On the American conscience

The parable goes like this:

There are two wolves tearing at one another in my heart. One is composed of greed, self-loathing, regret, arrogance, childishness and fear. The other is empathy, kindness, selflessness. The same fight goes on in everyone, including you reading this. Who wins the fight?

The wolf you feed.

I’m not sure where this comes from, though this comic and its attached post do a good job of covering it. It seems to me that as a country, we feed the first wolf more often than the second. That is not to say the United States is full of cruel monsters, because that is wrong. The United States has many kind, compassionate people living in it. However, we have embraced a way of doing politics that is working hard to damage our collective moral fabric.

Which wolf do I feed? It seems now that almost every time I sit down with a friend, we spend a moment talking about how stupid and frightening some of our peers are. This essay is an attempt to describe a way forward for politics based around a simple idea: our political mindsets ought to revolve around what is best for our neighbors and friends, rather than what is best for ourselves.

The moral attitudes that we embrace are reflected in our ideologies. Excuse the quality of the video, but this clip represents something important to me. It is the truest representation of the simple idea I outlined above. It’s a practical moral attitude, and simple. You’re not going to get everything you want, and often times, who and what you are is defined by luck far more often than hard work, intelligence, or many other factors we hold in high esteem.

If what I just described is the the case, (I believe it is) then we have a moral obligation to care for others, rather than just trying to equalize things between us and those who surround us.

I believe we ought to care for others first, then ourselves. Obviously, I don’t believe this to the point where we put ourselves in harm’s way. But, the consequences of caring for others before ourselves is this: we can never do enough for other people. There will always be more that we could have done. Nobody is unimpeachable, moral, and perfect in action. The best we can do is look out for one another, over and over again.

The world is ending

A little dramatic, but I wanted you to read what I have to say here. Sorry guys, but global warming is going to dramatically change the landscape of our planet and our societies. I doubt there’s much we can do to stop it, but we can band together to make sure the ultimate consequences are not the premature deaths of millions, possibly billions of people.

My fellow Americans, this means we cannot continue to consume resources in the ways that we do. Our culture of excess and pursuit of extreme comfort is unsustainable, plain and simple. Sure, we could go to war, continue to keep much of the world impoverished so we could have a wonderful way of life for the next 50 to 100 years, but that’s probably it. We’re on track for our children and their children to have lives that are of poor quality.

I don’t do this to finger point. I’m sure there are many people who try to limit their consumption and who believe I shouldn’t be telling them what to do. I personally live a life free of most serious difficulties. I’m able to support myself with my job, and live a comfortable existence. However, that is not a given, nor should it be thought of as such. We should not believe that just because I can, everyone else can too. I’ll illustrate what I’m talking about by talking about my hometown.

The Star Valley Medical Center Hospital Extension

A few years ago, the hospital in my hometown of Afton, WY, wanted to expand to better provide services to Lincoln County. They went to the community to ask for a small contribution of $3.5 million dollars. The measure failed at the ballot box. I’m going to do baby math here, and say if we divide 3.5 million by the 18,364 residents of Lincoln County, that comes to around $190 a person. That’s probably not an accurate calculation, but bear with me. I’m guessing that the $190 per person wouldn’t be paid in one lump sum in taxes, but be spread out over several years to be a more manageable burden.

I’m guessing that this project for the expansion was voted down for many reasons. I’d love to hear all of them. However, I’m curious if those reasons can overpower the benefits of the hospital expansion. It ended up happening anyway, with the hospital pursuing alternative means, which were more expensive. Star Valley Medical Center is by no means a shit hospital — they provide excellent services, and the times I’ve been there have been phenomenal.

However, when I ripped off my thumb in a log splitter when I was 13, my dad and I had to drive 60 miles to a hospital in Jackson, Wyoming, with me whimpering and bleeding all over the car. It would have been nice to not have to have done that.

I use this anecdote to bolster my earlier point that one of the most destructive tendencies of human beings is our inability to notice things outside of ourselves. As I’ve said, I believe this will destroy us eventually without a titanic shift in thinking and action. I don’t need to go to the hospital, or have health insurance, or need firefighters or police officers most of the time. But when I need them, I really NEED them. In my mind, the lives of others are no different. If paying more money each year means fewer people are in pain, or have better access to resources, I am for that. I wish others had been thinking of kids or adults getting hurt and suffering needlessly and having to travel great distances to alleviate that suffering when they’d voted down that measure to expand the hospital.

Thomas the welfare queen

I was in AmeriCorps a few years out of college. I served in the VISTA program, working at a domestic violence shelter and getting paid near the poverty line in Montana. The idea (an antiquated one, in my mind) was that you worked at the economic level as the people you were serving. This means I made something like $15,000/year (the poverty line for one person in Montana is $11,770). To make ends meet, it’s recommended that AmeriCorps volunteers apply for food stamps, which I did. I got roughly $200 a month to pay for groceries (you can’t buy prepared foods or alcohol). They give you a debit card lookalike and you check out using a special scanner at the grocery store. This was the maximum amount for a single adult, and there are quite a few hoops you have to jump through to get it if you’re aren’t on the special AmeriCorps track.

Had I been injured, medical expenses would have broken me financially. Had a major financial event of any kind occurred, that would have broken me as well. The moral of the story is this: it’s not easy to live on low wages, and many people do not have the privilege or the opportunity to achieve something better. There are isolated examples of individuals abusing welfare programs, but it is not pleasurable nor fun to receive government benefits. Anyone who says otherwise is being an asshole.

Luckily for me, I had a wonderful support network of compassionate people who were able to help me when I was having a hard time. Some people don’t even get that. Don’t be an asshole. Think about the members of your community who are struggling harder than yourself.

Now, politics

It seems to me that people suddenly become experts in the lives of others and what they do and do not deserve come voting season. It also seems these thoughts are often stem from egoism.

I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, because we all get to see morality on display. I believe we should conserve resources as best we can, avoid wastefulness, and allow people a relative degree of freedom in their lives. I think these concepts are moral and just; they allow us to see how others might live lives that have less suffering in them, rather than more.

What I see from conservative politicians is a hatred of the Other, a general distaste for the autonomy of women, and insufficient compassion toward the less fortunate. I see political leaders who refuse to speak truth to power, instead upholding ideologies that are outdated and ought to be phased out. These are moral injustices based upon egoistic thinking.

Liberal ideology commits moral injustices based on selfishness as well. An essential component of being a moral agent is accounting for the way the world is, not the way we wish it was. I have plenty of student debt. Forgiving student debt (that nobody was forced into) is impractical. It seems nice, but the operational requirements are too high to justify the costs. Universal child care is impractical. Guaranteeing a job is impractical.

Liberal ideology at its core, seeks to give people resources and tools to be successful. I see liberal politicians attempting to put this into practice more often than I see conservative politicians trying to protect the conservative ideologies I outlined above. That doesn’t mean they can’t. They just don’t seem to be doing a good job of it here in the US of A.

This might literally be the end

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, not because I think she’s a shining moral agent, but because she represents an ideological viewpoint that I think may be our only salvation moving into the future. We cannot continue living the way we are. If we do, millions, possibly billions of people are going to suffer. We are all going to die, and our children and their children will too, but that’s always been the score. We need big ideas, we need to look out for each other.

I am not an optimistic man. Blind optimism in the face of the cruelty and indifference of our world is to blindly embody that cruelty and indifference. It hurts to look at the pain of the world, the pain of those we love, the pain of those around us. But, we must do it. It is our obligation.

Vote. Vote for better leaders that see the world as moral adults, and will represent us and our children. To my friends, and to people who I don’t know — look to the bowls of your neighbors, and make sure they have enough.  Soon, your own bowl might be empty.