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"The Life-Style Problem"
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Decades ago the following accusation was hurled at me: "Harry, you have left off preachin' and gone to meddlin'!" My sermons were questioning the ethics, yes, the "Christian ethics," of families who made their living inventing and constructing weapons of mass destruction.

[It is very strange how those words -- "weapons of mass destruction" -- have become a phrase to be applied to others, who shouldn't be allowed to have any, while our stockpiling of them and on-going upgrading of them and use of them is passed over as acceptable and even admirable.]

[It is also very strange that a person who dropped bombs on little children from thirty thousand feet in the air can then be regarded almost universally as a great hero.]

Anyway, I'm going to risk it again -- meddling, that is. Here goes: The greatest problem facing the world is the American life-style. There you go again, Harry. Meddling. Butting into other people's business. The root of the American imperial scourge on Planet Earth is not the Pentagon, or "energy" or Christian fundamentalism -- it is the American life-style. We Americans, almost all of us, use up too much, vastly too much, of the world's stuff, including energy.

There are exceptions. I know a couple of them: Don Schrader and Chuck Hoskins, right here in Albuquerque. Neither of them has a car, or a computer. They have very modest living quarters, and make very slight use of electricity.

I study the litter on the sidewalk where I walk every morning. The passers-by, who have left that litter, are not affluent. What they leave for others to pick up reveals the problem -- fast-food wrappers, styrofoam, plastics of all kinds, glass bottles whole or shattered, aluminum cans. Even the non-affluent are displaying a grossly wasteful life-style, which is the underlying environmental and imperial problem. The United States of America has to conquer someone in order to get the oil with which to make all that plastic, which ends up as litter. The litter itself indicates that we have and use too much stuff.

Getting littering stopped won't be easy -- the totalitarian Chinese government can't stop it at their Great Wall. And recycling doesn't really get at what will finally have to be changed. Americans will finally have to begin to use up less stuff, including energy. That will mean a changed life-style. For a while there it appeared that the price of gasoline was going to help, by forcing Americans to drive less, but it now appears that we're adapting, and traffic is as bad as ever.

My wife and I never adapted Don Schrader's life-style. We have a modest little car. We have a computer. Since small publishers can't sell books in bookstores, we have to depend on the Internet. [Find us at] But it's very modest, believe me, and it has us wondering, "How can our life-style be down-sized much more that it already has been?" We're working on it.

A glance higher up on the social scale makes the problem much more obvious. Here's a lady who received a new wardrobe worth more that what many fellow citizens have spent for a house. It amounts to ten times what many spend for a car. Even though she says that she's not accepting the wardrobe, now that we have taken note, it is too late. The problem has been exposed, one more time.

All the talk of hundreds of billions of dollars for this or that is lost on most people -- except for a dull awareness that it is much too much. It keeps things in perspective, maybe, to remember how the vast majority of our fellow humans live, in Haiti, in Mali, in Bangladesh, in Bolivia, in Nicaragua, in our own inner cities. Our life-style affects them all, and in the long run will have to change.

Sorry to meddle so.

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Copyright © 2008 Harry Willson

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