Category Archives: Choosing the future

Beasts of the Southern Wild – Movie/Philosophy

These were my thoughts after watching the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild on pay-per-view, and I must say that the movie did help me tie together two paradoxical views of the future of humans on planet earth. Good movies make you think.

We are living at a fulcrum point in civilization with two competing visions for the future of our planet. One is an exciting view that sees us entering an age where we find that futuristic techno-future we have imagined since we watched the Jetsons, or even earlier. Our parents had Buck Rogers. Didn’t he go to space? If we make it through all the dreadful dangers that threaten to engulf existence as we know it will we arrive at a golden age of computers, connectedness, greenness, robotics, nanotechnology (whatever that is) and tolerance that will transform our lives?

The other possibility is equally with us. We are seeing more apocalyptic literature (including movies) than we have ever seen before. We deal with our more extreme weather every day. I will never forget the day I walked down the stairs from my second floor office and saw, before my very eyes, the neat patchwork of fields around a Japanese village turned to chaos and mud by a killer tsunami because it was happening in real time right on the TV in my kitchen. We have had an endless parade of super tornadoes and damaging hurricanes. We suspect that the extreme weather in Australia has something to do with the melting of the ice in Antarctica. We are warned to expect a world epidemic at any time that could wipe out millions or an attack by terrorists with chemical weapons or traditional weapons or by injecting poisons into our water supplies. Unrest surrounds us all as people strive for freedom and control over their own lives, and opportunities. Will we be able to end our dependencies on the fossil fuels that most of us believe are destroying our planet and that could make either of these futures impossible?

Have you watched Beasts of the Southern Wild? Yes that tiny actress (Quvenzhane Wallis) was wonderful and, no, I still don’t know whether I think she is too young to win an Oscar. However this movie did lead me to all these philosophical considerations about our future. The people in this film were a bunch of free people living a simple life pretty much exactly as they wished on an island called the Bathtub off the coast of Louisiana. They seem primitive to us and it is difficult for us to be happy with the way this drunken and dying dad treats his daughter. However, I can see that he is teaching her to treasure the independent life they live and that he wants to make her strong. She lost her mom and she is losing her father. He has to teach her to take care of herself and he can’t make her all mushy and soft. He calls her Hushpuppy and often treats her like a boy or a nuisance. The residents of the Bathtub know that they live at the mercy of the weather. A big enough storm could wipe out the island completely. Their “teacher” in their “school” tells them about the ice that is melting in Antarctica and we see footage of huge sections of ice calving off the glaciers. We feel the stress Hushpuppy is under as she strives to please her father and learn the lessons he teaches her, the lessons that are necessary because he will not be with her. She knows he is sick and, although she doesn’t think he is dying, she does think he will abandon her. We see the aurochs, miraculously returned to life, perhaps released by the melting ice, chasing her, thundering over the ground hot on her trail. When they finally catch up with her we know that it is the moment when she must decide to grow up and decide what kind of grownup she will be. The best movies are the movies that send us off on productive tangents as we try to constantly renegotiate what kind of grownups we will be.

So even as we swing back and forth between our fearful visions and our hopeful ones we suspect that reality will lie somewhere between the two. Maybe it only seems as if we are looking at the end of life as we know it because that is always the way humans face uncertainty. And we do seem to be at the center of some really big uncertainties. One of the biggest is whether our lives in the future will be more comfortable or considerably less comfortable than they are at present. Will we accept temporary discomfort to make the energy changes that are necessary to providing a future that does not involve returning to the past?

Good movie.

 

Stop Nitpicking – Ignore the Triumverate

Obama spoke yesterday, Friday, June 8, 2012 asking Congress to pass a section of the jobs bill related to infrastructure so we were treated to the usual suspects from the GOP pontificating on CNN. We had the entire triumvirate of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor (or Paul Ryan – I have a hard time telling them apart), with a distinctly Southern flair, bemoaning everything Obama has ever done since he entered office and everything he has ever wanted to do. They besmirched the stimulus again, predicted that the Affordable Health Care Act will soon go down in flames (which it may indeed do), and renewed, at the risk of fatal tedium, their vows to make sure taxes don’t get raised.
While it is true that Obama can perhaps be faulted for suggesting that the private business sector is healthy, it is certainly healthier than the public business sector which is suffering from difficulties with state and local budgets. At least private business seems to be percolating at a slow boil. Actually the Republicans like to constantly drive home their desire to see business regulations go away, so this also is part of their endless litany.
Then, bizarrely, after their many attacks on the safety net and the “deadbeats” who use it, they promised to save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, to create beaucoup jobs and to pass the “Perfect” Health Care Plan for all Americans.
They must believe we are all deaf, dumb, blind, memory deficient, and nuts. The GOP by itself does not have any answers for America. They are reactionary and they are haters. Don’t believe them and don’t elect them.
None of the petty nitpicking that is going on so far in this election matters. What matters is that we are choosing the future of America on almost every front.
Business – We need jobs, we need business and it would be reassuring to retrofit America so we could live the 50’s again (a more enlightened 50’s, I hope), but I don’t think we can do that. I don’t think Americans can shrink the economy and their wage requirements enough to make doing business in America profitable even if we trash every union in sight. American workers did not chase business away by being greedy and they probably cannot bring it back by working for peanuts. We will have to build new businesses.
Energy – Business is tied to energy. The Republicans feel that if we find and use every drop of oil and coal and gas under the earth’s surface, if we, in a sense, erase the dinosaurs, we will become the factory haven we once were and America will thrive once again. They earnestly believe that ending our dependence on foreign oil is the key to America’s future. Guess what? Democrats believe this too, but they see that if we work around fossil fuels as much as we possibly can, and innovate and invent, we can  end our dependence on foreign oil, but we can do it in a way that will usher in a future that will include energy sources that are not disappearing and that do not pollute (although every positive arrives with some kind of negative in tow). This is why we need to compromise with some drilling, some innovating, and a common picture of the future. We should not want to retrofit America; we should want to reinvent it.
Regulation – Regulation is not helping the American business climate. Both Republicans and Democrats believe that we may have too many regulations on business. What we don’t agree about is how much regulation and which regulations to cut back on. And instead of doing the detailed work of sorting through our current regulations we are grandstanding. Republicans want to get rid of all regulation on business. They know this is unwise, they know the lessons of history as well as the Democrats do, but they still insist that we follow this extreme path. They are desperate to go back to what they see as the only way America will ever be affluent, go back to the 50’s. Why can’t they believe that America can find a way to an affluent future that differs from the past? Is it because it will take too much time and America might fail in the meantime? This is why we need to work together to lessen the stranglehold of regulations on business, if there is one, without just turning the American business scene into the Wild West.
Benefits – Yes when business was thriving we could afford all the benefits we wanted and people paid their workers with benefits instead of salaries. People depended on their benefits and now, in less affluent times, they have become too expensive and businesses have yanked them away, or cut them back. Now the government, without a healthy business sector to back up its prosperity, is finding its benefit promises onerous. This time the entire nation is depending on these benefits. If you yank them away you send Americans into homelessness, illness and perhaps death. If we don’t yank them away you are afraid the American government will go bankrupt and America will never be prosperous again. We either rise together or sink together. We can’t afford an America that only takes care of business and does not take care of people. People are the government. Cut benefits back until times improve, but they are pretty bare bones already so they can’t be cut by much. Getting rid of all our safety net will not bring back business; it will not bring back widespread prosperity. It is short-sighted and mean-spirited.
Environmental concerns – The GOP is in denial about environmental concerns largely because they also see these concerns as chasing away business (do we see a theme here). No American can afford to be anti-business. Business fuels America more than oil, or gas or any other substance we call fuel. But if we destroy our soil, our air and our water it won’t matter if we have businesses. Life will become a deadly grind with no beauty to relieve it. The only businesses we will need then will be ones that create bio-domes we can live under or space ships we can escape in. If we dial back our environmental rules for businesses will they return to do business in America? I doubt it. Are there possibly too many environmental penalties and rules? We could explore that in great detail if we could actually talk to each other.
Immigration – Immigration issues are more complicated to solve because many Americans feel that these issues are affecting American business, but also the very nature of America. Americans don’t want illegal immigrants to compete for jobs right now because these jobs are needed by legal citizens. But there is also the sense that we are at a tipping point when America will no longer be a Caucasian nation. Perhaps we are afraid of retribution from people who have been oppressed and held back. Perhaps we are afraid that only Caucasians understand the America our forefathers created and will strive to maintain it. People worry about immigrants who use America to prosper but do not see it as home. They worry that “home” is somewhere else to these immigrants and that they, if brought into the fold will undermine America. But the real America was always a haven for people from around the world who wanted an opportunity to do better, or who needed to escape oppression. It is too late to “whiten” America without ruining everything America stands for. We do need to sit down and reach an agreement, even if we eventually have to revise it, over what to do about illegal immigrants who are new to America and what to do about illegal immigrants who have been here for decades.
Reproduction – Oddly enough the GOP has chosen this very moment, with so many other issues on the table, to try to win the anti-abortion argument that it so important to so many in their base. There are 7 billion souls on this earth. By 2050 there will be 9 million. Trying to impose 15th century morality from an unpopulated age on a planet that is bursting at the seams is bizarre and atavistic, although we all, I think, admire the Christianity of it. Will we rot in hell if we use birth control? Will we rot in hell if we abort fertilized eggs? We don’t know, but we still all think we might. Do we want to bring unwanted children into an already overpopulated world? Perhaps there is no hell? Perhaps the earth with 9 billion people will be hell. America was founded so that each person in it could answer these questions for themselves. Besides, when we have so much else to do perhaps this issue can be left on the back burner for the moment.
Evolution – Back, back burner, please.
One Political Party – I have a horrible sinking feeling that if we elect a Republican government right now we will become a country with only one political party and that would be devastating. I do not understand the stubborn refusal of the GOP to let any business be taken care of by our government. They have put American in jeopardy with their insistence on a “my way or the highway” approach. We cannot afford to elect any Republicans at this juncture in America history. There are already enough Republicans who are not up for reelection at this time to insure that we will still have two parties. How will we tempt Republicans back from their extreme positions to help do the work of America? I am not sure. Time and failure at the polls might help.

"Two Paths Diverged"

People in America see two paths. One ends up appealing to Democrats. This path is compassionate and wants a big, although not huge, government, sees a need for cuts, but also a need to spend and raise revenue. If the people on this path had to give up any of what people are calling “entitlements”, we would probably not mind losing Medicare as much as we would mind losing Social Security, even though we paid for both (we thought). We recognize health care costs are out of control, but we don’t think sending all health care to the private sector is the answer. Richer individuals will have longer, healthier lives and poor people won’t. This also would end up being a kind of “class warfare”. The rich would actually have to physically separate their lives from the lives of the poor, because the poor would be a health hazard. Let’s start over. Let’s not have any health insurance except major medical; go back to pay-as-you-go medicine. You get the care you can afford. This seems preferable to letting health insurance companies run our lives. Then we could, once and for all separate health care from employment and start building a new, more effective and less costly health care system.
This path also does not mind if some regulation goes away. We must always have ways to defend ourselves against that ancient savage predator that is still inside of us. We must be able to defend ourselves against predators in business as well as in our personal lives, but, careful excising of unnecessarily restrictive red tape and rules might improve the business climate.
Those of us on this path do not have a problem with asking that the tax structure be reformed. When all the money finds itself in the pockets of relatively few citizens, it becomes apparent that these privileged few have managed to skew the financial environment to favor their interests. Let’s skew it back to some fairer configuration.
Those of us on this path realize that there has been an enormous change in the employment market in America. We realize we are in a transitional period. We may be a bit shocked and stunned. We may be wandering around without a clue right now. We are not our grandmothers and grandfathers. We have lived softer lives. We cannot necessarily consider going out to pick crops for ten hours or repair roads because we would certainly need to acclimate ourselves to these activities. We do not yet accept that we have to take our master’s degrees or even our high school diplomas and accept jobs that have been labeled “menial”.
The other path, of course, appeals to the Republicans. Let’s be nice and call it the “tough love” path. These Americans feel that we should keep shoveling money into the pockets of the “haves” because they are the ones that will save us at some mythical point in time when their pockets are full enough. They want us to get rid of all restrictive regulation, to give a pass to trying to rein in the “creative financing” that almost derailed the American economy, and to return to laissez-faire capitalism. They want us to lower taxes on corporations and corporate profits. They seems to believe that if we bow down and humble ourselves and beg forgiveness from our corporate “benefactors” that they will come rushing back to America and restore us to the Industrial Revolution.
They believe that we should roll back all our environmental rules and stop with the clean air, clean fuel, clean water initiatives. They believe that if we do this our corporations will come back and we can do the 1950’s over again. The whole of America will become one wonderful episode of Pan Am.
They believe we have lost our hegemony in the world because we have compromised our “moral standards”. They believe that some kind of Old Testament Christian punishment may be operating here and that if we can live like people did in the fifties, with strong families and no abortions and maybe we could return women to the home, leaving more jobs for men and then our power would be restored.
When we chose Obama we chose the first path, but Obama should probably have changed his agenda and tackled the economy before health care, although at the time it seemed as if cutting health care costs would help the economy. I guess the momentum of the campaign and the promises made about the order in which issues would be taken on becomes a compelling priority list for a new President. From the beginning the Republicans hammered the Democrats. They wouldn’t give up. Obama had promised a cooperative (bipartisan) solution. He did not want to be a bully. However, he ended up getting publically bullied and he seemed to lack the guts to take on the bullies. When the midterm elections changed the Congressional balance Obama’s window closed.
Will it stay closed? I don’t know. Of course, I believe that the Democratic path is the correct one. Even to those who say we are selling out the future to live more comfortably in the present, I would say that we do not know what the future will bring. The future could bring us back to a path of great prosperity and then all sacrifice might have been in vain. Why be so quick to choose a life of austerity? Can’t we have a little faith?
We could, perhaps carve out a third path that takes us on a trajectory somewhere between these two opposing paths, which would be the path of some truly bipartisan compromise, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. We need to choose our path wisely but it may end up being like the old hippie adage, “all paths lead to enlightenment”, or “all roads lead home”.  What this old piece of wisdom does not say, however, is that one journey may be far more miserable than another.
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