How do we go about saving a world, most of which is unwilling to take responsibility for its fate? That question is never far from my mind. Yet no answer comes quickly or easily. What I see and feel is the imperative of reason.
It should tell us where responsibility lies, and how to apply it.
Science has been growing in influence, as it should and must. But it is not yet proving a match for superstition, which for far too long has been the hydra-headed monster ruling human affairs, mostly in the form of numerous churches. The proliferation of religions is the surest evidence that they are man-made. It expresses painfully the willingness of too many people to let others do their thinking for them. It’s an attitude that has fed ignorance and stupidity throughout history, as it undermines both principle and serious faith.
Nor is science close to a match for corporate power, which has surged on globalized commerce, and boosted by the Supreme Court’s egregious 2010 Citizens United decision, ruling that corporations are people, enjoying full First Amendment rights. Nothing was farther from the Founding Fathers’ minds than corporations. It’s ridiculous to think the Founding Fathers would see them as people.
The greatest gift the universe has given humanity is intelligence, the power of reason. How can we think of ourselves as the literal children of the Creator when we default on the persistent exercise of the greatest gift? It’s by neglect of this gift that we reap ignorance and stupidity, and by its pursuit that we are rewarded with knowledge and science.
From it comes the strength to cope with reality. Yet reality is not easy to deal with because it swims in facts, which also are not always easy to face. It’s easier to turn to faith, and look to churches for answers. It may also explain the growing abundance of ideologues in politics, which is made more challenging by both the growing complexity of the world and the rising threats to human existence.
Is it the evangelical movement that has given us the Tea Party, pushing hard and profiting from propositions they can’t prove. As many a scholar or philosophy and religion keep reminding us, religion is fact free. Whatever troth any faith claims as inspired truth is woven of entirely synthetic threads.
It’s difficult to see anything in the Tea Party that looks inspired. Or is rooted in science.
Take its unrelenting demand for smaller government. How does smaller government cope with the needs of a steadily growing nation? If California should choose in its November election to break itself into six states, or five more, it can only mean more federal government, with 10 more senators and the trappings that go with the office. Texas could be tempted to follow suit, since its constitution allows it enact itself into five states. All such new state governments could only mean more government overall, more state payrolls, more loads of state regulation, and a larger federal system in the bargain.
The government we have seems unable to man up to the menace of climate change. A shrunken Tea Party government would be helpless to meet it.
So the Tea Party holds no promise of saving the world. Are the evangelicals up to it? Hardly, with so much of their energy devoted to harassing women who claim the freedom to choose. Why can’t they see that unfettered procreation and legions of unwanted children are as much a threat to a sustainable world as climate change? But then, science and the Tea Party will never be bedfellows. Nor will science and the evangelicals.
It’s appalling ― yes, shocking ― that there are no serious plans in circulation for saving the world. None, of course, from any churches. None would be expected since most churches are bent upon getting us to another, better world, for which the universe, in all its vastness, offers no evidence. The Hubble is showing vastness as far away as 13 billion light years ― an expanse that boggles even the ablest minds. How much proof do we need that our tiny sun and tiny planet leave us on our own?
I keep supporting the Council of Concerned Scientists in the hope that they will step forward. But no luck yet. If the substantial network of the better minds of science are as concerned as they profess to be, they ought to have a plan. For starters, how about a dozen essential steps we must face and make to sustain a healthy planet, without which we can’t possibly endure.
Even serious business minds are recognizing that two challenges must be met to keep life worth living: clean water and clean air, both sufficient for the long term for at least the population already in place. It can’t be easy with the ice caps and glaciers melting relentlessly away. What will the great bastions of progress, North America and Europe, do when there are no glaciers to keep their rivers working through the summers? The threats to the groundwater supplies are also multiplying, around the world.
Scientists and science have to do more. More than the larger knowledge of what’s already going on, they must push for better estimates of what’s possible. They must pull no punches on reckless waste of resources, including the senseless extravagance that the selfish fat cats heap upon themselves. There’s no place in a mature and caring world for “we do it because we can!” Such fools ought to see that such behavior darkens the future even for their own kin. Only Andrew Carnegie got it perfectly right when he said, “the rich man who dies rich dies in disgrace,” then acted accordingly.
In the quest of pushing humanity to face up to reality, science must do more to bring colleges and universities along. Scientists must speak bluntly to fellow scholars. Help them see that the stakes in every discipline have become global. It’s a responsibility far bigger than tenure ― though, admittedly, tenure has served discipline well, but not without regulation.
American universities are doing too little to match American talents to global needs and market demands. Higher education is the best hope of softening corporate power that is both making its own rules for global commerce and, with Supreme Court complicity, trampling on the Bill of Rights. The law profession has become so inbred, so intrenched in its own technical domain, that it has lost sight of the Constitution and the rule of law. What we have instead is rule by the profession of the law. Its idea of self-regulation through the Bar Association is hardly different from letting the patients run the asylum.
One of best business minds I’ve known stressed to me in the last century that a grave challenge free people will face in the 21st century is waste management. How prophetic he was! The back alleys of every city are a sickening sight. We may keep the collector trucks on schedule, but who’s going to pay for repaving the roads and preserving our water, sewer and power systems? Outdated and failing systems breed more waste.
The best I find myself able to do is challenge students to live better by living simpler. Much simpler. Capitalism must spread wealth more than it concentrates it. It’s that simple. I keep my showers to three minutes or less, and just three a week. We’ll soon be a one-car family.
Consumer economics no longer answers our real needs. Actually, it never did. Real needs are about living in harmony with the earth and our environment. That environment today is hurting for attention, for repair. Hurting badly. The economy of survival is the economy of greening up, of reversing the harm that our carbon-centered living has heaped upon the planet. It’s an economy that easily could drive more jobs than excessive materialism has ever given us. It’s the challenge that holds our fate. It means reinventing our homes, our appetites, our agriculture, our communications, our transportation, our way of life. The exploding technology that we are mastering is more than ample for the job, if we are.
It’s rising power of problem-solving is undoubtedly ample for making us best-friends with nature. All we must do is get out of our own way. Again it’s a challenge at which the USA must lead. It means reordering our priorities. Our national security increasingly lies there, and not in the wasteful, endless arms race. It will mean nothing to still stand as the lone superpower, if we stand in a wasteland.
That means taming corporate power by redirecting it. Let corporations prove they really are people, as the Supreme Court casts them. Let them prove that they are more than market manipulators, or matchless arms makers. That they can team with science and technology to give us a livable world, a world where two things always matter most, in this order: earth and people. The multi-nationals have grown power bigger than nations wield. They’re making the rules now in global commerce and intercourse. Surely they understand reality: unless they prove they are people by putting mankind first, by making the bottom line serve that priority, there’ll soon be no world to spare them.
If our existence has taught us anything, it’s that life requires discipline to work positively. Discipline in every phase: self, family, community, job, government, business, the arts. It must start with each of us taming and recasting our appetites, putting others, the greater good first. More guns can’t and won’t save us. The real hope lies in science, in proving it right by working with it, by letting it lead us away from ignorance and superstition, away from rigid, top-down orthodoxies and ideologies, and into a state capable of working facts into favorable actions and ends. Favorable to both earth and man.
Frank Mensel ― August 2014