Copyright © 1989, 1997, 2015 by Jim Hull

(Please cite the author if you quote from this work)


Ever notice how, when a major problem gets completely solved, everyone stops moralizing about it?

Great ethical debates rage daily about the AIDS virus. It's a plague visited on homosexuals, and the solution is for them to refrain from their wicked ways. No, wait: it's simply medical bad luck, and we should educate everyone about the use of condoms. When we have a cure the whole debate will disappear.

Or take communism. (Please.) In decades past theorists argued importantly about its merits. Meanwhile, open-market economies prospered, welfare safety nets were instituted, and pretty soon the "working classes" in the west were so successful they had no interest in some revolution that might rock their boat. Finally communism expired of its own weight, and all the moralizing died away. Sure, there is major poverty still to be cured, but almost no one seriously proposes communism as the solution.

People have often overused their lands and forests and oceans, and the treasure dwindled. Calls would issue for the people to sacrifice and do without. Then someone would come along and show them a clever way to husband the resources, things would turn around, and the moralizing would stop. People don't debate about smog in L.A. like they used to: it's gotten much better due to cheap pollution-control devices, and oncoming improvements in non-polluting engines makes the future look even better. What's to debate? Oh, we can argue about whether to cut small trucks some slack or let them keep spewing more than sedans. But the course is set: we're inventing our way free of that "dreadful lemon sky." Soon there'll be no one left to point fingers at, not because anyone was vanquished, but because a lot of people were ingenious.

It's so easy to look at the messes we make and conclude humans are no darn good. Look at 'em: greedy, sloppy, don't give a hoot about anything but their short-term needs. It's easy to condemn South Asians who tear down their forests just for a little firewood, or Africans who graze their lands to desert just to feed the goats one more year. They're just stupid and ignorant, right? (Haven't yet received the blessings of our western culture.) Except if you lived there, in poverty, you'd probably think those trees were just the thing to get you through another winter. And if your goats starve, so do you.

But forget all that and insist that people are a plague on the land. You can claim, as do some environmentalists, that we're overgrown, that we aren't entitled to use up this much space and energy. Did you know your car spews five pounds of carbon into the air for every gallon of gas it consumes? That carbon is screwing up the weather patterns on the planet. (Care for an El Niño, anyone?) So you're bad and should stop using your car. Right?

"Are you kidding? Get outta here!"

It's not that people are bad; it's that there are tricky problems that haven't yet been solved. When someone exhorts you to sacrifice for the good of others, it's a sure sign there's a problem waiting for a clever solution. But all that finger-pointing won't make a bit of difference.

So why do we argue so much? Why don't we just sit down together and think these things through? For one thing, in America at least, major social issues usually end up in the courts. The judge or jury must, like Solomon, choose only one side. The attorneys are duty-bound to argue their side to the exclusion of the other. Out of court they loudly proclaim the virtues of their client and the evils of the other guy. This is what we see night after night on TV. No wonder problems seem so insoluble. For another thing, we're afraid - scared someone might take away our blanket, steal our toys. We're afraid there's not enough to go around. "Finish your food: children are starving in--" you name the country. We grow fat and we're still afraid there's not enough for us. So it's hard to hear the other point of view; if we agree, maybe they'll think we're weak and they'll pounce.

Let's wake up to our own resourcefulness, and to the rich abundance here on Earth. There's enough to go around, and if there isn't, we'll figure out how to jerry-rig it so there's enough anyway. People have covered the earth, it's true, but population growth is slowing the most in industrialized, technological nations.

Remember the litmus test: if people are still arguing about it, the problem isn't solved. (And don't waste yourself trying to force the opposition to shut up. Look what happened in Romania to President-for-Life Ceaucescu...)

People can be foolish, but they aren't stupid, and - as Robert Heinlein pointed out - they're hard to kill. People WANT to solve problems. But the answer isn't sacrifice. The point is to help each other out so everybody benefits. Then people will settle down, and all that righteous moralizing will fade away.

And then maybe there'll be some quiet around here for a change.



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