Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Wildness is a necessity.
I've never really thought of myself as a Conservative. I don't really think of myself as a Liberal either, although I suppose I do go along with what President Kennedy said on the subject:
If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
The problem with such labels is they allow people to be dismissive of other opinions. If I'm a Liberal, then I must disagree with Conservatives, and vice versa. There seems to be a lot of that going around lately. We recently had a primary election here in California, and as a registered "Non-Partisan," I was given the choice of voting as either a Republican or a Democrat. Right or Left. Conservative or Liberal. One or the Other.
It wasn't a hard choice. But it did underscore the weird dichotomy that exists in politics, and in our culture in general. I guess I just don't get conservatism as a philosophy. Sure, I understand that people who have power want to keep things the way they are. And I can see how people who work hard don't want to give their money away to people they don't like. But as a way of life, it seems like conservatism is more about denying possibility than maintaining tradition. These days it seems like the so-called "conservatives" are pretty much opposed to any idea that isn't in their playbook. If they haven't thought of it already, it can't be good. Kind of like Hollywood. More sequels, remakes and franchises -- but please, nothing original. Nothing new. Nothing different.
But there is at least one area in which I do appreciate conservatism. When it comes to protecting and maintaining our natural resources, I think conservatism is the way to go. Conservatism, that is, in its original sense, meaning "preservationism." But this is where we run into trouble. Because many Conservatives seem more intent on preserving the Big Oil Monopoly than they do the environment. They seem more concerned with denying Global Warming than with accepting responsibility for air pollution. We can't afford to keep things "the way they are" when that way leads to calamity.
I first became aware of environmental conservatism in the Boy Scouts. My troop used to hold "paper drives" to raise money. We'd arrange to have a big semi-trailer parked in the church parking lot, and people would come by and drop off stacks of old newspapers and magazines to be recycled. This was a revelation. Paper can be recycled -- who knew? And the best part was that, invariably, some guy would dump off a pile of old Playboy magazines he'd been keeping in his attic, and we'd wind up sitting in the back of the trailer all day looking at pictures of naked women.
Recycling was awesome.
One particularly beautiful summer morning, on Keep America Beautiful Day, our troop set out hiking alongside the state highway that ran past my neighborhood, picking up litter that people had thrown out of their car windows. And there was a lot of it. Nationwide, the Scouts collected over a million tons of litter that day. I'd learned from my camping experiences that we should always leave the campsite better than we found it. I began to think that maybe that rule should apply everywhere.
In high school, I got involved with a student group called the Ecology Club. We organized a trip to Frankfort, our state capital, to join a march protesting the building of a dam that would obliterate a pristine wilderness area known as The Red River Gorge. My Dad and I had gone camping and hiking there, and I thought it was about the most beautiful place on earth. I couldn't imagine losing it forever. Eventually, thanks to a declaration signed by President Clinton, the Gorge was placed under federal protection.
Those early experiences had a big impact. And the philosophy of being conservative with resources, of not being wasteful, of using only what you need and leaving the world better than you found it, has stayed with me. These days, however, instead of protest marches, I channel my energy towards things like recycling my junk mail and carrying a reusable grocery bag when I walk to the market. What my old high school buddy Hank calls 'microactivism'.
But it still makes me mad when I walk by a store on Rodeo Drive on a hot day and feel the cold blast of air escaping from the open door. Or go to the park and see the parking lot jammed with gas-guzzling SUVs. I feel like I'm the only one who is trying to conserve. Everyone else seems perfectly happy sucking up oil and spewing out waste, driving around in monster Humvees while all the trees are mowed down and the seas are poisoned.
Which brings us to BP. Some Conservatives would suggest that 'over-regulating' the oil industry interferes with the Free Market. They recommend more drilling in more places instead of, say, electric cars and emission caps. But I say that a true conservative would be in favor of preserving the sanctity of God's creation, not spoiling it. I say that a true conservative would welcome the reduction of industrial waste rather than increasing it. I say that true conservatives would want to leave the world a better place than they found it, out of respect and gratitude and a sense of responsibility. You know, Traditional Values.
So, if that is what they mean by "Conservative," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Conservative."