Sunday, June 12, 2016

The War Effort

The commute gets harder every year. I'll be 60 in July. That's not old by modern standards, but it's not young, either. I'm as tired on the third day as I used to be on the fifth day.

In 1979, emerging from college to make my mark on the world, I assessed the situation and decided to live in a way that any number of people could imitate without fear of making things worse. Imagine a world in which people at all social levels in industrialized nations felt well rewarded by modest dwellings and non-motorized mobility. It's hard to picture, because it's not enough, after centuries of conditioning to revere wealth and opulence, and the power these convey to our fellow apes.

In the 1970s, military service did not look like a good idea, when the United States government had just finished demonstrating how many lives it was willing to waste in pursuit of a mistake. We were told to expect a nuclear war, which would render conventional forces irrelevant. How many service members does it take to keep fingers on the button in an undisclosed number of missile silos, and keep our submarines patrolling? By the time I got out of college, bombs delivered by airplanes were a quaint anachronism. Conventional forces appeared to have some parade value, if news photos from the Soviet Union were any guide, but in the big exchange of fireballs they were just one more thing to melt. Sure, this is a simplistic view, but the media and the educational system already excelled in presenting simplistic points of view.

My peers and I were taught to get good jobs and make as much money as we could. Some of us learned that much better than others. I flunked it completely. But I stayed in the system long enough to absorb the intent. I have a dutiful sense of failure because I did not prosper. The fact that I live well is due partly to my own frugality and largely to a couple of unanticipated lucky breaks. But I feel an even greater disappointment that I never figured out how to inspire widespread change.

The plan remains the same as it was before the little windfalls that made my hovel a bit larger. Behind the facade, I am just another idiot whose retirement options consist of either a refrigerator box in a warm climate or a shotgun in the mouth when I realize I am no longer able to support myself. I'm holding out for the refrigerator box, or perhaps a hike into beautiful wilderness, without food or water. But the gun thing sounds nicely dramatic.

It seemed to me -- and it still does -- that one can serve one's country and the greater good of humanity better by setting a good example of how to live than by how one kills and dies. I don't know what to do about the human compulsion to force other people to die for things, but I do know that accepting it as the unchangeable norm locks us onto a course toward global destruction.

In the decades I've ridden, I have noticed a slight increase in understanding from motorists, but hostility remains a problem. Internet postings, bike path assaults, and road rage killings remind us that bicycle riders are outcasts, and fair game as far as many people are concerned. And a silent majority does nothing to harm, but nothing to help, hoping the problem will go away on its own. If that means road cyclist extinction, good enough. Go play on the bike path. Drive to a mountain biking venue.

The life I pledged has lasted nearly 60 years. The fortune I pledged by declining to amass it. I don't look forward to being a casualty in the lifestyle revolution, but I like even less the idea of prospering at the expense of others. Who is enslaved on your behalf? What makes you better than they are, other than the accident of your birthplace? You may be completely comfortable with a harshly hierarchical view of humanity, but at least think about it. Be certain in your conviction that a large number of people deserve to live downstream from your toilet and downwind from your smokestack.

I'm no better than anyone because of the choices I have made. I'm an idiot. But I'm not wrong.

The energy I've put into trying to live a simple and relatively self-propelled life, other people have put into things they think are worthwhile. Evolution will log the results. In all likelihood, no one will be around to sift through the archeological record to find out who predicted the end correctly.

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