The Passing of the Flame

Educators and counselors talk about “teachable moments.” If we’re “living right,” as my grandfather used to say, we encounter these moments every day and often. Sometimes our best teachable moments are also ranked as our most embarrassing.

When I am an old man telling and re-telling the stories of my youth and its glory days, I will very likely focus on the decade I spent working as a wilderness guide and counselor. The best of those years was spent at Wolfcreek Wilderness School, which was located just below Vogel State Park in Union County, Georgia.

I’ve never been comfortable speaking in front of groups, but one of the core components of the programs we facilitated was challenging people to step out of their comfort zones.  Therefore, when it was my turn to lead a ceremony closing out a program for a group of 8th graders, I had little choice but to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

The closing ceremony I chose was a variation of the well known ritual of passing on the torch. The participants stand in a circle, each one holding an unlit candle. Beginning with a single flame, they light the candle of the person next to them as the flame travels around the circle.  The ceremony symbolizes the passing on of knowledge or tradition and it is usually done in silence or in a solemn and respectful manner.

As the ceremony was about to begin and we stood quietly in our circle, we could hear the sound of dogs barking in the distance. We thought nothing of it at first. Barking dogs are not uncommon in the country. But the barking got closer, and closer, until a pack of dogs ran into a storage room directly under the floor where we stood.

For several weeks prior to our summer program, the property around our facility had been visited by some of the “wild” or  feral hogs that often plague mountain communities in our area. Unbeknownst to our staff or participants, our director (from Atlanta) had hired a group of local hunters to deal with the hog problem – on the very weekend we were hosting a group of kids. As Curly from the movie, “City Slickers” might say, “City folk!”

The dogs we heard barking were hunting dogs. They were chasing a hog down the mountain, across the field and into the storage room under our Lodge. They cornered the hog directly under our common room and proceeded to do what dogs do with a wild hog. Soon the sounds of growling were added to the barks, as well as the piercing squeals of a hog in distress.

I don’t now if you’ve ever heard a squealing pig, but if you were close enough I believe it could actually do damage to your eardrums. As it turns out, there were a few kids in our group who were capable of screaming almost as loud. In an instant, the silence of our ceremony was replaced with barking, growling, squealing, screaming, crying and the angry shouts of hunters. It was all we could do to prevent an infectious panic from stampeding our terrified group of children.

Joy passes quickly, but horror seems to stretch out forever. Eventually the hunters captured the hog (still very much alive), secured the dogs and to everyone’s relief, left the property. One of the teachers responsible for our group of students took me aside and asked if we could go ahead and complete the ceremony. She thought the solemnity might be just the distraction needed to calm our group of frightened kids. So we reformed our circle and passed out candles to begin the passing on of the flame.

Unfortunately for the solemn tone of our ceremony, the only candles we had available were tea candles. You know the type – small disks of paraffin thinly clad in aluminum. They work fine sitting quietly on a hard and heat resistant surface or floating in water. However, when you hold them in your hand for an extended period of time, they get hot. Very hot. So hot that it becomes impossible to continue holding them. And to add insult to injury, our collection of candles must have also been defective, because as they warmed up, they began to escape the confines of their aluminum enclosures and drop to the floor.

You can imagine the scene:  The quiet dignity of our ceremony was punctuated by cries of “ouch” and the sound of burning candles being dropped on the floor. The heat of the candles was almost as hot as the temperature of my cheeks.

So a flame was indeed passed around the circle, but it was not the one we anticipated. Instead it was the sound of infectious laughter born out of relief. After the laughter subsided, the flames  extinguished and smoke cleared, I did have the presence of mind to remark that there was no rule which required that the quest for knowledge be undertaken without humor.

“We all learned something today,” said one of the teachers, “though I’m not quite sure just now what that is. But one thing is certain. We will never forget this night.”

Nor will I.

 

Cold Equations

We’re going to talk about immigration today, but we’re going to step back from the drama without rushing automatically  into those well trodden camps on the left and right sides of virtual reality, ready to attack, and searching for just the right meme to signal our virtue to our respective tribes.

We are so distracted while we argue and insult each other that you could drive a truck between our  two camps and no one would notice, even if that truck was loaded with the  liberty and prosperity of the nation, which, as it turns out, has indeed been the case for decades. While we have argued and protested and posted, 75% of the nation’s wealth has accumulated in the hands of 10% of our people, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Talking candidly about immigration is  difficult at best. The facts are hard to sift, and often discomfiting.  Each of our opposing camps is in possession of a few facts that they seem to regard  as the whole truth. Few have been willing to cross the divide to share information. Let’s see if we can start to bridge that gap.

To begin with, the numbers are incontrovertible: Without immigration, the US population would be shrinking, and according to most economists, without a growing population, we would suffer economically.  If you’re a “bottom line” kind of person, you can start right there. We need younger, working taxpayers to finance the social security of millions entering retirement, and there is no easy or painless solution to our demographic cliff.

The United States is a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of all races and cultures. We have proven throughout our history that no matter a person’s race or nationality, when opportunity exists, all are capable of achieving excellence, no matter what their origins. This truth is at the core of our national identity.

Unfortunately some of the fire has gone out of the furnace and the melting pot has less of the strong alloy and more of the sticky mess. Many have lost or forgotten our unifying principles, and we are divided against ourselves by our own seriously flawed political culture. How can we expect newcomers to assimilate into our culture when we are not sure ourselves just what that should be? When our economy was strongest and our vision clearest, we did not need physical walls to protect us. But we have changed, and the world has changed.

Repeatedly throughout our history we have struggled with the consequences of immigration. But in the generation after WWII we hit our stride, and, empowered in large part by the children and grandchildren of immigrants, the United States experienced a rise in standard of living unprecedented in human history. Accompanying that ascent was a steady increase in life expectancy and interestingly, in IQ scores, fueling even greater prosperity.

But beginning in the 1970’s, IQ scores began to and continue to drop. Last year life expectancy declined for the first time in 25 years. Our students from grade school through high school do not compete well with the students of other industrialized nations.

There are competing theories about why this is happening, but we can all agree that something has changed. Many factors affect intelligence. Multiple studies have shown that malnutrition in early childhood leads to lower IQ scores and antisocial behavior later in life. There are environmental factors as well.

Now here’s where the discussion gets uncomfortable, but we’re going to suspend judgement until our thoughts are complete:  Some anthropologists and demographists believe that immigration has been a contributing factor in the decline.

At this point the discussion often goes off the rails when those who suffer from racism attempt to conflate immigration with lowering IQ and increasing crime to conclude that race or nationality is at fault.

Of course they are wrong.  Declining IQ scores and increasing crime rates are seen in EVERY race and nationality where people suffer from malnourishment and a degraded environment, and over the last 30 years we have witnessed a significant increase in migration away from just such hardship. Also, many of our immigrants are among the most successful in school and business and score in the highest percentiles on intelligence and achievement tests.

The real challenge at the borders of developed nations is not immigration, but mass migration driven by hardship. The history of the world has many chapters on mass migration, and one people has displaced another many times over.

Today, there are approximately 1.4 billion people living on the African continent. That number is projected to grow to 4.2 billion by 2050. Africa has been plagued since the colonial era by war and famine.  Millions of people have fled and are still fleeing repressive regimes, civil war, violence and hunger.

A short distance from the African continent lies Europe, with its relatively small population and low birth rate. It is blessed with stable economies and governments, and is the nearest and most obvious destination for  desperate people on the move. Observe closely what is happening there.

Add to the mix the mass migrations precipitated by the destruction of at least 8 nations in the greater middle east over the last 20 years, most recently in Syria, for reasons we still argue.  And we’ve barely begun to factor in climate refugees and those fleeing natural disaster, now that we have populated every corner of the globe.

Meanwhile in Latin America, thousands flee failed states, brutality and drug cartels on their way north to the currently most sought after asylum on the planet.

The situation puts us in an awkward position, to say the least. We celebrate our immigrant heritage, but we are haunted by a history of volatility and violence that accompanied the process.

There are no easy answers. We need immigrants, and we like to see ourselves as the compassionate human beings depicted on the Statue of Liberty. But we are ill prepared for mass migration, and frankly, we are ill prepared to accommodate large numbers of people who have values that are the antithesis of our own. If you disagree, consider the history of Austria-Hungary or the failed state of Yugoslavia or even the Soviet Union – all nations where people of significant cultural, religious and social differences were forced to live together.

Consider also the volatility any time or place where the needs of a population exceeded the ability of its economy or resource base to provide for it. We have millions of people already here, many born here, who are living in poverty, malnourished, in polluted environments and unable to participate in the prosperity of their fellow citizens. It is reasonable to question the wisdom of adding too many more to those numbers when they are growing in spite of all our political solutions. Consider Puerto Rico if you believe we have done such a good job taking care of our own.

There are no perfect solutions, and any remedy will have to be based on compassion, but limited by the cold equations of simple math. Sadly, until the world improves, the math will indeed be chilling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unforgiving Minute

Another Father’s Day weekend has gone. Those of us who have been orphaned by the passage of time can embrace, or we can confront these holidays in various and sometimes unpredictable proportions.

As I move forward from this yearly observance, there is something I want to carry with me and keep close to my heart. This year the memories rested more gently on my spirit, and I have come to realize that my  father is still teaching me, even though he has been gone almost 5 years now.

Growing up he always reminded us to embrace the moments of our lives and to cherish them, because nothing lasts forever. Today we might call his philosophy “mindfulness,” but in his own words, he encouraged us to listen, to observe,  to think about what we were doing  – and to think twice before we spoke.

In this age of constant distraction, I begin to realize that my father was teaching us a method of actually slowing down the passage of time. Mindfulness allows us to apprehend the moments as they pass,  and in doing so we can build a rich storehouse of memories along the way, the very memories that can help make bearable the terrible losses that time inflicts on us all.

When we’re very young we don’t yet understand that everything has a “last time.” They tend to sneak up on us,  those “last times,” like the last time your mom cooks your favorite meal, or the last time you play ball with your favorite pup; the last time you hear a loved one’s voice, or the last time you go fishing with your dad.

If we knew beforehand when these last times would come, how focused we would be on the moments as we tried to hold on to each one for as long as possible! It would be very difficult to live that way, or at the very least we would become subsumed by melancholy or morbidity.

Dad’s way of mindfulness overcomes that difficulty. When we honor as many of our moments as we can grasp, when the last ones arrive, we have already stored them away for safe keeping.

Recently I found an old scrapbook of Dad’s which had been given to him by one of his favorite teachers on the occasion of his high school graduation. He had just begun to add to the book when he was called away to serve in the Navy in WWII, and after he returned from the war he had completely filled up the book within a few short years. His book is filled with memories from some of the most intense and influential times of his youth, and he kept it and cherished it for the rest of his life.

Displayed prominently inside the front cover of this catalog of his formative years is a passage from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.” It reads:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds worth of distance run

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

“There is something to learn about everything,” Dad would say, and while we grew up learning to gather moments, we still had to learn not to take them for granted. As I remember the halcyon summers of youth when the moments stretched out endlessly before us,  I think one of the biggest challenges Dad faced is one that is given to all fathers at one time or another, and that is to teach their sons and daughters not to procrastinate.

I think that lesson is easier to learn on the farm, where one is connected to the unyielding rhythms of the seasons and where the concept of death is learned at an early age from the stillborn lamb or the chicken that did not come from the supermarket. When I was eleven and my grandfather’s health began to decline, we discussed life and death openly, and when Grandaddy passed away I was as prepared as a 12 year old could be for that great loss. I knew then the reason why moments were so important:  We are only given so many, and no more.

Nevertheless, like so many of us, I let too many moments slip from my grasp, lost in the distractions and diversions of youth. But there comes a time when one can no longer ignore the accumulating losses and a renewed appreciation for the moments of life occurs. It urges me to pass on the wisdom that was handed down from my father to me and from his father to him.

Take nothing for granted. Do not wait to return your mother’s call. Don’t put off visiting your friend because “there will be another time.” Take that vacation. You can always make more money. You can never make more time.

As humans we are gifted with the ability to perceive fractions of a second. We are given sixty seconds in every minute; sixty minutes in every hour;  twenty four hours in every day and three hundred sixty five days in every year. We are gifted with an abundance of opportunities to gather memories. And because of my father’s wisdom, I have been blessed with many to cherish.

But oh, what I would give to go fishing with him one more time.

 

May the Circle be Unbroken

On a sunny day in July, a group of adjudicated teenagers in a Wolfcreek Wilderness program were having a blast going down the Chatooga River in canoes. Two other instructors and I had herded the group of ten down some fairly easy class two and three rapids, and we were relaxing, eddied out in a pool at the bottom of a run.

The kids were not novices on the water. This trip was a bonus rewarded to a group who had successfully navigated the Okmulgee/Altamaha from Hawkinsville to Darien, Georgia.  This was their first trip to the mountains. All but two were city kids; most from the Atlanta metropolitan area.

At the edge of the pool, a rock cliff rose about 50 feet above us. It was covered with lichens and ferns, and nooks and crannies that were meant to be explored, carefully, by teenage boys.

Unbeknownst to one intrepid explorer, the cranny he eyeballed was currently occupied by a two and a half foot, spring-loaded water snake who did not intend to stay put and be prodded by a canoe paddle.

So he leapt, our snake, and by leapt, I mean ejected, evacuated, and escaped at a high velocity directly at the two threatening eyes now approaching his hideaway.

With the reflexes of youth our lad turns aside just barely in time to narrowly avoid a collision with the serpentine arrow, and with the exuberance of youth he then very determinantly  steps out of the canoe and, I swear to you, walks on water a good three steps before sinking in. Into the water. With the snake.

I’ve never seen anyone moving that fast, or dog paddling that hard, around and around in circles, yelling at the top of his lungs but, we were relieved to see, somehow keeping his head above water.

We quickly got him to ground and calmed down, but I have to tell you something. You just cannot watch a guy jump out of a boat with a snake and  then dog paddle in a circle without laughing some. More likely laughing a lot. Right then and there, want to or not. And then again later, and then years later. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Fortunately the only wounds were perhaps our young friend’s pride, and only for a moment. He was quite the good sport about it.

To some Native Americans the snake symbolized transformation. In the Torah and in the Christian Bible the serpent promised wisdom.  Among some Chinese there is the belief that the snake represents honor. But as long as you’re not the guy who jumped in a pool with a snake, the snake can also represent humor.

A funny thing, though. There are some pretty snaky strokes in the old symbols for karma in Sanskrit, and in the yin and yang of the Taoist. But in the North Georgia Mountains, judgement is mine, sayeth the Lord, and what goes around comes around.

It came around this very afternoon down by the creek. I was washing my hands at the edge of the water, on hands and knees, and the top of my head was about 6 inches from the rocky bank. When I looked up, there were two dark little obsidian eyes looking back at me from that same distance. They glared out over a little black tongue darting in and out like it was tasting the air.

I didn’t stick around to notice much more, and there must have been some kind of levitation involved in transporting me to the other side of the creek, without my knowledge or permission, that far and that fast. How quickly a large dose of adrenaline can set the body on automatic, autonomic pilot when the snake-to-face comfort perimeter is breached.

The snake never moved, but I certainly did, ejecting and evacuating from the scene, at a high velocity. So we have come full circle in a way. Laugh with me now, and help me pay the remaining balance on a laugh-karma loan that has been collecting interest for many fine years.  May the circle be unbroken.

 

Doomed

“We’re doomed,” said my wife, looking at the much discussed photo of Kim Kardashian standing next to the president in the Oval Office.

“Is there something worse than ‘doomed?'” I asked, pointing to an image of Dennis Rodman with Kim Jong Un over an article speculating about Rodman’s possible role in the upcoming summit in Singapore.

Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that the reality TV star in the first photo (not the president, but the one standing next to him) was actually at the White House to promote a worthy cause. As for the second picture, maybe it takes a madman to understand a madman. But in a running mudslinging contest like the one that so often engages the public discourse in our time, we all too rarely slow down long enough to consider what we’re actually slinging or if it lands anywhere near the target. Everything becomes a weapon in the primitive, tribal conflict which we attempt to rationalize as a political contest.

In an argumentum ad hominem,  a fallacious attack is made on the character or motives of an individual rather than the point that person is trying to make. This type of fallacy, like so many others, is ridiculously easy to launch in our matrix of constant connectivity.  Fallacious arguments begin with childhood taunts on the playground when we don’t know any better, but they persist well past the time when we should, often for the rest of our lives,  and now leveraged by technology.

In practice, since our illogical fantasies are more or less equally arrayed under diametrically opposed political banners, things tend to work themselves out over time, as the pendulum of public opinion swings back and forth from one turning to the next. But not all fantasies are harmless.

If you watch corporate news or visit any number of websites, it’s hard to avoid an impending sense of doom. The competition for our attention is ruthless. We are presented with crime and misfortune, morning, noon and night. Breaking news is always urgent.  There is little escape in alternative news, which peddles conspiracy and apocalypse while thousands of people prep for the end of civilization itself.

Meanwhile, and contrary to the most popular narratives, across the globe life continues to improve for humanity according to just about every metric that we use to measure human progress. Yet in America, suicide rates have increased an average of 30% over the last two decades, and some sources say that depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels among teenagers.

There is nothing more profitable, or more useful for expediting control, than fear. It has always been so. When the Nazis burned the Reichstag in 1933, they blamed it on a Dutch communist. Adolf Hitler claimed that the fire was a “sign from God,” and this event allowed the Nazis to assume emergency powers to defend the nation against…whomever the Nazis said were enemies of the state.

It’s not hard to find parallels in history, before and after the events that led to WWII. Pick any part of the world at any time when despotism and the totalitarian state has grown to dominate people’s lives.  For decades North Koreans have lived in constant fear that an American attack was imminent. Americans have feared unemployed young muslims willing to blow themselves up in our midst for going on 17 years now.

But let’s consider a more recent example of the use of fear to further a goal. Just about every day now, corporate news and scores of websites remind us that there is a movement in America to, depending on who you ask, either disarm Americans or demand common sense gun laws.

The issue is immediately polarizing, and the political paradigm you follow is a good predictor of what your opinion is going to be on this, like so many other subjects.  In the echo chambers of our two dominant tribes the right parrots the notion that the left wants to disarm Americans in order to expand the coercive power of government. The left repeats the mantra that peace loving Americans will no longer tolerate the brutality of  deplorables clinging to a Constitutional right that has no place in the modern world.

A common denominator for both sides of the gun debate is the doom that awaits at the bottom of the slippery slope of their fallacious arguments. Both sides use fear to motivate support. But there is little truth to be found at the extremes of either left or right thinking on this subject, especially when a tragedy occurs such as the school shootings which have been so much in the news recently. In the face of horror the limbic system often takes over from the more rational parts of the brain.

Sadly, the issue has become another political football with both tribes seeking to use it to galvanize support in the upcoming elections.

Darkness can be banished by lighting a candle, and fear can be banished by fact. At least in the case of school violence, the facts, if they were widely known, might just serve to deflate this one political football.

In February of this year, Northeastern University released a study after crunching the numbers on school violence. The verdict:  Schools are significantly safer now than they were in the 90’s. According to James Alan Fox, one of the authors of the study, “Four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today.”

No amount of school violence that is acceptable, but what we have today is hardly the epidemic being presented. It is just the opposite – an outlier in a continuing trend toward decreasing violence. If we truly intend to continue that trend, rather than making this issue about politics, let’s look at what we have done to facilitate this improvement, and let that inform our future decisions.

There are many other areas where life is improving, contrary to popular opinion. In the coming weeks we will discuss more of them. So, despite the Drudge/Huffington title of this piece, we are not doomed. Not at all. But we got your attention, didn’t we? And attention sells newspapers, and elects celebrities to high office, and makes diplomats out of basketball players.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacrifice, and Those Who Require It

Another Memorial Day is behind us, and as the memory of the long weekend is carried away with the recycle bin full of beer cans, we hope, as we always hope, that we carry with us something of the occasion besides a few extra pounds. It is not enough. It is not nearly enough to pause for a few moments once a year to remember sacrifice, to click on a poppy or put plastic flowers on a grave, even when we do so in all sincerity.

My father served in the South Pacific in 1944 and ’45 and saw action at Luzon, the Solomon Islands and Leyte. He survived torpedoes, Kamikaze pilots and Halsey’s Typhoon, and then came home to take his place with the strongest and most productive generation of Americans to date. Like many of his peers he carried his ghosts close to his chest, and never spoke of the horrors of war until much later in life. Many sacrificed all, but the ones who made it home sacrificed youth and innocence. They carried the burden of memory quietly and without complaint for the rest of their lives, because they knew what it had purchased, and they would do it all again.

How many more have sacrificed since that greatest of all conflicts? How many still carry the ghosts of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? But what comfort do they have in knowing what was purchased by their own sacrifice? It’s not so clear, is it? Since WWII we have had no clear victories, no great uniting causes.

Soldiers have fought and died bravely. Millions have served honorably and given their own youth and innocence. We tell them they are defending freedom, and we try to believe that ourselves. But believing that requires an ever lengthening leap of faith, and there is a nagging suspicion that sometimes our belief requires the suspension of reason itself.

Our better angels tell us that all humans are fundamentally the same. That idea is at the root of all that we believe as Americans. Conservative Christians tell us that the soul has no color. Spiritually minded liberals celebrate diversity and inclusion. So on this seminal issue we are all in agreement.

Building on that, we must assume that the vast majority of humanity wants the same thing that we want:  A roof over our heads, a modicum of comfort, and a safe and peaceful life for our family and friends. We want the freedom to choose our path as we see fit, with the caveat that we may do as we please as long as we harm no one.

Which brings us back to the question of defending freedom. If we bother to think about it at all, it’s quite a puzzle to understand why someone halfway around the globe would want to abandon the struggle to survive and provide for their own family in order to come here and steal our barbecue grills.

But it’s not that simple, is it? We are not the only ones being told that we are defending our way of life from hostile enemies. In fact, for much of the world, we are the enemy. Millions of people have been convinced by their own leaders that Americans wish to leave our own shores in order to travel halfway around the world and steal someone else’s livelihood.

Of course we know that’s not true and that we, as Americans, hold the moral high ground. It’s just that it’s difficult to make our case when there are no, for example, Libyan soldiers stationed at the edge of town, but there are, in fact, over 1000 American military bases scattered around the world, particularly in areas rich in natural resources and fossil fuels.

In just a few paragraphs here, we have mirrored the history of the world from the very first empire to our own. Average people who want nothing more than to live out their lives in peace are frightened, cajoled, threatened, or inspired by patriotic fervor to take up arms against strangers far away from home.

Congress, where less than 20% of its members are veterans,  just authorized the spending of almost $800 billion in American treasure to continue defending our freedom. For 60 years, since nuclear weapons were developed, the government has made plans for its own survival in the event of a nuclear holocaust. We are not included in those plans. Or if you want to look on the other side of the world, when was the last time a mullah blew himself up rather than sending some hopeless and deluded youth to do it?

But we never seem to get it.  War is easy when the leaders who send young people to die do not suffer from the consequences of their decisions. War is easy when there is profit for the people who rule the leadership.

Perhaps on Memorial Day, we need to do more than honor the sacrifice of those who served. Perhaps we need to keep in mind those who, without honor, caused the sacrifice to be made.

 

 

Dilute, Divide and Divert

The dew is heavy on the grass this morning and the creek is swollen from recent rain as the sun begins to peek over the mountain. The bees  are already busy carrying nectar from the poplars in full bloom. There is a sprayer full of a special mixture of neem oil and peppermint soap waiting by the shop door, and some young fruit trees waiting to be relieved of hungry aphids.

But that can wait until this coffee cup is emptied of its most excellent contents. Life is too short to drink bad coffee, or to drink any coffee in a hurry.

We’re about to venture forth, briefly, into the surreal domain of politics this morning, and before doing so we like to fortify our spirit with reminders of what is real and what is important.

What is important to us this morning is the sanctity and safety of this little mountain cove, the clean water in the stream rushing by the garden, the bees, able to gather their nectar and pollen without being poisoned and most of all, the ability of the beloved woman still sleeping soundly in bed to go forth into the world without being sickened by the pollutants and contaminants of “better living through chemistry.”

Our best protection from the toxic byproducts of the ongoing monetization of the human condition is in the choices we make. We don’t eat processed food. We don’t buy plastic that smells like burnt motor oil. And to pay it forward we don’t throw batteries into the trash can or flush paint thinner down the toilet. There are so many choices we make on a daily basis that can improve our chances in a toxic world.

But many people have considerably fewer choices than we do. In the monetized world, good health often depends on being able to afford it. Quality and the lack of contamination costs more. Many people drink tap water because they can’t afford expensive water filters. They eat processed food because organic produce is too expensive. They live in places where the air is filthy because they can’t afford to move.

If you haven’t detected any politics yet in this conversation, you’re about to. One of the primary (and one of the few legitimate) purposes of government is to provide for the common defense. We have, as a people, argued for generations about what that means. We continue to argue about it.

Since the Environmental Protection Agency was established by executive order of Richard Nixon in 1970, the EPA has endeavored to defend Americans from unsafe and unscrupulous practices that poison and degrade the environment. It has both succeeded and failed in that effort. As an expansion of executive power, it’s failures have arguably been directly attributable to politics. Like all of the agencies that have come under the control of burgeoning executive power, the EPA can be and it has been wielded as a political tool.

President Trump campaigned on the goal of releasing American business from the shackles of over-regulation. The EPA is, of all the agencies that exist in our behemoth bureaucracy, the one most despised by business. Either from lack of science or lack of ingenuity, a paradigm has long existed in many businesses that manufacturing healthy and safe products must be governed by profitability. This paradigm assumes that profitability depends on expediting the manufacture of products as quickly and as cheaply as possible, and therefore any rules and regulations which interfere with that are costly and to be avoided.

But Americans are more health conscious than they were when the EPA was established. It would be politically unwise to simply dismantle the organization. So what the Trump Administration is doing is instead dismantling the science which is at the root of the rules and regulations issued by the EPA.

The back story is long and involved and quite the story of political cunning. If you are interested, search the publications of the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding the EPA’s new “transparency” policy. In short, the “science” that will support the agency charged with protecting the environment will now be more like “tobacco science.”

The story of this maneuver is an opportunity for outrage. But here is where politics becomes most useful. We have already heard the condemnation from the left. “Those republicans are at it again!” (We have forgotten that the EPA, itself, was created by a republican.) “Trump is no friend of the environment!”

This is quite possibly true, but neither was President Obama a steadfast friend of the environment. Have we forgotten the 1500 offshore drilling permits issued by his administration, or the over 300 fracking plans excluded from environmental review? There are many more such examples if we look at the record through the lens of science instead of the political lens.

But herein lies the problem. Our objectivity has been so warped by the logical fallacies of political thinking that we can’t even agree on the weather without consulting our party’s talking points. Truth is now subject to political philosophy, and as far as the environment is concerned, when the latest degradation is revealed, we get trapped by attempting to understand the issue in political terms, diluting, dividing and diverting our outrage.

Long time readers, or anyone who remembers the republican/democrat bailout of the big banks, will remind us that “dilute, divide and divert” works for economic as well as environmental degradation.