Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not My Cup of Tea

The world is making me tired. There hasn't been a day go by in the last few weeks that I haven't been shaken by something happening somewhere. I need a day of happy news. Just one. Is that unreasonable?

When I was in grad school, studying Environmental Policy, I was introduced to Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus was an English scholar who proposed a theory of overpopulation, saying that at some point, the earth's population would grow beyond its ability to sustain itself. Once the earth reaches that point, the population would be checked by starvation, war and disease. Most of the twentieth century, economists and philosophers spent suggesting that Malthus was wrong; we were able to exponentially increase food production, and send minimum sustenance to every corner of the globe and prevent death by starvation. We are now in the third desperate famine in Africa that I can remember. We are doing the best we can to send enough food to the people in Somalia to prevent the slow, dreadfully suffering death by starvation and disease, despite the fact that many of the violent and corrupt regimes of the region are preventing some of the aid from reaching those most in need. Yesterday it was announced that on Halloween day, Sunday, October 31, 2011, the world population will reach seven billion. The world is on the downward slide with regard to potable water. Much of the farmland in Africa has been rendered un-arable because of war, drought, and the race for resources such as gold, oil and diamonds. Once the aid workers are gone, the same corrupt war lords will begin to kill with impunity again, using religion and race as an excuse, when resources are actually the reason for the brutal attacks. Malthus wasn't wrong, he was just early. We can increase our food production to a point, and we've come through so far. But those increases require more water and good land, which is becoming more and more rare as the population rises, the climate warms, and drought prevents the rain from watering the farms...and the circle is infinite.

Back in the 1980s I read several books by Stephen King. I loved the fact that, much like the television program, "The Twilight Zone," there was just enough reality to make his plots seem plausible. One of my favorites was "The Dead Zone." It was a story about a man who was in a terrible car crash and went into a coma for a long time. When he awakened, he could touch people and tell the future. One of the people he touched was a politician who was running for president. He touched the man, and knew that a nuclear conflagration would be the result of the election of that candidate. Something eerily like the feeling I got reading that story came over me when I saw this picture on the cover of Time magazine this week:

I'm sorry-there is just something frightening to me about this man. Despite the fact that, as Bill Clinton said, "He's a good lookin' rascal." It's not enough to make him un-scary to me.

I am an unabashed liberal. But I understand some conservative positions, and I come from a very conservative family. When political topics are broached, especially since I am usually outnumbered, I've become a master of the smile and nod, and the, "That's certainly a point of view," reply. But a conversation I had early in the Obama administration with a friend who is just as proud of her tea party activism and anti-Obama passion that was very telling to me as I look back. This particular friend lives in a very closed society-fundamental Christianity, in the deep south, and all of her world view is colored by that giant wall. I tend to believe this is true of all tea party members, including my mother. Most of this group decided that they hated Obama, and anything he might stand for well before he was elected and attempted to do anything. They have held their beliefs, no matter how often President Obama has done exactly the opposite of what anyone would expect of a liberal. But my friend exclaimed to me, when I asked her why, exactly and specifically, she disliked Obama so much, "He wants to CHANGE America." This remark has come back to me time and again, puzzlingly; and in the last month or so, it has come back to me again and again. I have realized that what the tea party wants is a return to an America that never really existed in the past, and certainly could not survive in the twenty-first century. In the days of fuzzy memory, blacks and gays didn't demand their constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. In fact, a black man walking down the street who looked at a white woman, or looked a white man in the eye, did so at his own peril. Homosexuals didn't want to get married-they wanted to hide their true natures so that they could keep their jobs. They never had "partners," they had "roommates." But the white folks lived well, and went to church every Sunday. They were there for their white neighbors, and their white neighbors were there for them. No one knew that George Washington didn't really chop down a cherry tree and tell his father the truth about it. No one ever questioned the Disney-fied history books, or dared to suggest that any of the founding fathers were promiscuous or flawed in any way. Men went to work, and good mothers stayed home and provided clean houses and good meals for the family. Freedom of religion was okay because everyone was Christian or Jewish. There were no atheists or agnostics, and certainly no Muslims or Hindus. There were no illegal immigrants-just gardeners and people who traveled around the country to pick fruit for a pittance that was impossible to live on. That was their problem though-white people had the right to make profit and do well. No one questioned that. But that world never truly existed, and most definitely does not exist now. American businesses can't make profits without going international. But in order to go international, we must learn something about the cultures with which we wish to do business. That may mean we can't steamroll over everyone in another country with the assumption that the only good country is the U. S. and the only good religion is Christianity, and the only good business model is the American one. Facebook and Twitter and the internet in general have made isolationism impossible. And the fact of the matter is, the world has changed, and was changing long before Obama was born in Hawaii. I've been told all my life that "Change is the only constant in life," and anyone who refuses to admit that is burying his head in the sand. Obama didn't cause this, but as the first president we've had in some time who is open to it, rather than trying to deny it, or forcefully and belligerently stop the change, he is still WAY ahead of any tea party candidate.


Steve Bumgarner said...

Wait a minute - you're saying George Washington DIDN'T rat himself out? Many conservative religious people believe everything is in God's hands and Obama trying redirect disaster is working against God's holy plan. That, plus Barack is a negro with 3 foreign names.

Vonnie Hix Shallenberger said...

Every culture has its mythology. Most of them have to do with national identity, and nothing to do with literal truth. Oh-there I go again! Thanks for your comment, Steve!