Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Tragedy of the Community

The Blue Island Almanack represents an intersection of different views, disciplines, and issues. The central theme - Earth - may be the only common characteristic that unarguably binds us all. With this in mind, I provide the final paragraph of the book "Deep Economy" by Bill McKibben.

"It's extremely hard to imagine a world substantially different from the one we know. But our current economies are changing the physical world in horrifying ways. It's our greatest challenge - the only real question of our time - to see whether we can transform those economies enough to prevent some damage and to help us cope with what we can't prevent. To see if we can manage to mobilize the wealth of our communities to make the transition tolerable, even sweet, instead of tragic."
It provides the dichotomy we all - each of the four authors and those that provide discussion - stumble around. On one hand, the actions of 6 billion people on Earth are harming the land we walk on, the air we breath, the food we eat, the water we drink, the economies that provide a standard of living, and the communities we grow in. On the other hand, the actions of 6 billion people on Earth provide some shelter to live in, clean air in some locations to breath, food to some, clean enough water to drink, economies that provide a good standard of living to some, and moderately stable communities to live in.

The tragedy of this dichotomy can be stated two fold. First, that the total community of 6 billion people, with combined wealth and effort, are incapable of fulfilling basic requirements of living to all its people. Or second, that the total community of 6 billion people, with combined wealth and effort, are unwilling of fulfilling basic requirements of living to all its people.

It is a sad story and while I did not necessarily set this post up as a debate, I hope that it provides a context for the discussions we have had or are going to have. When reading through the comments directed at whether there is an issue (e.g. climate change) or what to do about it (e.g. environment, economy, etc.), the arguments for inaction or action are normally the same.

A persons cultural values (e.g. racism), religious values (e.g. evangelical), economic standing (e.g. upper class), familial upbringing (e.g. broken home), political leanings (e.g. liberal), educational status (e.g. Professor), and living environment (e.g. inner city) all are given as fundamental reasons why or why not issues should be dealt with. It seems that, often times, we stray from the underpinning reasons for the things we, as communities, do (e.g. providing housing, jobs, food, health care, etc.). Empirically, it comes down to our capability or willingness to act, nothing less and nothing more.

On climate change, where do you fall? Poverty? Financial deregulation? Federal funding of basic research and development? Abortion? Gay marriage? Universal health care? Foreign aid?


Sue said...

Some initial rambling thoughts: There are millions, perhaps as many as a billion of earth's residents who are unable to do much besides exist and hope for enough food and water to keep on existing. They sit or lie down in places where there are no resources left, either human or material with which to take any kind of action beyond breathing. There are a small number a few dozen million at most, with huge resources and much opportunity for action, some of whom (e.g., the Gates) who use a significant portion of their resources to make changes. But most of whom do not. Then there are the vast majority who fall somewhere in between, with small margins of resources, time and energy to make changes. To say that all of those are "unwilling" however, is both unfair and inaccurate. I will have more to say about those in the middle later, right now I need to go watch my husband run a 5K.

truewonder said...

Well...since you asked!

Climate change, religion- To me, these are but mysteries that I cannot debate much,although I do fall a bit on the side of the climate change being manipulated by an all too unsustainable world ethic- waste,stuff-lack of gratitude for our very lives.
By my own lay person, life long observations-Mother Nature or whatever you hold the creator to be- has created an ecologically sound sustainable model that will right itself, if allowed. The mass dismantling of the holiest places-the forests, prairies,oceans, etc...will nip us all in the butt sooner than later.
Too much fighting amongst all of us- United and otherwise...while we argue against and abuse obliviously-our natural resources..again, I will not debate or predict what is surely bound to happen, but I do shudder at the possibilities that we, every one of us- have created for the perfect storm.
I am personally growing quite weary of the capable posing as the incapable...the poor folks who are only this way because we politically correct idiots won't speak our mind. Yes, I had fallen into this mindset too. more. (And before someone gets their knickers in a knot...I am not speaking of the poor, truly helpless, born into poverty, born into no freedom whatsoever...I am speaking of the will nots...not the can nots.)
So, what will I do? To right the wrongs in the world? I'll do what I can, as I can, with whatever tools are available to me...the best one thus far I have found is my own mind. My own thoughts...and I think that I will not align with a group where I have to become a "member", although I will align with the circle of men and women whose thoughts are brought about by observing,work ethic, contemplation and...reasoning.

And as long as we keep pointing out that those who have vast millions have not done enough to help the "helpless" world- as long as we continue to keep that finger pointed away from our own chest, away from our very own self responsiblilty...well, that seems a futile act. Happens all the time though. I am as much to blame as Bill Gates...when it comes to saying, "enough is enough-" being charitable does not mean being coerced by politically correctness-that's a bullshit stinks to high heaven, but we all act like our noses don't work right anymore.
I suppose the truth will set us all free some day...but my oh my, we have become such a fearful society, and our good old government and religous leaders are banking on that for sure. And it's paid off quite well for them...Fear is not freedom's paralyzing.

Hope is happening everywhere though...more and more folks are acting without fear these days...are going back to the land, realizing it's essential worth. More and more are supporting ideas, not tactics. This all speaks well to me...makes me wonder.

And wondering is possibly the most fearless thing one can do to begin change, evolve- grow.

Just my two cents- thanks for asking, allowing the freedom of thought. Hope others open up as well...

take care-

E. R. Dunhill said...

It's good to hear from you. This is a very challenging post.
Your post brings to mind a serious problem and some important changes that need to happen. The problem: I don't think there is a way to solve problems this large and fundamental at the macro-level. We need to address pieces of such behemoth problems to yield solutions:
First, those of us who see problems must get up and get to work. Sometimes that problem is local water quality, sometimes it's homelessness or abject poverty, sometimes it's crime. The solutions mean making positive changes in our own homes, giving, educating people, and leading others to make a difference in our communities. In some cases, our communities can positively affect other peoples' communities, even in far-flung places. Now is the time.
Second (which is really no more than a corollary to the first), we need to stop arguing positions (conservative/liberal, religious/nonreligious, all of the other groups and sub-groups that we stupidly use to get in the way of getting anything done) and instead educate and negotiate with open minds. Yes, many already do this. Yes, there are hordes of people who don't care to bother with trifles like facts and reason. Yes, it's frustrating and demoralizing to be ridiculed for trying to help people. But, we have to keep doing it and continually focus on communicating. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. We must always get up and try again. We need to be patient and disciplined, and have thick skin. Now is the time.
The third point simply adds emphasis to the first two. If we don't do the first two things, we're little more than another part of the problem. People who see serious problems have to act. Now is the time.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Regarding one piece of this puzzle, can you recommend a good source on the social and environmental costs of coal?

Pat Jenkins said...

prog aren't the phillies destroying the enviroment everytime they take the field? kicking up dust and leaving pine tar residue to pollute our air?.. he he!!

Progressive said...

A Phillies fan must make the choice - more global warming or a Championship. I choose championship :)

Sue said...

ERD -- check out the Clean Air Task Forces "Crade to Grave", because it talks about the whole range of impacts and costs (not necessarily expressed in dollars and cents).

Sue said...

more rambling thoughts as I keep one ear on the debate in Nashville: I understand the call for action; I frequently feel frustrated and want there to be action - action on poverty, action on health care, action on the environment. Some actions seem (to me) like "no brainers," actions that seem like they'd reduce poverty, or make health care more affordable, or protect the environment. But one of the things that I teach my students is that there is almost never an action that makes changes that does not have a negative impact on someone. One might argue that the people who might experience a negative impact from some action (to reduce poverty, provide health care, reduce pollution) are fewer than those who will be helped, or that those who suffer negative impacts (e.g., pay higher taxes, loose revenue or profits) are better off than those who will be helped (and therefore can afford to deal with some negative impact). But the fact remains that any change that will benefit some, will cost others something, and produces resistence to change. And that's just talking about what I consider the "no brainers" (like improving fuel efficiency of vehicles or extending public transportation into rural areas). Then there are all the things that most of us are unsure what actions are necessary to make things better. Poverty is a good example. Back in the 1960's those of us who were liberals felt certain that expanding access to welfare, liberalizing the rules of welfare, raising the funding of welfare was an action that would reduce poverty. Research on the sixties and seventies shows that poverty did decline -- at least some of which can be credited to expansion of welfare, food stamps, creation of Medicaid, etc. (and some of which had to do with an expanding economy, expanding education, and the introduction of COLA's on social security). By many people felt by the 1980's and 1990's that welfare had created new, more intractable problems to the extent that by 1996 when welfare reform was passed more people thought of welfare as a problem than thought of poverty as a problem (sociological research suggests that perception may not be accurate, but it existed nonetheless).

It may sound like I'm saying that it's all too complicated, and there's no way to know what will work, and therefore we shouldn't act, that is not what I'm saying. Because not acting is a form of action, and unintended, unknown consequences can result from that non-action as well. What I am saying is that inaction is no simple dichotomy between capability or willingness.

Parable: I sit here trying to make up my mind whether to continue receiving a weekend newspaper or to substitute physical paper delivery with electronic delivery. On one hand, the delivery of newspapers takes physical resources (trees, oil) and the electronic version reduces the use of those resources, on the other hand, newspaper delivery provides a job to someone in my rural community where jobs are scarce. Which is more important, supporting my local economy by supporting a local job, or reducing the use of resources? And if I find this simple decision perplexing, why wouldn't governments find the much larger decisions on energy, the environment, poverty, employment, health care, etc. perplexing?

Progressive said...

Sue - I believe your comment about being unfair and inaccurate misses the point. Those you speak of are incapable of doing so.

In essence, my argument is simple and broad - on issues that are important to communities, such those listed in the piece - a person is either incapable of making change or either unwilling.

The meaning being that if you are unwilling it falls under some generic category of reason, that often times is unrelated or distinctly greedy.