Voice of Sanity – Feb 2014
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Editor: Joyce Bates
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The Voice of Sanity
THE NEWSLETTER OF THE UPSTATE S.C. SECULAR HUMANISTS
Visit our web-site for current issues at: www.piedmonthumanists.org
Second Saturday Brunch, March 8th, 10:00AM to 12:00 noon, at Denny’s restaurant, 2521 Wade Hampton Blvd.
The Sunday meeting and discussion is from 11:00AM to 1:00PM every Sunday; location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville
The Free-Thought group meets 7:00PM, every other Thursday (March 13th and 27th); location: Palmetto Steak House; 102 East Beacon Drive; near Pelham Road exit off I85.
EASTER ISLAND REVISITED
A Green History of the Earth by Clive Ponting opens with a chapter on the demise of the original inhabitants of Easter Island. When the Dutch first landed there in 1722 they found it nearly treeless and containing a population of about 3000 relatively peaceful natives subsisting on sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and chickens. About 200 years were to pass before the mystery of how such simple tribes had managed to create the now familiar huge carved heads and gigantic platforms. Twentieth century archeology revealed that a lush forest of palms and shrubs hosting a variety of birds initially covered the island. Those who study the island’s history think that the deforestation led to a series of events that caused the original society to crash.
Originally, the palm forest was cut to provide shelter and space for farming, but when competition between tribes for prestige demanded that huge statues had to be transported on wood rollers to the coast, the forest was decimated. Two things happened next: one, the birds disappeared from the island because of loss of habitat; two, there was no supply of wood to build canoes and any ability to fish or even get off the island was abandoned. The guess is that the competition degenerated into warfare and cannibalism as resources dwindled and population collapsed. The natives the Dutch saw in 1722 were survivors recovering from the disaster as best they could.
Many believe Easter Island serves as a warning of what could happen when members of a civilized society do not pay attention to their natural surroundings. That is why many environmentalists embrace the mantra for protecting the global environment. The recognition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 60s and the recent debate on global warming are symptoms of the same malaise.
People I know have a romantic idea of “nature”. It is either “nature tooth and claw” on television or just someplace to admire flowers in spring or leaves in fall. Most think that nature is a thing to be conquered and brought under control in order to insure human survival. However, we need to listen to the environmentalists because carelessness with one natural resource can ruin other resources that we depend on.
Deforestation is an example of this. If you live in Montana, logging is a good thing. It provides timber products and paper, things absolutely necessary to human civilization. If you didn’t log in Montana you would have to import from China or Canada and American logging jobs would go away. Clear-cutting is the most desirable and efficient way to log. Selecting out optimum age trees and leaving others to grow to maturity is too expensive. Unfortunately, clear-cutting leaves streams exposed to the sun’s heat and it prevents fish from spawning. Fishing is another necessary industry. Secondly, those using the snowmelt to irrigate crops need the forest to time release the melt so it is not lost because of severe flooding. Agriculture is another necessary industry.
Here is how deforestation depletes land in places like tropical South America: First small farmers looking to improve their crop yield clear the land. They grow corn for a couple years until the soil becomes too poor for that enterprise. So they sell their land to large landowners who need pasture to raise beef for export. The soil becomes too infertile to grow grass by the end of five years, so the land is abandoned entirely. In parts of Africa a similar process results in desertification.
Cheap inorganic fertilizers also reveal unpleasant drawbacks. They were introduced during the Green Revolution of the 1960s and it was predicted that increased crop yield would end starvation in third world countries. These fertilizers are now used in fifty percent of the world’s farm production. No one expected that they would produce run-off and algal blooms contaminating water supplies. Now we know that organic fertilizers such as manures and worm castings bolster soil structure to prevent erosion and retain water. They are slow acting and more expensive, but they furnish food, maintain the arability of the soil and conserve the fresh water supply, as well.
There are similar unexpected consequences in fresh water use. The Ogallala aquifer under the Great Plains, in the 1970s, watered up to three-quarters of the world’s wheat crop sold for export. Forty percent of American cattle drank Ogallala water and munched Ogallala watered hay. From the 1950s to the 1980s the aquifer’s annual water use quadrupled. Paleontologists discovered that farmers were drawing out ten times the amount of water that could be replenished. The aquifer contains “fossil water” trickled down from the Rockies during thousands of years, and presently only recharges about a half-inch of water a year. It’s estimated that, with care, the reservoir could last another hundred years, but after that, it’s gone.
Environmental degradation on Easter Island may not have been the only cause of the collapse. Social interactions between tribes seem a factor, as well. It’s entirely possible that warring tribes would have destroyed the very crops necessary for each other’s survival. The history of Western Civilization is filled with episodes of burning and plundering. In fact, political scientists have designed simulations of war reminiscent of forest fires. A single grisly event can lead either to a skirmish like the ones that occurred on Easter Island or, in the case of Sarajevo in 1914, a full-fledged world war. The psychology involved is a determination on each side to exhaust the resources of the other first. In the end, both sides lose human, economic, and environmental resources.
The above are only four examples of results of our interactions direct and indirect with the environment. Sadly, we know our mistakes only through hard experience. It’s easy to look at Easter islanders and question how they could have been so stupid. By cutting the forests they even destroyed their only means of escape. But, they didn’t see it coming, or not enough of them did to convince others to stop the destruction.
A Green History of the Earth; Clive Ponting; 2007; Collapse; Jared Diamond; 2005; Penguin Better Angels of Our Nature; Steven Pinker; 2011; Penguin Water; Steven Solomon; 2010; Harper-Collins
Letter to Editor re: February biography of Charles Darwin.
Thank you for your life and appreciation of Charles Darwin, in the last issue of The Voice of Sanity. I especially like it that you pulled no punches about some of his backward beliefs…well, backward for us, but commonplace enough in his time.
My family has long felt a special relationship with Charles Darwin. Darwin’s great friend and relative by marriage is, of course, Josiah Wedgwood–and Wedgwood’s business partner was my namesake, Thomas Bentley.
My grandfather Bentley had insisted upon the name; a potter by trade, he immigrated to America as a young man and got a job as a potter with the Crane Corporation. Crane was, of course, an industrial pottery firm; one of my grandfather’s projects was designing a urinal for women. But I think he always considered himself a bit of an artiste.
I’ve recently learned that Thomas Bentley, partner to Wedgwood, was also a friend of Darwin; of Benjamin Franklin; and of Joseph Priestley. Bentley was a Dissenter, and also a socialite; he handled the business side of the trade, the sales side, and it was through his social contracts that the Queens Ware line was developed. He spent much of his time on the Continent, so the Wedgwood line of decorative pottery spread far and wide. An aesthete and denizen of the finest salons, Bentley was ideally placed for his work.
My family had wondered just how close our relationship was with the Darwin/Wedgwood clan. Ephemeral it was, alas: Thomas Bentley, though married (to one Mary Stramford), as any successful businessman must be in those days, died leaving behind no children.
At any rate, thanks for the article, and the reminder to me of my connection to Darwin et al., even though that connection does not actually exist.
–Tom Bentley —————————————–
A CONSERVATIVE HUMANIST’S ECONOMIC VIEW
Social scientist David Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute and has some interesting things to say about the US capitalistic economic system. Although he is conservative he criticizes Republicans saying they put too much emphasis on the materialistic side of capitalism thinking that the only success one can obtain is that of a entrepreneur. One only has to read a newspaper or watch TV in this country to notice this.
Brooks, who calls himself a humanist, feels that the problem with this is that the moral health of an economic system should be measured by how it helps all the people make enterprises out of their individual lives. He also says that our present economy, due to technology, contains many companies with very few employees that make a good income. The majority of workers elsewhere, though, have seen their incomes stagnate while demand on their productivity increases. This flies in the face of the notion that a person can be successful if he works hard enough.
He states that conservatives in this country feel that it should be left to private charity to take care of the poor. While this notion is agreeable to all of us, we need to realize that people give $40 billion a year to charitable organizations for the poor. That amount would give each person in this country who receives federal food stamps only $847 a year ($16 and change per week). This amount might sound good but it doesn’t include other necessities like emergency heating, clothing, and shelter, things the above organizations struggle with.
Brooks admits labor markets are not functioning. As we already know, few people are working and enjoying the money and the sense of accomplishment and self-respect from society. Many people are working harder, earning less and are too worried about paying bills to minimally enjoy what they do for a living.
Brooks does not support a raise in the minimum wage because he thinks it could drive another half-million workers out of the labor market. His suggestions are to expand the earned-income tax credit or use direct payments/loans to help people improve their earning power.
YOUR TAX DOLLAR AT WORK
For those of you who don’t know, DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver for the Clemson University football team was baptized at the fifty-yard line of the practice field last season. He did so after Dabo Swinney announced to teammates that Hopkins was about to “turn his life over to Christ”.
Coach Swinney is in the habit of saying: “I’m a Christian. If you have a problem with that, you don’t have to be here.” There are bible studies for coaches twice a week and devotionals three times a week at Clemson. Never fear, the chapel services just before games are strictly voluntary, and a player can miss one if he dares.
I realize that Clemson, being located where it is, appeals to people of strong Christian belief. After all, it is in the Bible belt. But, Christianity isn’t everything to everyone and people live by many different faiths and moral teachings in South Carolina. A public university and especially its football team should be first in setting the example for understanding and welcoming all faiths including non-beliefs.
Secondly, since Clemson is a public university and since there are plenty of Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and non-believers, among others contributing taxes for its operation, it would be nice to see some recognition for their existence, too.
Coach Swinney thinks Christian teachings are the only way to make a boy into a man. However, these teachings are the only ones he knows which limits his understanding and respect toward other beliefs with the same goal in mind.
JOKES, HUMANIST, ATHEIST AND OTHERWISE
ALL DRESSED UP AND NO PLACE TO GO.TOO MANY BOOKS; NOT ENOUGH TIME
For atheists:Did you know there are more atheists in New York City than in other parts of the country? Because they know the light at the end of a long tunnel is New Jersey.
And for the psychiatrically unstable:
Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.
If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
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If you have multiple personalities, please press 3,4,5, and 6.
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