Desk-bound Nature Lover

My Blog: Occasional postings about the joys of birding, hiking, camping, and sightseeing.

My life: I spend most of my days in offices, looking at a computer screen, and waiting for those few weekends when I can get out and enjoy some remnant of our precious natural heritage. But, boy, do I live on those weekends!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Issues I Consider on Election Day

When I choose whom to vote for on Election Day, there are certain issues I consider. But before I tell you about those, let me tell you which issues I don’t consider.

First of all, the economy. It’s shameful how many elections get decided because of what the economy does in the last few weeks before Election Day. The economy always cycles through expansions and recessions at its own random pace, and no politician has any real control over it. It would make as much sense to vote based on how your football team is doing as to vote based on how the economy is doing.

But there is a deeper reason why the economy doesn’t influence how I vote. So much of what is called “the economy” consists of destroying priceless treasures in order to make trash. We saw down a forest which took millennia to grow to make fast-food chopsticks which are thrown away after one use. We tear down a mountain which has stood for a hundred million years to make a car which will rust out in ten. We scar and poison a landscape which will take centuries to recover to pump oil which we will burn through in a fortnight. All of these things add to the gross domestic product, and they may bring happiness to economists and others who do not understand the real value of things, but they are sorrow to the hearts of anyone with moral discernment. Unless there are strict laws backed with aggressive enforcement to prevent them, all of these things happen faster when the economy is strong. I refuse to ever be persuaded by a politician because he claims credit for a strong economy.

I try to ignore any issue which we could change our minds about next year, and undo this year’s decision. Same-sex marriage is an example. We can make same-sex marriage legal this year, and if we don’t like how it works out, we can make it illegal next year. We can repeat this as often as we like. The death penalty is another example. Yes, in any particular instance, the death penalty is irreversible, but there will always be other vicious killers coming along. If we feel bad about the vicious killers we executed this year, we can change the law and try to rehabilitate next year’s vicious killers. (By the way, I personally favor the latter approach, though I truly understand the appeal of the former.) If we don’t like how that works out, we can go right back to hanging them. Repeat as often as you like.

Rather than consider these, the issues I pay attention to are the ones with consequences for everyone that will last for generations. Some of these are issues of war and peace. If we allow the lies of corrupt leaders to lead us into attacking another country with insufficient cause, generations yet unborn in that country will carry the distrust and anger from it. What all the consequences will be, no man can say.

Others are issues of basic human rights. (I never thought I would see the day when basic human rights are a domestic issue for the United States, but here we are!) If we allow the President to imprison whomever he considers a threat in secret prisons, to commit torture, and to take away the right to a fair trial, then democracy will be lost. Who knows how many generations it will take to win it back?

But the issues with the longest lasting consequences are environmental issues. When a species goes extinct, all the money and effort in the world will never bring it back. If the last ancient forest is cut down, twenty generations will never walk in the shade of another. If global warming is allowed to go unchecked, how many generations will it take to even partially undo the consequences? We have the ability right now to damage the Earth so badly that nobody will ever again see it set right, and there are too many people in positions of power who would help make this happen just so their stocks will be worth more at the end of the quarter. These are the issues which we must pay attention to, if we are to be true to conscience.


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