I wrote a blog on March 4th contrasting heroes with villains in the drama to save the planet. To my surprise, I received a comment from someone who identifies himself simply as “G.” Following the link to the WordPress page, I discovered a strong allegiance between “G” and the tea party. One does suspect writers who hide behind the mantle of anonymity, but to my surprise, the comment on my blog was quite civil, though clearly wrong-headed.
In part, “G” disagrees with my notion of what makes a hero. He says “The heroes are the people who fight for freedom and those who take advantage of that freedom to create wealth for themselves and those around them.” Interesting, but, as I say, wrong-headed. To begin with, we need to define some key terms.
A hero must be both courageous and selfless. That notion goes back to Hector in the Illiad and would include all those we have considered heroes up to and including the brave men and women who lost their lives trying to save others on 9/11. The people I pointed to as heroes, environmentalists like Danny DeVito and Naomi Davis, show both of these qualities in making sacrifices to help save the planet. They exhibit self-denial in their willingness to alter their “lifestyle” and courage in swimming against the tide of opinion that ridicules their behavior.
Gaining wealth, whether we share it or not, shows little of either of these qualities, especially in a society where the wealthy pay virtually no taxes and so many of them are born with a head-start. And the freedom that “G” mentions is conceived simplistically. It is not enough that I throw off my chains for me to possess real freedom. I must also determine my own actions. The freedom the wealthy tout is based on the non-interference of government in their activities and also implies a devotion to wealth itself that suggests fixation. Wealth is a means to an end not an end in itself. I am not free to the extent that I pursue wealth unrestricted. I can only be free if I also determine both the ends and the means that give my life meaning. Devotion to the mere gaining of wealth is a confusion of means and ends and is hardly the expression of human freedom.
Further, the sharing of the wealth “those around them” is suspect, since that desire (such as it is) is usually coupled with a hatred of taxes that are designed largely to force us to share our wealth with others more needy than ourselves. The conflict here suggests that “those around them” are a select few the wealthy choose to share (some of) their wealth with. We are not talking about largess here, except in rare cases. And those cases need to be duly noted. But those few exceptions hardly make “G’s” case.
In a word, I stick by my argument on March 4th. I think that those who make sacrifices and show courage in a society that for the most part belittles their efforts are the true heroes among us. Those who spend their lives accumulating wealth are not heroic in any sense of that term. They are the embodiment of self-interest and fixated on a goal that is demeaning to themselves as human beings.
It is true, as “G” allows in his comment — following the quote above — that we need to be stewards of the planet, but that takes more than lip-service and a furtive glance. And, I must confess, I don’t see signs of any real concern about stewardship in the behavior of the villains I described in my earlier blog. It takes real effort and willingness to alter our lifestyles and even, perhaps, to adopt an entirely different economic model. As things now stand our insistence upon an expanding economy in the name of “progress” is in direct conflict with any meaningful effort to save the planet. I doubt seriously that any of the “heroes” that “G” has in mind would be willing to even consider abandoning a growth economy.