Telling the story
"One of the most important needs a comprehensible universe meets is the ability to project the future."
I came across this line in a book by Jeffrey Fager entitled, Land Tenure and the Biblical Jubilee. And suddenly, it all became clear. Sort of. At least some of it did.
Amidst discussions about the origins and meaning of biblical land reform, Fager gives us a refresher course on the necessity of stories. Humans need to make sense of the world, to set all of life's chaotic elements in order, to recall a usable past, and through that, build a vision of an irresistible tomorrow.
"Once a universe is understood, it is possible to know how to live in it because there is a continuity between the descriptive (what is) and the normative (what ought to be)." Bottom line, we cannot live without stories linking what we choose to do today with where we want to be tomorrow.
That is what we seek from our culture. That is what we demand from our religions.
But that is what is so scary about today's non-green behaviors. That is what is so scary about a story captured by the catchy refrain: "Drill, baby, drill". It is a story all about now; it is a story all about me. And it will blithely, crushingly, burden our children of tomorrow
Once upon a time, even as recently as 50 years ago, we had a vision of a future that outlived our meager lives. Time was measured in generations, and generations were measured in decades, not months; success was measured in how much we saved, not spent; our worth was measured by what we gave away, not what we earned; business-folk cared as much about the quality of their product as they did about their stock portfolio.
But with modernity came quarterly earnings reports, global markets, digital clocks. Time was measured in now; eternity is the time between the pressing of the enter button and the repainting of the screen.
Which is to say, we have fallen pray to the moment, the now. Society has failed to give us a vision that can shine past the shelf-life of the food in our refrigerator, much less excite the rest of our tomorrows.
Why not drill now, even though at best it is a quick fix which will leave all humanity in an even deeper hole, with increased environmental, energy and financial distress, but it also eases the tax burden of Alaskan citizens? Why worry now about running out of continental shelves and Alaskan wildlife refuges to dig in and destroy? That is, oh, ten years away. Why not just keep doing what we have always been doing?
Why worry about what happens when we continue to pursue centralized power from materials ripped and sucked and blasted out of the ground, materials that enrich the owners and stakeholders but continue to destabilize the atmosphere and our oceans, and through continued centralization put millions of individuals at risk from hurricanes and other natural disasters, technological glitches and those seeking mischief or destruction?
Why worry about what about green house gas emissions that will continue to degrade our slender slip of breathable atmosphere so that whatever our children seek to do may be for naught anyway for the climate change dice will have been thrown? That is not now.
That is the failure of our current society; the failure to tell us a story about the future that includes the world the day after tomorrow. Especially when that day looks mighty bleak right now.
We used to be able to see further. We used to be able to care more. But the story of buying now and paying later has been so successful. The problem is, few people read far enough to see what happens "later."
The mortgage crisis gives us a glimpse. And with yet another venerable financial firm biting the dust, the sight is far from pretty. Perhaps now we can get people to turn the page and see what later will look in a selfish, "Drill, baby, drill" world. As none other than T. Boone Pickens is telling us: America possesses 3% of the world oil reserves yet uses 25% of the world's oil. You don't have to be a math genius to realize that all the drilling in Alaska and off the coasts will not give us the oil we crave.
It is time for environmentalists, and Jews who care, to speak another story, an irresistible story that we can offer to offset the "Drill here, drill now, no change" narrative. We can't win through lawsuits, or cost savings, or convenience alone. Compelling stories aren't always cheap, and they aren't always convenient. But they fill the soul, and they allow our children to look back, and bless us.
Let's work on crafting, and telling, that story.