Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Have we been good stewards of our Earth?

A good friend has noted that today is 12/12/12 ... the last such triplet of date-numbers for this century.  There will be no more until the next century.  Thus, it represents an opportunity for us to reflect on what our world will be like on the first of January 2101 (the next triplet: 1/1/1).  Many of us now living won't be around to see it, of course, so it also represents an opportunity for us to reflect on how well we've done.

I'm technically a "baby boomer" (born in 1945) even though I was conceived before WWII was over.  In the 1960s, we were teenagers - a time of rebellion against the "establishment", the "hippies", the sexual "revolution" (birth control pills and "free love"), anti-establishment protests, anti-war protests, the widespread use of marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, and so on.  Peace and love were supposed to be our agenda.  So what happened to all that?  Well, for one thing, the drug culture destroyed some of it.  The end of the Vietnam War in 1974 killed off all the protests because the draft was no longer going to be a threat.  The assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King seemed to undermine the idealism that pervaded the 1960s.  The protesters grew up, got jobs, put on their work clothes, and became the establishment.  That youthful idealism seems to have wilted in the face of the realities of life by the 1970s.  Gradually, it seems the protesters who set out to "change the world" of the 1960s became the "me generation" - focused on the "good life" as seen on TV, and ultimately selfish.  We sold out.

So we confront today's prospects of:  economic collapse, profound environmental degradation including global warming, the threat of religious terrorism, deep political division, a diminishing supply of fossil fuels, a staggering national debt, a crumbling national infrastructure, sectarian violence around the world, the subversion of American politics by financial institutions and international corporations, massive unemployment,  a widening gap between the rich and the poor, an increase in the rate of plant and animal extinctions, an exploding world population, the rise of the specter of epidemics, the increasing lethality of weapons, public education underfunded and in rapid decline ... need I continue with this depressing list?  It seems the prospects for a bright future with the arrival of the next millenium are not very good.  An apocalypse of one sort or another seems inevitable ... yet we'll stick our heads into the sand - just pretend that all is grand (thank you, Steppenwolf)

My generation will be mostly gone by the middle of the 21st century.  How well have we done, as more and more of us approach retirement?   Answer:  see the preceding list.  It's not a record I have any cause to be proud of, certainly.  Yes, we've managed occasional spots of positive change.  I like to think that within the sphere of my influence, I've done some positive things.  I'm certainly not personally responsible for everything that's happened - a lot of what has transpired was against my wishes and I had no personal control over most of the events leading to where we are now.  Yet I wonder what I might have done to improve our situation as it now seems to be.  We seem to be on a path to self-destruction that I certainly didn't see ahead of us in the 1960s.  Honestly, even in retrospect, I don't see how I could have done much about the flow of events that have led us to where we are now.  Although I'm ashamed of the legacy my generation is leaving to our children and grandchildren, I just can't imagine what I should have done differently.  As individuals we seem powerless to alter the seemingly inexorable course of history's juggernaut.  All we can do is try to make a positive difference in our own little spheres, and that seems so inadequate in retrospect.

Of course, we may somehow muddle through all the impending threats, but the ultimate joker in the deck stacked against us is the inevitable decline in fossil fuels and what that portends for the lifestyle we now enjoy.  There are many very scary ramifications of the decline in energy availability.  Our stewardship of the Earth has not been one of great success - what we are passing on is significantly degraded from what we inherited.  Only time will tell how things will actually turn out, but I'm not at all proud of my generation's performance.  An apology seems pathetically unhelpful, too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Traditional American Values - A Worthy Model To Live By?

Amongst my conservative friends and acquaintances, a common mantra is the call for a return to "Traditional American Values" (or TAVs, for short) - almost always without a specific listing of just what those values are.  This absence of a listing is a crucial one, because I believe that most conservatives I know haven't really sat down and decided precisely what they believe those TAVs to be.  It would be interesting to have each of them do so, but on their own, without coaching from anyone else.  I suspect the lists would have a fair amount of variability.  I'm going to list some of the possible elements of those TAVS I think conservative might include, but without any attempt to be comprehensive:

  1. Belief in the god of the bible
  2. Regular church attendance
  3. Sex permitted only within the confines of heterosexual marriage, for the sole purpose of reproduction
  4. No artificial means of contraception
  5. Hard work and sacrifice
  6. Ambition
  7. Capitalism and free-market competition
  8. Frequent and open displays of patriotism
  9. Generosity toward the disadvantaged
  10. Democracy
  11. Compromise as a means of solving conflict
  12. Honesty
  13. Importance of family

However, I doubt if any conservatives would want to list the following as TAVs:

  1. Racism and bigotry - tribalism
  2. Aggressive wars of unilateral (or nearly so) intervention on foreign soil
  3. Genocide
  4. Slavery
  5. Wide disparity between the rich and the poor
  6. Discrimination in the workplace, schools, and in the community
  7. Xenophobia and isolationism
  8. American arrogance
  9. Special privileges for the rich
  10. Tyranny of the majority
  11. Cover-ups and propaganda
  12. Intrusion of government into the sexual lives of consenting adults
  13. Welfare for the wealthy and privileged

This despite the fact that all of the second list above have been elements of American life for most of its entire existence, and hence could easily be considered "traditional" values, of a sort.  Values could be said to include not just our ideals, but what we actually do, after all. 

The fact is that America has encompassed a broad range of values during its relatively short history.  The important issue in defining TAVs is to decide who gets to make out the "official" list!  If we consider the diversity of the American people,  all of whom either came here from somewhere else or their ancestors did, I'm going to guess that if we were to conduct a comprehensive survey, the TAV lists would be all over the place.  What's traditional about American values is that we don't agree on what those values are!!

What I would propose as the ideals that should be considered TAVs are those embodied in our national Constitution, including its Amendments.  There's nothing in the Constitution about sexual orientation, or political viewpoint, or economics, or religion precisely because the framers felt that those were private issues - not to be subject to the whims of a national government.  The ideals in the Constitution have been under siege for the duration of the USA, and often are honored more in the breach than by observance.  Some people just can't seem to shake off the notion that they have the right to tell other people what they should think, say, and do.  We've not done a good job of living up to the very ideals that form the only true basis for our nation.  Our nation is not a nation based on the values of any religion - to say so is to ignore history or to try to revise it to fit some other goal, like imposition of a theocracy.

Many of the conservatives I know are in favor of various violations of our Constitutionally-guranteed rights and freedoms.  They support the intrusion of their views on religion and most definitely sexual behavior (rules about sex they themselves typically don't follow!) into federal, state, and local government, and at the same time claim to be persecuted for their beliefs!  They want to disenfranchise anyone with whom they disagree, silence dissent, and force us all into lockstep with what they think is right!  That's not a TAV - it's fascism/theocracy!  What many conservatives call TAVs are often radical new notions that are quite poisonous and contrary to the ideals of the Constitution.  They pine wistfully for a return to what they think are TAVs, even though most of their nostalgic look backward in time is bogus, revisionist history.

I'm all for a return to the values embodied in the Constitution, but not the radical notions of many so-called conservatives.  Spare our nation from their vile notions about American values!