Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rights, Responsibilities, and Endurance

People defend their rights. Whether it's my right to drive an eight year old SUV, my right to speak freely, or my right to poo in the drinking water (most houses use potable water for toilets), we get very defensive if we feel our rights are threatened.

Responsibilities, on the other hand, get short shrift. Nobody talks much about defending them, except maybe lawyers when they sue people for avoiding their responsibilities. Responsibilities are the social glue that holds us together. If we don't take responsibility seriously, as evidenced by the financial crisis, society starts to fray.

We have responsibilities to complete strangers. People count on other drivers to stop at stop lights. Our culture corrects people it finds excessively irresponsible: The parent of a toddler who was noticed in a parked car outside a Calgary casino was treated particularly harshly in the popular media.

If you've seen Disney's The Lion King you've got the basics. Everything's connected. We're responsible to every other living thing in the world, but we're the only species that has any sense of the scale of the problems we've created.

Iroquois tradition considers the impacts of every decision on the seventh generation. It avoids our get-it-now, no money down mindset that permeates modern consumer culture and focuses on what will endure. If we don't endure, then we are just another failed experiment. The dinosaurs didn't know better. We, on the other hand, are watching it up close.

It's currently difficult to protect the rights that the seventh generation has to a healthy planet. They can't exactly defend themselves, and they won't be able to afford lawyers for about another two hundred years.

Our responsibility to the future: we endure or we fail. With globalization, peak everything, consumerism, political exigencies and hungry bellies, making collective decisions that take the long view is a very tall order. The grad class of 2209 (and their lawyers) are counting on us being up to the challenge.

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