Monday, December 30, 2013

Stepping sanely into a new year

   We walk upright. We have a foot up.

   At least that's how it looks on paper.

   In practice, I'm alarmed to report that we act like a bunch of gambusia. And they breathe through gills.

  Also known as mosquito fish, gambusia have a lifespan of two years. A hiccup. No problem for them; they are so busy breeding they pretty much don't care.

  Breeding aside, we do other things to pass the time. Unfortunately, many of those things don't point toward the sumptuous lifespans advertised for those who are upright, have opposing thumbs and expansive cranial regions.

  Consider, for one, the problem with the habitual wearing of ultra-high pumps – high heels. Podiatrists point to crippling conditions, from neuroma (painful thickening of toe joints), to capsulitis (inflamed feet), to hammer toe (what happens when toes are jammed for too long into a too-confining space).

  For these very reasons, The Washington Post reports $3.5 billion is spent each year on women's foot surgeries.

   No need to gang up on the ladies. As a new year begins, most of us examine habits that would make it appear we are racing those tiny, hyper-sexed fish to death's door.

  Those range from the low-hanging fruit of FDA admonitions and Breathalyzer blows, to the fudge rolls around our bellies.

    Probably no stronger evidence exists of a collective death wish than the growing tendency of drivers to obey their smart phones rather than the rules or contours of the road.

   Similarly, we have birthed a generation of pedestrians who can't put one foot in front of the other – that is, unless their smart phones instruct them.  For those people, a collective New Year's resolution: Look up. Look around. Not everyone is going to be looking out for you.

  We seem sentenced to live life faster and faster, with ever more useless information each day. What's the fate of your favorite TV duck- call philosopher, I ask? Oh, and by the way, do you know your neighbors' names?

  This thought leads to some big-picture concerns as the Earth completes another solar revolution.

  I appreciate the sanity implied in Pope Francis' statements that the veneration of profit, held up by our society as the only universal good, isn't so good.

    Some of that message has been contained in President Obama's dogged initiative to conserve energy and find alternatives to Earth-depleting, Earth-spoiling kinds of energy, profitable though their addiction may be.

  The twin imperatives of a profit-driven system are (1) that growth is always good, and (2) bigger is always better. Sorry, folks. That's not so much a philosophy as a pathology.

   As Thom Hartmann writes about the once-great Mesopotamian empire in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, there's another word for the pathology of hyper consumption: conquest.    

     From commoners to kings, the people of ancient Mesopotamia thought their way of life was superior to all others, writes Hartmann. "But although things looked good for a time, they didn't realize it wasn't sustainable: It only worked as long as they had other people's lands to conquer."

    Of course, conquest takes many forms, whether it applies to multi-national corporations or voracious and militarized nation states. The driving principle in all such cases is one of acquiring power and wealth at others' expense, and at the cost of precious and finite resources. Sometimes that spells war.

    In 2014, let us come to understand that the highest order for each of us is to do that which is sustainable and real.

    To that end, let us find alternatives to habits which endanger us, hurt or diminish others, or make our toes hate us.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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