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Reason, Morality, and Progressive Adaptation

Earth Manifesto Insights

Dr. Tiffany B. Twain

September 2005

"What we are before is like a strait, a tricky road, a passage where we need courage and reason. The courage to go on, not to try to turn back; and the reason to use reason; not fear, not jealousy, not envy, but reason. We must steer by reason, and jettison --- because much must go --- by reason."

--- John Fowles, The Aristos           

We are arguably at a stage in human history where the increasingly global challenges facing us are so serious that only reason will save us, and we must responsibly embrace reason. In the final analysis, it will not be blind obsequious faith to our gods that will save us, it will be our reason, open-mindedness, flexible adaptability, and a necessary and ecological enlightenment.

Global warming, overpopulation, unsustainable consumption, ecological damage, increasing stress and dysfunction in our societies, and the extreme imbalances of our impacts on natural systems will not be adequately addressed by sticking with the status quo of business-as-usual consumerism and unthinking faith in economic and political and religious ideologies.

The human race simply must begin to live in a sustainable way. We would be wise to do this by working with nature, not against it. To prosper and survive, we must adapt. We must be flexible and nimble, not stubborn and ideologically inflexible. We must change course, transforming our shortsighted economic system into a sustainable one. We must mitigate the harm we do to our societies and the environment.

We can do this by the following means: (1) reduce the profligate consumption of resources; (2) use non-renewable minerals more conservatively; (3) produce less waste and pollutants and toxins; (4) give serious consideration and wiser focus to what is best for our societies; (5) do less harm to wildlife habitats; (6) mitigate our inadvertent assault on Earth's biological diversity; (7) contribute less to climate instability by better controlling greenhouse gas emissions; and (8) balance the federal budget in a more fiscally responsible way.

Lessons gleaned from a study of evolution make it clear that flexibility and adaptability are critically important to species survival. The ability to learn and transmit knowledge to future generations has been vitally important to our own evolutionary success.

Catastrophes and natural disasters make it starkly clear that we must prioritize more wisely, and do better contingency planning and risk evaluation. We must, in effect, more intelligently design our societies. We must learn from adversity and admit mistakes and make the best of new understandings and boldly reform our economic and political systems to be fairer and more ecologically sound.

Actions have consequences. Policies have effects. Incentives and disincentives affect people's behaviors and choices. A clear and objective understanding of causes and effects is important to help improve our decision-making. Denial, in which politicians specialize, runs very deep.

A long-term perspective clearly shows that budgetary decisions have been critically irresponsible for years. We lack the will to honestly address our society's problems. Borrowing money is simply an irresponsible way of deferring costs, and of unfairly foisting these costs onto people in the future.

Our leaders are almost always focused on feathering the nests of the most comfortable amongst us. In doing so, they generally neglect the most vulnerable citizens, and young people, and future generations. In conjunction with this wrong-headedness, they are busy facilitating the exploitation of natural resources rather than being responsible stewards.

The best societies are ones that allow people the freedom to make their own individual choices, ones that are supportive of socially positive choices while providing clear and effective disincentives for socially negative choices. Our society has been heading in an increasingly dysfunctional direction, so we clearly must reform and redesign it to be fairer and more peaceful. Poverty, inequality in our healthcare system, aggressive militarism, and our dangerous addiction to a costly fossil-fuel energy regime are four principal issues that require serious commitment and far-sighted remedial action.

To avoid the collapse of our superpower status and our overextended economy, we must take bold steps to make public education better, improve critical infrastructure, make our country fairer, strive to make all activities sustainable, create political and social institutions that are more responsive to good citizen goals, and commit ourselves to diplomacy and cooperation with other nations. We must strive to convert our military-based economy to an economy based on peaceful pursuits that improve people's lives.

As an editorial in the Cousteau Society Calypso Log once observed:

"If peace were waged with as much commitment, as much passion, and as many resources as those spent on war, the environment could be protected rather than squandered, and millions of people around the world could enjoy their lives rather than living in fear, hunger, and poverty. The money that goes into weapons of destruction could go into education, arts, science, health care, clean sources of energy, affordable housing, businesses and technologies that improve the quality of life and the health of the planet. An ethic of respect for all life could be nourished. It is not impossible."

Great empires grow, climax, and decay. History reveals that decline generally occurs because of the same combination of causes:

1. Decimated and squandered resources;

2. A bloated and overextended military;

3. An unfair plutocracy characterized by an ever-greater disparity between the fortunes of the rich and those of the poor;

4. Widespread political corruption;

5. Public apathy, cynicism and effective disenfranchisement;

6. A populace grown complacent and diverted by sports spectacles and divisive social policies, and war; and,

7. A massive influx of people's and their customs from abroad.

The United States is exhibiting all of these unsettling signs. It is unethical for our leaders to blithely march down this path without a responsible concern for the adverse consequences.

Honesty and integrity are important moral values. It is morally wrong to deceive people in order to obtain, maintain, and abuse power. It is wrong to manipulate people by lying to them, and to use divisive social issues to create a wedge between Americans in order to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

The abuse of power in many of its current manifestations is unconscionable and unacceptable. Current abuses of power include: lying about the true nature of motives for attacking other countries; advancing policies that create greater poverty and inequities; pandering to giant corporations at the public's expense, particularly in creating healthcare inequalities and environmental injustices; taking advantage of people's ignorance to advance regressive economic doctrines, aggressive militarism, and religious partisanship towards narrow-minded, reason-denying, anti-progressive ideas; distorting and denying science; whitewashing and stonewalling the truth; exacerbating racist and sexist inequities; and subverting the checks and balances that Constitutionally protect people, and doing so for the purpose of dominating and controlling society.

Abraham Lincoln, in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, emphasized that we must "highly resolve" "that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Hurray for that important sentiment.

We cannot allow the extreme right wing to further abuse its power. We cannot accept the appointment of ultraconservatives for life terms to the Supreme Court if they intend to erode privacy rights and civil liberties and environmental protections. And we cannot allow religious fundamentalists the power to continue to obstruct family planning and contraception programs.

We should demand that the Bush Administration reverse the arrogant Global Gag Rule, and immediately fulfill Congress' financial commitment to the United Nations Population Fund. Personally, I cannot fathom how anti-abortion advocates can in good faith maintain that an ovum and a sperm deserve more rights to be protected, from the moment they unite and no matter what the circumstances of conception, than a woman deserves the right to control the most profound aspects of her destiny. Those who hold such male-authority-oriented and fundamentalist views are entitled to their beliefs, but they must not have the power to dictate women's life decisions and to limit their reproductive choices. Prevention of pregnancy should be encouraged by various means, not just by advocating abstinence from sexual intercourse. Good sex education programs should be used to counsel our youth. And contraceptives and the morning-after pill should be freely available. Punishing women for becoming pregnant when they do not want to have a child is neither compassionate nor fair-minded as a national policy or as a social attitude.

Morality is found NOT in absolutes related to issues embraced by anti-abortion and anti-gay-rights activists, but rather in deeper and more nuanced issues of fairness, protected liberties, and equal rights. Similarly, morality is found in responsible use of power and a commitment to peaceful coexistence and true social justice and the mitigation of poverty and despair. Social ultraconservatives may strive tirelessly "to put the smackdown on heresies" that challenge their orthodoxies, but mainstream America must stand up and repudiate the hypocritical intolerance, ruthless authoritarianism, and evangelical righteousness of the radical right.

Every Administration contributes its own stamp to the nature of society. It is time that the current Administration begins to heal America, and to make peace with poor people and the world!

--- Dr. Tiffany Twain