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December 23, 2009

Hawthorn Hill: Issues and the arguments that follow

All too often we mire ourselves in unnecessary arguments and debates. There is of course a certain intellectual enjoyment that comes with that particular territory. I admit that there are times when I delight in arguing in defense of an opposing viewpoint just for the pleasure of the game.

Plato advised us long ago to play what he characterizes as the `believing game’ when confronted with an argument or perspective that might run counter to one’s own. Most often we find ourselves standing on firm ground, but the deeper, more objective analysis of a position that the believing game requires offers an opportunity to strengthen one’s position rather than weaken it. On the other hand, there are issues, however much they are debated, that are irrelevant to the larger question that appears to have sparked an argument in the first place. Given the infinite variety of ways we have of differing with one another, it occurs to me that we should be focusing less on our differences and more on our commonalities.

Unfortunately, there is a climate of contentiousness that has infected America to the point where unless we make a concerted effort to establish common ground in a civil manner this democracy we so cherish will go down the tubes.

An excellent example of an unnecessary debate is over the issue of climate change, i.e. global warming.

There is no doubt that the earth is warming up.

The consequences of that are clear and obvious. There are those who claim it is just another weather cycle.

It is also true that with respect to geologic time our records of climate fluctuations are slim.

And there are those who see us as the primary culprits. The truth is that it does not matter who or what is to blame. If we continue to pollute the planet and live in ways that are patently unsustainable, both environmentally and economically, then we are leading ourselves down a pretty scary path. I want a brighter future for my grandchildren and everyone else’s.

I was gratified recently when a close friend, whose politics are quite at odds with mine, opined that while he remained skeptical of climate change theory it really did not matter. As he put it, we simply can not continue screwing up the planet. No matter what the reasons for global warming might be, he said, we irrevocably imperil our existence if we do not change our ways. I live a life up here on the hill as closely tied to nature as possible.

He lives in a wealthy Connecticut suburb where all the homes are large and gas guzzling, very expensive cars are the norm. It gratifies me that two people living such different lives can agree on a matter so vital to our survival. It was the kind of experience that keeps my hopes alive. Our salvation lies in our active recognition of our common humanity, a recognition that celebrates difference while at the same time sharing the responsibility for safeguarding and healing the very natural environment that nurtures and makes possible our continued existence.

We have six chickens.

Two are one breed and four another. They are getting on famously. They perch closely huddled together at night, wander about the place in a tightly knit pack during the days I let them out, and generally comport themselves with an admirable civility towards one another. I do not know all chickens; I just know my chickens. But I like what I see. They do not dither about global warming or climate change. They are content with a scrap of cracked corn here, a succulent slug there. Contrary to what I rather flippantly suggested to a friend a few weeks ago, I really am not interested in becoming a chicken, or any other animal for that matter. But I do wish for a world where simplicity reigns a bit more supreme and where, as Wendell Berry puts it, our lives are characterized not by greed and consumerism, but by thrift, generosity, and temperance. As he puts it, ``spending is not an economic virtue.’’ Spending is in large part responsible for the climate predicament we find ourselves arguing about. Why not give the environment a gift this Christmas?

Find out what you can do to help start the healing process. The opportunities are illimitable.

Additional essays appear periodically on my blog at rjderosa.wordpress. com.