Category Archives: Commentary

The World Without Us

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of an earth after humans ever since I read some of Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us. The idea of humans “destroying the planet” has always been a necessary bit of hyperbole; we are far more likely to destroy ourselves as a species by making the planet uninhabitable. After we’re gone, it will eventually recover and go on just fine without us. Still, the idea of “saving the planet” communicates the scale of the problem and the potential loss in a way that many people have an easier time grasping.

Aside from the environmental issues, videos like this show just how strong the forces of time and nature are. So many of the structures that we take for granted crumble and disappear relatively fast without constant maintenance, from the giant buildings and bridges to the subways and power systems. Much of our influence on nature, including specialized breeding of animals and cultivation of plants, would eventually be undone without humans around to maintain it. Ultimately, nothing we do is really permanent.

This becomes more immediate when brought down to the individual level. We can hope that humanity will never really destroy itself, although we’ve only been flirting with the possibility for about 100 years so we haven’t had a lot of time to really explore the possibilities. What is certain is that each of us will move on as individuals at some point. Very few of us leave behind names that will be spoken centuries from now but we all affect the lives and environments that we touch which then affect others. We define ourselves, in large part, by what we leave behind, either when moving on to a new job or city or in our final moments. We cannot truly move on without caring for what we leave behind. The willingness to stop every so often, turn away from the noise and distractions of everyday life and reflect on our real effects on the people and world around us is an exercise in the personal integrity that ultimately determines what kind of legacy we will leave.

Why I’m Still On Facebook

Yesterday, I received an e-mail notice of yet another change to Facebook’s privacy policy and finally decided to pull the trigger on something I’d been itching to do for a little while. Around mid-day, I posted the following status update…

Once again, I’m reducing my presence on Facebook and trimming the Friends List. If you find yourself dropped from it, don’t take it personally – it just means that I decided there wasn’t a specific reason for us to be connected on Facebook. You are welcome to contact me through other means or through my sites at …

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The Value of Choice

(A former boss of mine once said that he knew he’d written something good when he could go back and look at it six weeks later and still like it.  There’s some merit and a problem or two there but the idea stuck with me.  I was looking through some of my site archives this week and found the files from a weekly column I tried to start on the site in 2004.  Here’s an abridged version of one from March 2004 that I particularly like.  It’s not perfect but it has a certain spark to it.)

I went to McDonalds for lunch with a couple of co-workers earlier this week.  I suggested they super-size it while they still can after the news report I saw not too long ago that McDonalds is getting rid of their super-size option.  Evidently, the recent bad publicity engineered by the Food Police concerning the effect of fast food on people unwilling to make better nutritional choices has the company a little nervous about its bottom line.  Fortunately, the frivolous lawsuits aimed at fast food last year by people blaming the restaurants for their obesity were thrown out.  Various states are now rushing to pass legislation banning similar suits but bad publicity still costs money and Mickey D’s probably figures that people will be just as willing to buy larger selections separately when deprived of the convenient Feed Bag Value Option.

I didn’t super-size it myself although one of my co-workers did.  I guess I wasn’t feeling overly devout during this visit to the Church of the Golden Arches so I just ordered the large size of the Big Mac meal.  My doctor’s devotions, on the other hand, involve him charging me large amounts of money for a few minutes of lecture time about my weight so I feel obligated to give him something to complain about.  I can’t really explain the economics or logic involved in that transaction but it does result in me being able to eat Big Macs so I just accept it and chow down.  I swear those Big Macs used to be bigger.

I am well aware, as every other person with two brain cells to rub together should be, that McDonalds is an occasional treat rather than a daily solution.  Despite my relatively poor eating habits and the above bit of satire, I cannot tolerate a continuous diet of fast food as some people can.  I am also aware that the nutritional mischief I get into has its eventual consequences.  As a friend of mine once said, very simply; “We make our choices.”  Unlike those who choose the route of litigation and media-sponsored intimidation, I accept responsibility for mine.  If I add a dessert to a meal at my favorite restaurant or lounge on the couch eating Doritos in front of the TV, the choices involved are mine and mine alone.  The server at the restaurant, the store that sold me the Doritos, even the people who advertise the food bear absolutely no responsibility for the actions that I take of my own free will.

Unfortunately, it seems that more and more people in this society are unwilling to accept this responsibility or understand the concepts of free will and choice.  As I indicated in last week’s column, the freedom to make the wrong choices is vital to a person’s actual ability to make the right ones.  This is not as heretical as it may sound.  It simply means that when you act as the law or circumstance compels you to, it is not virtuous or moral beyond the obedience to the law.  When you make the correct choices independent of any law because your conscience and intellect require you to, that is true integrity.

The mark of an intelligent and moral person is the ability to regulate their own behavior according to their beliefs in the absence of external restrictions.  In a larger sense, the fewer laws that a society passes which require the government to act as a parent, the healthier the society will be as its inhabitants are required to think like mature adults and take responsibility for their own behavior. The inability to grasp this seems to cross political lines as both conservatives and liberals demand that the government rule on their respective issues.  The mentality behind these demands not only limits the opportunity for people to be responsible for themselves but also takes a certain elitist and patronizing view toward the people it claims to protect.

The lawsuits against the tobacco companies may have at least had some merit, the hypocrisy of a government that had been profiting from tobacco taxes for years notwithstanding.  Tobacco, after all, is an addictive product and there was evidence that the companies had manipulated the levels of nicotine.  Then we had the lawsuits against the gun manufacturers on the basis that they were somehow responsible for the crimes committed with their product.  Is anyone for suing makers of baseball bats?  How about Ginsu??  You can create a lot of mayhem with a knife that can cut through an aluminum can and still slice a tomato.

I’m just waiting for the first lawsuit against a media company by someone claiming various consequences of emotional distress caused by a perceived bias in that company’s publications.  I suppose we might as well limit free speech while we’re at it.  That freedom of thought business is a dangerous thing.