Saturday, December 9, 2017

Which way

A couple weeks ago, we very much enjoyed a visit to nearby marina to partake in a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner. Living in the boat yard has kept us away from the live-aboard / cruiser community so it was good to be back among the tribe. While there, I recognized a person who had been in the boatyard to have his boat launched. We had talked for a few minutes back then and I got the short version of the part of his life that had led our paths to cross. He struck me as a bit eccentric - not unusual among our group - and affable; though more animated than is my normal approach to the world.

I was a little surprised then, while we were in line to fill our plates with goodies (and completely unprovoked by anything I had said since I hadn’t said anything at all) he stated, “I assume you are pretty conservative.”

“No,” I said, unable to suppress a smile. “Not even close.”

“Really?” I guess it was his turn to be surprised. “I hope you don't lean too far left.”

“How far is too far?”

He chewed on that for a moment then said, “Well, I know you are a person of faith.”

“No,” I replied still smiling, “Not even close.”

“I guess we’ll have to work on you.”

“I appreciate the thought, and feel free. Realize you will not be the first who has tried.”

Plates full, we headed off to different parts of the group, which was fine with me. But that short little exchange sparked a muse…

How far is too far?

How far is too far when it comes to seeing that every child has enough food, a roof over their head, access to health care, and a chance at an education? Does raising taxes on billionaires and corporations, or scrutinizing military spending cross some line into being a less caring people than taking care of kids? Single payer health care provides access to millions upon millions of people all across first world societies. Is suggesting the US should at the least seriously consider such an option, leaning so far that it will make our heath care system worse than it already is? Compared to the rest of the civilized world, is that even possible?

How far is too far in supporting universal human and civil rights? Where are those limits that should never be crossed - trying to ensure that our justice system actually dispenses justice, or insisting that law enforcement officials, themselves, operate within the law? If we refuse to incentivize prisoners and prisons as profit centers, is that going too far, somehow leading to the downfall of our society? Is providing medical care for individuals with serious mental health issues rather than locking them up in solitary confinement for months (or years) somehow leaning too far toward being a compassionate, enlightened, society?  It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.” I fear, in the America of today, it is a maxim no longer generally approved.

Is it leaning too far left to recognize that the 47 year "war on drugs" has been a abject failure? Once again, the rest of the civilized world has learned that treating drug addiction as a health care issue works. Treating it as a criminal issue, does not. It is actually something some Americans learned at least a generation ago, which is why there is a 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

How far is too far in the support of democracy? Is insisting that every American citizen of voting age has free and easy access to a polling place, and that their vote will actually be counted, a line that should not be crossed? Will making election day a national holiday, or changing “election day” into  "election week” somehow demote us to being a less democratic people? How about just getting rid of the electoral college, an anachronism that has twice in the last five elections put the loser of a national election  in the White House? Will a "one person - one vote" mandate for the office of President of the United States make us less democratic nation?

How far is too far in keeping the oceans that we sail over and live on healthy, capable of supporting the biodiversity that feeds much of the human population and produces about 70% of the oxygen that we breathe? If there is to be much of a future, is suggesting that we must balance our consumerism against fouling the water that we drink, tainting the air we breathe, and poisoning the food we eat leaning so far that it will - somehow - detract from our chances of survival? If future generations look back on us as wise, careful stewards of the planet, (which, at this rate, they are certainly not going to do) will they think that we “leaned too far" in bequeathing to them a planet they could survive in and enjoy?

It it leaning too far to realize that threatening to start a nuclear war in order to preempt a nuclear war is a horrifyingly stupid idea?

On the other hand, it is pretty easy to point out where leaning toward “law and order” can go too far. Leaning so far as to declare that “money is free speech” crossed some line into delusion. Greed never was a good idea but, as a society, we certainly lean pretty hard on propaganda and advertising trying to make it so. We have taken too much to leaning on war when trying to solve issues best left to diplomacy, and are paying a fearsome price in lives and treasure in support of that obsession.

When it comes to leaning, which way is the thing that matters at last as much as how far.


SV Pelagia said...

Not "too far left" for us. Not by a long shot.

Whistler BC Canada

LW said...

Interesting that you saw him as "a bit eccentric - not unusual among our group - and affable" and willing to accept that.
He on the other hand saw you as in need of 'fixing', saying “I guess we’ll have to work on you.” So much for live and let live.

Much like a sailboat I have leaned to both the 'left' and 'right'. I have found I prefer an even keel. Although with the winds that are blowing around now it is getting harder and harder.

TJ said...

LW, don't tell anyone (it would ruin my reputation) but I generally give people a lot of room to be different than me. So far as being "worked on", there are a lot of ideologies out there that include a need to evangelize, some of them religious, some of them not. A few are even genuine (from their point of view) that my world view is putting me at risk of running afoul of some greater good or higher being. It is hard to see such as anything more than misguided, so I accept their efforts in the best possible light. Should we actually get into a debate it is pure defense on my part. I will explain why I have come to the conclusions that I have, but try to keep any offense as benign as possible. It is not my place to talk them out of an ideology which is important to their self image, maybe even central to how they order their lives. The only place where the gloves might come off is when they propose harm to another who has done them no harm, as on of their ideology's demands

I like an even keel as well but, sometimes, you just have to go hard against the wind.

FixedCarbon said...

Thanks. Don

Unknown said...

So well written! Holy Moly! Request permission to re-post in full or in part from "How far is to far?" with attribution!

Carl said...

Once again, perfect. Love reading it, it hits home.
SV Northern Star

PhilipW said...

For those of who live on the outside of the USA we see a remarkably diverse society, in which almost every shading of human experience and value can be found; from the very greatest to the worst. But these days we look on with a mix of fear, bafflement and not a little disdain.

By and large the North Americans I've met and worked with over the years have proven generous, hospitable and decent people; yet the society you live in seems to our outsider view fractious, dysfunctional and indecent. It must be hard to live in such contradiction, such constant conflict between what is and what you wish for.

The really frustrating part for me, is that as a species us humans already have pretty much all the knowledge and experiences needed to shape for ourselves and the planet, a far kinder, fertile and vibrant global society. All the pieces of the puzzle lie scattered around us, but our efforts to assemble them into a coherent, universal picture are persistently undone.

Knowledge of a better world is not enough; at some point we must will such a vision into life.

TJ said...

First, sorry about the reply delay; Grand Daughter (newest) made her debut early yesterday morning so we have all be a bit distracted.

Phil, any re-post of anything I stumble upon while fumbling my way through is okay with me. We are all in this together.

Philip, I agree that we humans have the knowledge and experiences needed to shape a better world. What we lack is the wisdom to see the necessity. We also face the huge challenge that such a better world will require much sacrifice on the part of those who hold the vast majority of the wealth and power. For them the world is (temporarily) near perfect. They can have anything (and pretty much anyone) they lust after. They can manipulate lives, send young people into battle for even more personal profit, and bend the financial system to leach effortlessly off the life long efforts of others. They are even worse than those who live above the law as they have the laws written to their exclusive advantage. A good example is the US Supreme Court making corruption, influence peddling, and bribery a legal part of our political system. A second good example is the new tax bill.

I don't know that there is a way to redeem a system as badly compromised as ours. Remember, the only option we had to the outright corruption of Trump and the Republican party was the equally corrupt Democratic party. Would things be as bad had Clinton been put in the White House by the electoral collage? Probably not. Would the US be on that path to a kinder, fertile, and vibrant global society? Probably not again. Our political failings are symptoms of a much deeper disease; one bred of greed, hubris, and conceit.