Saturday, October 29, 2005

Conscientiously object to the War on Yesterday

Everybody knew the New Orleans levees were going to break, but nobody acted as though they would break in our lifetime, let alone this year.

Everybody knew that terrorists would once again kill people within the U.S., but nobody acted as though they would.

Everybody knows that worldwide oil will run out, but nobody acts as though it will happen before our kids are in college.

Politicians, like corporate executives, live for the moment. They act as though the only thing we know about the future is that there will be another election; they do not take preventive action against what we know to be coming at us unless a huge groundswell of the public loudly demands it.

Before the 1889 Johnstown Flood, people knew the heavily modified dam would break. The "act of nature"—the exceptionally heavy rains—would not have killed thousands by themselves; they needed the help of negligent, selfish people. Likewise, Hurricane Katrina was certainly a huge force, but it could not by itself have killed 10,000 people and displaced a million; it needed the help of negligent people in denial about a known future.

We don't mind looking backward, apparently; calls to unchannel the Mississippi or re-separate FEMA from DHS are just the latest battles in the War on Yesterday. And there is always easy sarcasm and griping; The New Battle of New Orleans provides a stinging musical critique, and that feels good for a moment.

But fight against immediate gratification. Whatever arena each of us finds ourselves in, we should be facing forward, preparing the way for the future, carving and shaping the path we want to be on instead of letting that trail develop itself in the roughest possible course.


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