To Be or Not To Be

By Jim Coufal

Lately, I find myself in a sort of acute phase of a long-standing existential angst. To be or not to be, to be a pessimist or an optimist, that’s my question? And then I wonder if I shouldn’t be a realist.

Yet, being a realist does not mean being in the middle ground; it doesn’t exclude one being either a pessimist or an optimist. By now, you ask, “About what?”

About the future of the human race and, in particular, the future of the United States.

My angst was heightened by attendance at a recent convention of my professional organization, the Society of American Foresters, that I wrote about earlier. The integrating theme of the scientific/technical presentations was water. The keynote speaker especially painted a documented picture of water depletion both in the U.S. and the world.

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, is down to 49-percent full, and some say it will be a mud pond by 2021. The Aral Sea, the fifth-largest body of fresh water in the world is now down to two small lakes. Potable water, water for farmland irrigation and hydroelectric generation, and water for transportation are all being depleted, as is the groundwater of many areas, to say nothing of pollution.

“Lifeblood” is an overworked axiom, but water truly is the lifeblood of the earth. Of course, you might say we now have a lake at the Arctic “ice cap.”

Our world is becoming more decentralized, which seems incompatible with hierarchical forms of structure that dominate western civilization. These latter aren’t resilient enough to adapt to the ever-greater pace of change, seeking to survive in their present form by forcing the environment and the people to adapt to institutional interests.

Corporations and people are unwilling to make changes to save the environment. The dust bowl of the 1930s provides a great lesson, which goes unheeded, as with off-shore oil drilling, hydrofracking, conflicting laws managers must live by and other means of inducing pollution and stagnation.

Leaders seem absent. Republicans vote “no” to just about everything, and Obama seems to lack the nerve to stand up to them. In the political world, I see sharp partisanship; no more “loyal opposition,” but rather no compromise, go for the throat opposition.

Witness Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Rep., KT) who said that the primary focus for the republicans would be to deny Barak Obama a second term of office. What happened to creating jobs, solving budget problems, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; in other words, working for the good of the people?

Witness the ignorance, dare I say it, the stupidity of people, who ran for office and some of them were elected. Sarah Palin said that we gotta stand with our North Korean ally. If you think that was just a gaffe, read of her other bits of brilliance. If you think she was the only one, read of the many others, like not knowing what the First Amendment says.

These are our “leaders?”

The present “war against terrorism” goes much deeper than simply trying to eradicate cadres of maniacal butchers – as desirable as such ends would be if capable of being realized through warfare.

It requires changes to our educational system that we have talked about for years, and continue to talk about and throw money at. It requires jobs and an end to poverty, which means looking hard at drug laws and the prison system.

Entrenched interests, especially those of corporations and lobbyists seem too strong to overcome, or is it our apathy? We seem afraid to look at new models of governance and fail to look objectively at models provided elsewhere in the world.

We’re fed just enough to keep us happy and not enough to really get us ticked off. And when we do get ticked off, as the “occupy” movement was, we are mauled by police and military at the expense of our Constitutional rights, and don’t object.

Looking around, I see many more problems of varied and differing importance. Every generation thinks the younger one is somehow breaking down. I don’t yearn for the “good old days,” because in many ways they weren’t.

I think our younger generation is just as bright as ever, better prepared in many ways (many of the subjects now taken in high school were not taken until college in earlier years), clearly more apt with modern technology, and often just as idealistic as the older generation was.

What I do see are students who want “the” answer to any problem, as if there was always only one correct answer, and we don’t live in a world of ambiguity.

I see students who want problems solved in a half- or full-hour, just like on television. I see students whose work ethics are not well-formed; after all, we of the older generation trained them to expect to get what they want. I see students who are slipping in their educational aptitudes compared to many parts of the world.

I see students caught up in the trivia of Facebook, Twitter, texting, games and even royal babies.

I’m not an economist, and it appears our economy is slowly mending, but Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are in trouble, putting the European Union in trouble. In our globalized world, this means trouble for the U.S. The continued growth in disparity of wealth and income in the United States is alarming, and history shows such disparity is often one of the factors of revolution.

Then there are the North Korea episodes, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Pakistan and Afghanistan, China and India, Egypt and Syria all providing large or small threats, from outsourcing, to import/export balances, to debt holding, to outright military adventures.

Some problems are less apparent, but very real. Predictions are being made that the life expectancy will grow to 125 years. If Social Security, health care, unemployment and ethical problems are great now, what will they be like when such life expectancy is reached?

If I was like the keynote speaker at the Society of American Foresters Convention, this is where I would offer an optimistic closing. I’m largely going to leave this for you to think about. I know we have faced great problems in the past and overcome them. I know the hoped-for technological fixes will come along and be great, but can we, should we, depend on them? Is the time for real sacrifice and cultural changes upon us, and if so, how and can we make them?

Remember, the average age of the world’s great civilizations has been about 200 years. These civilizations/nations progressed from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to me first, from me first to complacency, from complacency to apathy, on to dependency and finally back into bondage.

So many Americans hold the United States up as exceptional, the best, the greatest. Where do we stand in the progression described? Can we beat the historical 200-year life of great civilizations?

Jim Coufal of Cazenovia is a part-time philosopher and full-time observer of global trends. He can be reached at

By martha

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.