Sunday, October 16, 2016

We Are, Indeed, Living in Interesting Times

My parents lived through the Great Depression. They lived through World War II. They lived through the Cold War. They lived in "interesting times" fraught with peril and struggle and yet emerged to be called by Tom Brokaw, "the greatest generation."

It was really difficult for me to imagine I might ever live through times even more "interesting" than my parents' and their generation's. Yet I increasingly fear that to be the case.

My parents' era was one of great progressive advancement. Perhaps lulled into complacency by the relative ease and prosperity that befell the post war generations, we have at almost every turn failed to defend that progress that was delivered to us with no sacrifice of any consequence on our part. Easy come, easy go.

We ruled the world in hubris, without regard to what follows, nemesis. And so today we stand unprepared to withstand the several monstrous calamities that loom around us in all directions.

We chose to be guided by a new rule, "Because We Can." At every turn we did whatever we could, as much as we could, as fast as we could. We didn't leave ourselves time to reflect and even ask whether we should.

We even mastered the skill of taking not only what was our fair share but what the next generations might rightly deserve. We've robbed them of their future. We did it because we could.

The transition into what would be known as neo-liberalism was ushered in by three conservative stalwarts - Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney. All of them abdicated government responsibility to the commercial sector, surrendering critical aspects of national sovereignty along with the other powers given up in a totally one-sided deal. They freed commerce of the restraints of tariffs and trade regulation, endorsing the free movement of capital and, with it jobs and entire industrial sectors. They promised this would yield more and better jobs, higher wages. Environmental and labour laws were tossed on the block.

It would be unfair to blame this on Conservatism. Indeed what these leaders (and those that have followed them) did was antithetical to Conservatism, the political ideology. Just as Communism is rooted in the theories of Karl Marx, Conservatism finds its roots in the 18th century prescriptions of Edmund Burke.

Burke fully grasped the bond between Conservatism and conservation.

All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust. of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of an habitation—and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways, as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer.

It's plain that in Burke's Conservatism, we are "temporary possessors and life-renters" of our world and our society. He enjoins us not to, "think it among (our) rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying it at (our) pleasure the whole original fabric of (our) society; hazarding to leave to those who come after (us) a ruin instead of an habitation - and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances as we had (ourselves) respected the institutions of (our) forefathers.

Some century and a half later, in Osawatomie, Kansas, Theodore Roosevelt said much the same thing:

Of conservation I shall speak more at length elsewhere. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation. 

What we call "Conservative" today bears no connection to the conservation ethos of true conservatism. It simply exists to the far right of the dominant political spectrum that besets us today. 

Why should this matter? Because we cannot return to the society envisioned by Burke, Roosevelt and so many others until we break the yoke of neoliberalism that hangs around our necks today and "skins the land and leaves it worthless" to our children. How have we skinned the land? The evidence is everywhere. Climate change is one chilling example. The global freshwater crisis and the draining of our aquifers is another. Oceanic dead zones and the toxic algae blooms that now flourish in our lakes and rivers are others. We're consuming natural resources at 1.7 times Earth's carrying capacity, making up the excess by robbing future generations.

The hard truth is that we can't change this predation, we can't even our keel, until we're prepared to quit what we've been doing. Part of that entails restoring posterity to its rightful place in our government planning and policy. That means restraining our wants, abandoning our "because we can" mentality. It's going to be hard enough meeting our needs before long. Our wants that drive our growth-obsessed governments today will become a bad memory discarded of necessity.

We are indeed living in interesting times. How we come through this is up to us.                      


Toby said...

Did Theodore Roosevelt learn conservation after he shot every animal he aim a gun at? He certainly set a terrible example of "do what I say not what I do."

My point is that we can't keep allowing the rich to have special privilege to assault the world, its biota and other resources.

Humans are a specie that consumes everything in its path. Startrek producers did well with their depiction of the Borg.

The Mound of Sound said...

The story, as I understand it, is that Roosevelt had been an avid hunter until he had an experience where the guide arranged tethered bears for his guests to shoot. Roosevelt couldn't bring himself to shoot the helpless animal and that was that.

As for the 200+ million acres of wilderness Roosevelt set aside for national parks and nature preserves, much of that land was prized by America's lumber barons who felt betrayed when he took it from their clutches.

You should read Roosevelt's "Square Deal" speech. In it there are some powerful observations about privilege and special interests and keeping them out of government.

Sorry but I didn't get the Star Trek reference. I was never a fan but I assume that these Borgs were voracious consumers.