A Twelve-Step Program for America
|October 7, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Energy Policy: One Day at a Time
So now we hear there’s strong evidence that the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes is a consequence of global warming. It stands to reason: hurricanes derive their power from the warmth of tropical ocean water, and if the entire sea is warming up, the effects would be focused there, in the breeding ground of tropical storms. Can there be any further doubt that we, as a nation, have become powerless over our addiction to oil, and that our civilization has become unmanageable?
If we see it in terms of addiction, then much of the incoherence in our energy policy becomes understandable, if not excusable. It’s all about getting the oil. The supply is starting to show signs of eventual dwindling. We must get the oil. No price is too great. It’s not economics; in fact there are any number of economical alternatives, the first and simplest being simply to not use so much. But we can’t stop; it’s not in us to stop. We must burn more, in larger automobiles, in less-efficient communities, in faster planes and grander military adventures. It doesn’t actually make us feel good anymore; our tolerance to the stuff has built up to such a degree that we have to burn absurd amounts of it just to feel normal. And, displaying the classic self-justifying behavior of an addict, we push it, on everyone around us, even (perhaps especially) those who can least afford our extravagant levels of dependence. The Middle East is the only region with a really copious supply of it, and Iraq is the place where it’s easiest to pump it out of the ground. So we must secure access to oil, no matter what; after we’ve maxed out all our credit cards, we’ll start stealing our family’s furniture to pay for it.
With all this in mind, let’s consider the matter in the terms used by the oldest and most consistently successful program for dealing with the problem of addiction, and see whether that could help us to devise a sensible energy policy:
1. We admitted we were powerless over oil that our civilization had become unmanageable.
The body politic has yet to admit this, but that’s understandable; we are, after all, still managing our affairs with some degree of regularity. Yet there are clear signs that “hitting bottom” is not far away: the persistent unanswered questions surrounding the 9-11 disaster and the whitewash of the government’s official “Report”; the shameful abrogation of democratic principles by the US Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election; the attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq with a string of blatant lies… we already mentioned the hurricanes.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Although our current Commander-in Chief and several of his closest advisors piously profess their faith, they are actually delusional, thinking they hear the voice of God when it’s really Big Oil who’s talking. We need look no further for confirmation than the Project for a New American Century, and the Bush administration’s “National Security Strategy of the United States”. Those documents brook no challenge to US hegemony, in this world or the next. Yet we can’t get blood from a stone, and even the mighty Pentagon can be hit by terrorists.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
There’s an unmistakable sign of spiritual precariousness in our civilization’s appetite for distracting noise: cell phones glued to our ears as we drive; walk-mans, I-pods, explosive soundtracks in Dolby surround, electric guitars that used to proclaim revolution, now selling us pickup trucks. There’s undoubtedly a quiet, persistent message that we are desperately striving not to hear.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Terrifying. Where would United-States-of-Americans start? With Columbus, perhaps, or the Middle Passage? Still, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States remains in print, and is fairly widely read — at least by the shrinking number of our people who read, beyond People magazine or the live Big Brother feeds. Were we to undertake this moral inventory, though, we would find reserves of strength. Terrible things have been done in our name — yet we managed, somehow, to become a great nation. It took character to achieve the transcontinental railroad, the moon shot, universal public education, the Internet… Arguably, more of our Constitution has survived than has been trashed, and we have demonstrated some capacity for atonement.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Thou shalt not sell the land for ever, for thou art strangers and sojourners with Me.” Nearly all of our social ills, and certainly all of those wrought by oil addiction, stem from our having turned away from this fundamental law. In prideful folly we have agreed to pretend that the land can be made the property of individuals and nations. To maintain this fantasy we’ve corrupted science and turned cities into wastelands. A solution is at hand, but step five is the roadblock to its implementation. Before it’s too late, let’s start admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to as many other human beings as possible!
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Here, maybe, the news starts to get better: having made it through step three, the way becomes clear. The more swords we beat into plowshares, the easier it is to get through the day and the more noisemakers we can shut down. Now we’ll be ready to hear the advice of those places that have begun: Harrisburg, Estonia, Alaska.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
What was it about the Hummer that ever appealed to us, anyway? What possessed us to seize on that whopper about the uranium shipments from Niger? What was up with those anthrax letters? Why did the chain of command refuse to look at Abu Ghraib until the pictures came out on the Net? Why did we ever accept such an absurd idea as miscegenation? Why did it take so long for women to achieve suffrage?
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
This may seem an impossible task, but it isn’t. We have resources still. Remember that the $87 billion we authorized this year to rain havoc upon Iraq could have been used to provide safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for everyone in Africa — seven times over.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Like step eight, this seems to be a very tall order, but we could start by canceling the anti-ballistic missile program, the F-22 advanced tactical fighter, new classes of tactical submarines and bunker-busting nukes; that would free up some funding to get started with. As a pilot program, how about providing drug therapy to every poor person living with AIDS?
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
When it becomes evident that genetic material, outer space and physical and chemical phenomena are also gifts of nature, not to be sold forever, let’s then turn aside from our drive to privatize those things.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
And we might find that there are things to see when we turn away from the TV; things to hear when we tune out the audio feedback. We might “let go of that and choose this”.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Then, “American values” might actually be worth sharing with the rest of the world. Until then, we’re just swimming in the wake of the Exxon Valdez.
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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