Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Are We Losing Our Way?

We worry about many things we needn’t. We focus on many issues that are irrelevant. We follow certain stories because they’re presented to us as if they matter when they don’t. And all the while we circle the drain, caught in the whirlpool of decay and insignificance.

It’s easy to ask what’s wrong with us, to wonder if we even deserve salvation, when we’re more interested in keeping up with the Kardashians than understanding what polluters and thieves and fanatics have planned for us.

Wait, you say. That’s not true. I do care about polluters and thieves and fanatics, but I don’t know of anyone who has it in for me. And what harm does it do to discuss what Katy Perry is wearing or whom Taylor Swift is dating?

Let’s start with polluters: we are all guilty of this. We all consume more resources than we should. Some of us are better at polluting than others, but we all do it to an extent. We all occasionally throw things away that we could recycle or buy things we don’t need or turn the heat up too much in the winter or lower the A/C too much in the summer. We drive when we could walk (or bike). We use gas-powered mowers and fertilize on our lawns with poisons.

And it’s not just individuals. Look at Volkswagen. They recently got caught manipulating the exhaust systems of certain vehicles to cheat on emissions testing. It was a big story for a few days, but then we moved on.

Or look at Duke Energy’s pollution of a North Carolina river with toxic coal ash dumps and the actions of state regulators to impede the efforts of environmental groups to get Duke to pay for the cleanup. These regulators later asked a judge to withdraw a proposed settlement that would have allowed Duke to get off the hook for a paltry sum, but only after intense outside pressure.

Every large company pollutes, usually in small ways (a cheat here, a cheat there – nothing too noticeable or outrageous). But since we all do it too, we don’t consider it to be worth fighting about.

Or look at theft. Again, every large company steals from us, but again, most of them do it in small ways: a few pennies here, a few pennies there – what’s the big deal? Phone companies bill us for bizarre nothings like a Federal Access Charge.

Energy companies require us to pay more for aging infrastructure but don’t use the money we pay them to actually fix the infrastructure. Instead, they spend it on bonuses and executive pay and wait for a disaster to happen, then they demand public assistance to fix what we assumed they were fixing all along.

Large companies demand tax breaks to open facilities in a given city/state/region so that we have to pay a greater percentage of the amount required to maintain roads and bridges. Some of them have even been given permission not to pay the employer portion of employee income taxes.

Banks get paid for being banks. Farmers get subsidies to increase the price of sugar or peanuts or cotton or whatever. And they all say the money they demand and receive is justified while they rail against the subsidies other businesses get.

Look at the major league sports teams, who insist that we pay for their stadiums even if we have no interest in their entertainment. “It’s a community asset,” they claim as they reap obscene profits. They play one community against another, confident no one will challenge them.

And fanatics – they abound too. They’re all over, including a few presidential candidates, who make such bizarre claims you think they must be joking. But they’re not. They’re serious. And we’ll be in serious trouble if they get into office.

Or look at terrorist organizations like Boko Haram or the Islamic State. They get into the news occasionally when they do something outrageous, but otherwise we focus on Miley Cyrus or Tom Brady or some reality TV star who did something cute or silly. We put our energies into insignificance while all around us the planet spins and we circle the drain.


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