Monday, September 01, 2008

Counting the Cost in an Instant Society

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'" -- Luke 14:28-30

It has been several weeks since I last posted and I've been observing and thinking about where we are in both our political and ecclesiastical discourse. Today is Labor Day in the United States, a day once dedicated to "a street parade to exhibit to the public 'the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,' followed by a festival for the workers and their families." Not unlike the church, such labor organizations today often find themselves sidelined in the public discourse and American workers often feel increasingly on their own in a Darwinian labor market. Today, Labor Day essentially marks the end of Summer and the beginning of both the academic year in schools and the program year in churches.

There has been a great deal written and spoken in the last few years about the times we live in. In my opinion, and that of others, the twenty-first century has seen a substantial rise in the inablity of people to sacrifice now for a brighter future or even to discuss the possibility. What large sacrifice was asked of us in the wake of September 11? Was it to tighten our belts, divert domestic productivity into a wartime footing, and make other sacrifices reminiscent of World War II? No. Rather than being told to sacrifice, we were urged to shop. Shop. Shop. Shop.

We've managed to shoulder that sort of burden quite well. When we clamor for an increase in the minimum wage are we willing to pay extra so those who make those products, stock those shelves, and fill those orders can be paid more? Are we willing to buy more expensive American-made goods when we can so that companies will not be under financial pressure to ship those jobs oversees? Generally, the answer is no, we want the best thing for the least money.

More generally, do we see issues such as energy independence and sagging infrastructure as equal in gravity to World War II? Are we willing to invest both private and public funds in sources of renewable energy? Are we willing to permanently divest ourselves of huge SUVs and mammoth recreational vehicles, walk, bike, or take mass transit to our jobs, and seriously alter our lifestyle in order to wean ourselves off oil additiction? Generally the answer is no, we either want the government to do it for us, mandate it, or leave us alone. As our infrastructure crumbles, do we have it in us to make the investment of the billions of dollars it will take to repair and replace roads, bridges, and water and electrical systems our parents and grandparents built but have been neglected in the last few decades. Generally, again, the answer is no.

As we celebrate Labor Day and give thanks for the millions of hours of labor that have made this country what it is, and with just over two months until Election Day, it would be well for us all to ask ourselves whether we want to pay now, or have our children or grandchildren pay later. If our parents had been proactive when faced with gas shortages in the 1970s, perhaps we would not be where we are today with gas prices. Are we willing to look into the future and act now?

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