kind of transformation or paradigm shift in San Miguel de Allende. Narco-trade has given Mexico such a terrible reputation around the world that tourism has dropped perceptibly. A desired destination for Canadian and American tourists and host to about 10,000 expats (out of a population of 70,000), San Miguel suffers from many empty restaurants and galleries.

A city founded in 1542, San Miguel is old and magnificent, with cobbled streets and three-meter walls, colorful and quiet, perched on hills some 250 kilometers north of Mexico City. Its European ambience is sophisticated the way the Old World has always been, knowingly avoiding the latest trends to assure the continuity of tradition. Yes, they do have televisions and Internet connectivity. But the cuisine remains seasonal.

As tourism declined in the past few years, and as money transfers from Mexicans working in the U.S. have shrunk (estimates put the annual amount around $20 billion), San Miguel’s largest industry remains strong: dairy. The new normal there has lowered real-estate speculation, because foreigners are not flocking there as they once did. The recent rigged election of the PRI isn’t helping in assuring Americans that Mexico is their favored destination.

Just as San Miguel had to adjust because of circumstances not of its own doing, so will Colorado Springs have to adjust. We may have to rethink our tourism industry and promote cycling, for example, more than ever. Likewise, we’ll have to rethink our dependence on national defense budgets, and develop related high-tech industries that have broader applications.

The fire has definitely been a game-changer for us: We learned what it means to be a community, despite some ugly manifestations to the contrary among burglars and thieves. Coming together we can even try and change our national image of a silly conservative holdout that refuses to invest in its infrastructure. We may not become liberals in any sense of the term, yet we can be republicans.

When Michael Sandel urges us to recall our republican heritage, he suggests we consider having a “public philosophy” that stresses building virtues among the citizenry the way our Founding Fathers envisioned them. This doesn’t mean choosing specific ends, but recognizing ourselves as members of a community that cares.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com