Today is Earth Day. In his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote today – “There is a great need, and growing support, for the introduction of new values in our society—where bigger is not necessarily better—where slower can be faster—and where less can be more.” (Gaylord Nelson, First Earth Day 1970)
As I thought about Earth Day and how it has been marginalized over time, it came to my mind that, as a nation, we have lost sight of the concept of “The Common Good”. In fact, some politicians have demonized the common good by positioning things that are for the common good as socialism. Their political philosophies are more in tune with anarchy than with anything that is for “the common good”.
Yet there is a need to recognize that there are things that we need to do as a society that provide benefits for all – that promote the common good. Taking care of the planet upon which, we live is just one of those things, but certainly an important one. I know a local personal trainer who uses the motto, “Your body is the only place that you have to live.” Well, Earth is currently the only place that we all have to live. Someday, maybe we will be able to hop intro a spaceship and fly off to another planet, but for now, we are stuck here. Let’s not mess it up.
Self-centeredness has been around forever, but it came to the fore in the 1970’s. The 1970s were dubbed the “Me decade” by writer Tom Wolfe. Christopher Lasch was another writer who commented on the rise of a culture of narcissism among the younger generation of that era. But it wasn’t just narcissism that increased back in the 70’s; it was the rebellion against government and being governed. That rebellion, perhaps sparked by protests against an unpopular war (Viet Name) in the 1960’s and fanned by racism and the white backlash caused by the civil rights movement, gave rise to an anarchist movement disguised as conservatism. What was being “conserved” was an old, privileged way of life that had outlived its usefulness.
The shift from “what’s good for me” to “what’s good for us all”, was perceived as a threat because it effectively disenfranchised the privileged people of the day (basically whites) and shifted both power and resources towards those who had been excluded from both. That gave rise to rear-guard actions that continue today, as the old, privileged class tries desperately to hold on to power. To those people, things done for the common good is just code for losing power and the ability to control things and people.
So, along came the scientists and environmentalists sounding alarms over the damage that mankind is doing to the planet. They created a day – Earth Day – to both celebrate the planet and to raise awareness of the bad things that are happening. From their foxholes the conservative rear-guard just saw it as another intrusion of government in their lives, another socialist movement of “them against us” and they fought back. They poo-pooed the scientists’ warnings about global warming, they resisted regulation on emissions or a shift away from fossil fuels for power, and they tried gut the enforcement of environmental protections by defunding the agencies responsible for enforcing them. They did not just lose sight of the common good, they fought against it. They believed that “what’s good for them is bad for us”.
It is a good thing to have an Earth Day once a year, although we should all be concerned about the Earth every day of the year. Perhaps we should have a Common Good Day also to focus upon the things that we need to do to make life better for all of us. It’s not socialism, it’s just common sense. Maybe we could call it Common Sense Day.
In the Old Testament we are told of the common good –
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7
So, seek the welfare of the Earth, because there we shall also find (or lose) our own welfare. Happy Earth Day!
It’s a shame that “the Common Good” is so rare, and yet we have a hard time selling it.