Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Moderation In A Crowded World

In 1800 just after the United States was formed and the Constitution ratified, the world population was about 978 million, just under 1 billion.  North America had about 7 million people.  If you had suggested to them at the time that they really should consider moderating consumption and conserving natural ecosystems, they probably would have laughed you to scorn.  "The world has more natural resources and available land than we ever could possibly develop," they would say to you with a condescending chuckle.  "Why on Earth should moderate anything?"

Today the world population is approaching 7 billion and North America has about 340 million people.  In a hundred years we'll be pushing 10 billion people.  It is a crowded world we live in now and it is not difficult to imagine running out of oil, chopping down the Amazon rain forest, and polluting our entire atmosphere and oceans to near sterility.  For thousands of years leading up to now humans have never had to moderate because the world was so big and we were so small.  So it is not altogether surprising, then, when so many people today, Americans in particular, continue to scoff at the idea of moderation, at the idea that we have to pull back in order to preserve what we have.

The oil gushing into the Gulf Coast at a rate of 210,000 gallons a day, which we are apparently powerless to stop any time soon, is a fitting example of how we are failing to be proper stewards of the Earth because we are not willing to moderate our thirst for oil.

But the idea of moderation in an ever more crowded world doesn't just pertain to the environment and consumption of goods.

As world population increases so does our proximity to other people.  As infrastructure increases and improves information is more easily shared, goods are more easily shipped around the globe, people travel more easily and are not confined to their ancestral land, and divisions based on ideology, race, national origin, habits, ways of life, and religions are no longer easily maintained.  We are forced to live and interact with people and ideas that before were easy to avoid.

It was easier to take more extreme positions because we could easily insulate ourselves from the consequences, but that is no longer the case.  In order to survive we have to find common ground.  We can't elevate the rhetoric against immigrants like we used to because there is no longer any buffer between Us and Them.  We can't demand that our government be Christian because there is no longer any buffer between Us and Them.  We can't demonize people of other political ideologies because there is no longer any buffer between Us and Them.  We are crowded together on the same subway train now and it does no use yelling at the person standing next to you to make more room because more room doesn't exist anymore.

Which brings us to two things:  Pres. Obama and the Gospel.  As for the president, he has been a liberal disappointment.  The far-right wing wants to paint him as a dangerous liberal, a socialist, a communist, a fascist, extreme in every way.  The reality is much different.

His newest nomination to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, is a safe choice meant to avoid any sort of conflict or strong statement about what liberals believe.  Liberals wanted a single-payer health system, or a strong public option at the very least.  Universal health care was never on the table and the public option was bargained away before the bargaining even started.  Instead we got a bill that amounts to a give-away to private health insurance companies.  Liberals wanted Guantanamo Bay shut down, full light shed on the torture issue, the Bush Administration torturers prosecuted, and the end of executive power overreaching.  Instead Guantanamo remains open, torture was swept under the rug, and the president is not letting go of unconstitutional executive powers like the right to indefinitely detain terror "suspects" without any evidence.  Don't Ask, Don't Tell has not been repealed.  The energy bill is going to be another give-away to private industry instead of hard choices in reducing climate change.  And I could go on.

I let this bother me for quite a while, but I'm starting to come around.  It's okay to hold liberal and conservative views, but it's not okay, in my opinion, to hold them at the exclusion of compromise and mutual respect.  Our nation is simply too big and diverse to cling to extreme ideas.  Partisanship is good and healthy, America needs to debate the different positions and fully explore all good ideas, but in the end we have to move towards each other and work together.  Despite what the anti-government movement and other far-righties might try to tell us, I think Pres. Obama is doing a good job trying to bridge differences and moderate.  He'll never hear that from those groups or Washington politicians, but it's true and I think America sees that.

And I think the Gospel is the perfect vehicle for this sort of moderation and is more and more relevant as the world grows more and more crowded.  It teaches us that all people are children of God and have a common divine heritage.  It teaches us to love and respect everyone, regardless of race, politics, age, sex, religion, or any other Earthly distinction.  And when we are able to love and respect anyone, looking beyond arbitrary differences, we are able to find common ground and moderate our more extreme impulses.  I think members of the church need to employ the Gospel to bridge differences instead of widen them and to promote peace instead of conflict.  I don't think polarization, whether it be my country against yours, my politics against yours, or my religion against yours, is in line with what the Savior taught.


Erik said...

I couldn't agree more about Obama's political moderation. He is a liberal guys, but as president he really hasn't done too many liberal things. The healthcare bill was similar to the republicans answer to Clintoncare and to Romneycare. He has done almost nothing to end the Iraq war and has sent more troops to Afghanistan. The list of items on the liberal agenda that Obama has NOT done is endless. I think I is good that he has compromised but a bit of a waste in the sense that no conservative can see it.

Jacob S. said...

You're right. I was also thinking about this as I read an article today in the Deseret News about Gov. Matheson:

Here was a moderate Utah Democrat that was an extremely popular two-term governor in the 70s and 80s. Back then, Utahns were moderate and able to vote independently. We were not slaves to party ID and the polarized rhetoric was almost non-existent. Today Utah has shifted to the extreme right and someone like Peter Corroon, another fiscally conservative, otherwise moderate Utah Democrat running for governor, probably doesn't have a prayer.