The Journey series
This week I find myself again looking at a blank page three hours ahead of my posting deadline. This reaffirms the interconnectedness of things in our lives. I've been preparing a large section of our back yard to grow vegetables instead of chafer beetles. Wedging my project in amongst the vagaries of Coquitlam's weather this time of year and family life any time of year has left this week's Mustard Seed on the back burner. Not everything goes as planned.
My mind is prone to wander as I work at simple, repetitive tasks such as digging. This week's topic, one should be free to do whatever they please as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, provided ample fodder for such musings. Many of my thoughts will remain buried alongside the pipes that will irrigate my new raised beds, lost even to myself. Hopefully, the few I recall are worth recording. I apologize that it's a bit of a ramble.
1) Give credit where credit is due. This theory's proponents at least recognize that our actions ought to be limited by the effect they have on others.
2) Not harming anyone else is an unobtainable threshold. We are, by nature, consumers. We must eat, drink, and breath to survive. We must have clothing and shelter. In any finite system, a gain in one area must be offset by a loss in another. We can't be without depleting resources. Whatever we consume is removed from the common pool, ergo there is a degree of harm done to others. Even acts of charity where we gain no personal benefit (other than transcendent), the good done for the object of our charity must be balanced by depletion distributed some way. Even when personally bearing the entire burden, there is an opportunity cost for those we didn't help.
3) Transactions can come close. The gain provided offsets the harm caused. This is complicated by valuation. Two people, or even the same person at different times, will not value all things equally.
We each have time, talents, and treasure which can be traded, invested, or squandered. Talents multiply time. A professional's time, quite fairly, is worth more than an amateur's or a labourer's. Yet we still ought question our relative valuations. Is a professional athlete, no matter how well he plays a game, worth thousands of farmers producing our food?
Circumstances also affect value. Labour is valued much differently from place to place. There is more benefit in cleaning a tropical slum but a janitor will be paid more to clean the Waldorf Astoria. The scion of a tycoon has far more opportunity to nurture their talents than does the seventh child of a sharecropper. To a large degree, a person's recognized worth is more accident than effort and definitely not intrinsic.
4) A tree standing in the forest has a different worth than the same tree stripped of its limbs and its bark and milled into lumber. To whom is the added value due? What percentage to the logger, the trucker, the sawyer? How much to the land owner and various corporate stockholders? Is any due to the common purse for social benefits? Do we compensate for soil erosion and loss of carbon sink — harms not even recognized a short while ago? Are there other effects we don't yet see?
5) Forests are replantable, but what of minerals? Can we truly measure the worth of non-renewable resources? If so, how ought the value be distributed between prospector, developer, common purse, and future generations?
6) Transactional relationships favour those who have over those who are desperate. A crust of bread is worth far more to a pauper than to a mogul.
We do many things without being able or willing to properly measure the costs. Our cost/benefit analyses are usually more generous to ourselves than to others. It is impossible to know the butterfly effects of our actions. Once done they can't be undone. The praise once heaped on Etienne Lenoir's internal combustion engine is fast turning to scorn in the throes of global warming. How many things we do for the good of mankind will wind up bane? Do, we must, but perhaps less is more.
Next week: Beyond me.
Peter T Elliott