eThoughts : February 1. 2012: Consequences, Part I

60 Minutes can be an interesting television program. Recently there was the story about Leon Panetta, President Obama’s Secretary of Defense. A good story and a hard man not to like. But I took umbrage with his telling families who have lost a loved one in war that their son or daughter will not be forgotten. They will be, if they’re known at all. Heck, there are lots of folks who don’t know diddly-squat about our wars, much less the folks that waged them. How about my father, who died in 1970, but was a POW and clearly a casualty of WWII (his death was ruled as war-related by the Veteran’s Administration)? Of course I will remember and so will my siblings. Perhaps our children will remember, though they were born after he died. In other words not many folks will remember his service and his sacrifice.

Of course I don’t know what we would or should say to families who have lost a loved one in war. It seems cruel to simply say war is hell and an individual’s death, along with millions of others in countless wars, has apparently not taught humanity much at all. As a nation, we’re grateful I suspect, especially in the sense of supposedly being free to keep our lifestyle, but that gratefulness has not stopped war. And it doesn’t look like it will either.

So the consequences of war are what exactly, besides the impact of loss on so many? We like to say it preserves our freedom and keeps our lives from being determined by others. Of course other countries have other stories, though they may be similar in terms, if not the definitions, of freedom versus determinism.

Then there was the story about Roger Goodell, the National Football League’s commissioner. It was quite the success story, achieved by a combo of capitalism and socialism, along with freedom and regulation—not to mention the occasional iron hand of rule. The league and its players and many others get rich based by spreading around the money and the risk. Well, economic risk anyway—the players still get beat to hell. So the consequences are what exactly, besides the impact on so many? We like to say it’s about a game, the interest of watching other folks put themselves on the line in front of so many. The players are free to choose, right? All those choices do have a kind of determinism attached to it. And, in either case, there are consequences.

Finally there was the story about exotic and nearly extinct animals being hunted on Texas ranches. Quite a battle there between the horrors of raising animals for slaughter and the facts, as presented in the story, that the endangered species are not quite as endangered anymore. Hunters pay big bucks for a kill and those big bucks are an incentive to keep the animals from the brink of extinction. So the consequences are what exactly? We’re free to kill and the animals have a certain amount of time to live wild? Money saves animals from extinction? Of course there was the counter argument that money can buy preserves where the animals can run wild and not be killed—well, by human hunters anyway, if the poachers can be stopped. Was the debate about how animals live or about how they die? In either case, there are consequences. Freedom versus determinism along with what exactly is the morality in either case has been chased around for millennia. However, whether we think or act in terms of embracing or avoiding freedom, determinism, and/or morality, there are consequences. And those consequences are unavoidable, very personal, and very concrete. It is not so simple to say that war is good or bad or even in-between. It is not so simple to say that a successful enterprise such as the NFL is due to some economic and political philosophy. It is not so simple to say that animals should have a preserve or that they can be hunted if the money collected helps those animals to thrive.

Clearly how an attitude or outlook is framed has the power to direct our attention and intention. Clearly we are not just sheep (no offense to sheep), subject only to having our attention and intention directed by outside sources. Clearly understanding consequences is not the sole purview of leaders. If consequences are not understood and acted upon accordingly at the individual level—as opposed to leaving it up to “society”—all of our education, all of our grandstanding, all of our supposed superiority is as worthless as worthless can be.

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