Politics and its Discontents: Our Paradoxical Species

Anyone who reads this blog regularly probably knows that I am something of a cynic when it comes to our species. Sure, there are many exceptions, but as a whole, we seem oblivious to our obligations to the world around us. Cossetted by our conveniences, our technologies and our bloated lifestyles, we far too often prefer to ignore all the evidence of the toll such indulgences take on the world.

I doubt that yesterday’s message from the Pope will have much effect on us, given our endless capacity for kicking the ball down the road. The CBC reports the following:

In the message, Francis said the faithful should use the holy year to ask forgiveness for the “sins” against the environment that have been committed by the “irresponsible, selfish” and profit-motivated economic and political system.

He called for all of humanity to take concrete steps to change course, starting with repaying what he called the “ecological debt” that wealthy countries owe the poor.

“Repaying [the debt] would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development,” he wrote.

But on a personal, more local level, we all have a role to play, he said:

For example: “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices”.

Each of the above is easy to accomplish, but my hunch is that most can’t be bothered, consumed as they are by the busyness of their lives.

Is our collective indifference because we can’t personalize the existential threats we face (until, of course, we are flooded or burned out, of course)? I pose the question as I acknowledge the deeply paradoxical and conflicting facts of our nature. When, for example, we are called upon to act to help individuals, our courage can reach heroic, almost mythical proportions, as witnessed in the following:

How can we simultaneously be so selfish and so selfless? And more importantly, how can we harness what we are truly capable of for the common good? I wish I had some answers.

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