Discomfort guides my tongue
And bids me speak of nothing but despair.
At lunch yesterday, a close friend gave me a copy of a recent Rolling Stone. He wanted me to
read the article on climate change, which I did after getting home from work. That article
capped off a frustrating day which I in part unloaded into a write up last night. In the
article, the author examines three key numbers related to climate change. First, he identified
internationally agreed-upon limits on how much carbon the global community can allow to increase
in the atmosphere between now and 2050. Second, he identified how much of that wiggle room
actually remains. Finally, he described what the remaining margin equated to in gigatons of
carbon, and then calculated how many gigatons of carbon are already available for consumption
and held by the top 200 energy companies in the world.
This approach was intentional because the author attempted to move the climate change discussion
beyond political or even environmental talking points and instead focus on some relatively
simple math. In doing so, he created a less than uplifting depiction of the current state of
affairs. Finishing off my day with this article seemed like that last kick in the gut after
someone has pounded you to the ground.
At this point you may be thinking this write up is about climate change, or some kind of
personal despair with the left or the right, but it is not. I certainly am concerned about a
willingness in the United States to selectively choose when a 300-year-old established
scientific method is and is not applied, and absolutely feel a sense of despair over the
complete ineptitude of politicians on both sides of the aisle to have an intelligent
conversation, but that is not why I am writing now.
Put simply, what I want to know, what I want to ask, is how do you remain positive and upbeat
and filled with gladness in our current society?
Despite strong efforts to the contrary, the United States remains a very literate society. Our
access to information is astonishing. But the price we seem to pay for that is almost constant
disdain and distrust for reason and anything that hints at intellectualism.
Now that is a strong statement, one which probably many of you will not agree with at face
value. But as members of the site, a place devoted to reading and writing as well as a certain
cavalier attitude about social conceptions, surely many if not most of you have encountered this
intangible, oppressive sentiment here in the States against the world of the mind. Historical
anti-intellectualism has time and again been demonstrated, and as people like Richard Hofstadter
have shown, that aspect of the United States reaches back to the 1800s.
So how do you do it? How do you remain optimistic about our future?
This is a serious question. For me, life is amazing and beautiful and I am thankful every day.
But I also face a constant struggle to remain upbeat when I see religious fanaticism grinding
reasonable discourse into the dust. And I worry about my daughter. I worry about how to deal
with the frustration so that it does not poison her worldview as she grows up. I worry about the
world she is inheriting and what place she will find in it. In our area, there are many churches
where the belief is that women are not supposed to speak in church. The friend who I referenced
at the beginning of this, his father-in-law was furious this last election because a copy of the
ballot was not printed in the newspaper. In the past, he had always removed it and filled it out
so that his wife could carry it with her and vote according to his direction. And you probably
read that and think this is some kind of science fiction, or I've been reading too much Margaret
At the previous school where my wife worked, significant funding shortfalls led to the release
of many support staff, special ed aides, library staff, and some teachers. One of the
individuals selected was an assistant football coach who had repeatedly been moved from position
to position due to ineptitude. At one point, he taught American history. He described the
Mexican-American War to the students as the "wetback war". In his last position before the cuts,
he was supposed to be a special ed aide who traveled from class to class with certain students
and assisted them. This did not happen. Yet when he was selected for release, the head football
coach threatened to leave and take his entire football staff with him. And football is important
here. The school won the state championship a few years ago, and in the fall football dominates
the social life of this rural area. So what did the school do? They kept the assistant coach, of
course. The school is older, and many of the classes are packed with students, but one of the
classrooms is used as a coach's lounge. You can't make this up.
So what is your secret? How do you shepherd your family forward without feeling the weight of
the world on your shoulders?