17 Being for (and aware of)
About the time I began
public school, one of my pleasures was follow-the-dots
Simple designs were obvious from the positions of the numbered
dots. In more complex drawings the numbering sequence
called for running lines through the figures to add surprises;
the objects became gradually recognizable. We were a frugal
household, and each drawing book had to last about a month.
I rationed the pleasure. So it didn’t help when I had a
guest who was gung-ho on doing follow-the-dots. He was
polite; he asked permission before starting a new drawing.
But I couldn’t say no, so the outcome depended on his modesty,
not my restraint.
Can you think of
situations in the adult world where consumption by one person
reduces the consumption by another person? The question
might be much more serious than just pleasure.
Overharvesting has made some plant and animal species
“commercially extinct.” On a larger scale, there is
only one blanket of air covering our planet. Climate
patterns are extremely complex, and it is not possible for a
single country or community to protect and preserve its clean air
supply. Greed (including pollution) anywhere hurts everyone
everywhere, and ultimately human survival is at stake.
Between individuals or on a global scale,
differential consumption may result in unfair depletion of shared
resources. There are examples of naked power:
emperors who relied on floods to “take care of” excess human
population; modern armies that have starved local populations by
confiscating their crops.
Human intelligence can do better than
following the bad examples. We learn to balance
distribution of production and consumption. In England this
has meant concentrating on industrial exports in exchange for
large-scale agricultural imports. Fairness and
sustainability require balance so that both trading partners have
enough equipment and enough food. Colonialism has been
marked by imbalance: enriching dominant powers at the
expense of the weak, exploiting instead of trading.
At a social dinner, people in line take
portions based on how many people remain to be served. Like
the drawing book story above, the dinner setting can be compared
to a serious global issue: future generations await in the
line. Some economists might advise countries with aging
populations to increase their birth rates so that younger people
are produced to care for the elderly. That only
shifts the sustainability problem from parents to
offspring. One cannot increase the food per person by
increasing the number of persons. In fact, unchecked human
fertility is the biggest single threat to survival of the
species, because feeding the population is not addressed by
increasing the population. The principle applies to
all shared resources.
Let us learn from today’s stories the
value of sharing across group sizes and across time
periods. Being aware of others, producing and consuming
accordingly, is the effective road to happiness.
Being For Others Blog copyright © 2020 Kent Busse
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