Two shopping jokes collided in my mind today and left behind a poignant lesson for living. The first is a popular Miami joke about the 80-year-old man who enters a pharmacy and asks the proprietor: "Do you carry heart medication?" Certainly he does. "Something for rheumatism?" Of course. "For circulation problems?" Naturally. "High blood pressure?" Without a doubt. "Arthritis?" A full line. "Okay," says the codger. "Then my fiance and I would like to register here for our wedding gifts."
Our other adventurous purchaser is a young Dad who goes into a toy store to look for something for his young daughter's birthday. He finds out that there is a wide array of Barbies with different prices and he asks the salesgirl to run through the list for him. "Well, we have Homecoming Queen Barbie for 20 dollars, Hairdresser Barbie for 25 dollars, complete with blow dryer, Motorcycle Barbie for 30 dollars with the cycle, and Divorced Barbie for 500 dollars." Puzzled, he wonders aloud why that last one is so pricey. "That's because it comes with Ken's house, Ken's car and Ken's furniture."
Put the two together and you catch a glimpse of how the world is designed. Each of us, as the years tick away, watch our expectations and our prospects shrink. At the same time, what we leave behind is our contribution to the world, making it a better place with each ensuing generation. As it divorces us individually, it adds our resources to the historic pot. We console ourselves as we depart these precincts with the thought that our legatees have had their options broadened by our exertions.
Along comes the global warming crowd with a perverse effort to unbalance that equation. Their pitch is that we are not only eating ourselves to perdition, we are also eating our young. If we buy what it is that they are selling, we accept an upheaval in the most basic premise of existence. We must come to believe that we are not builders but destroyers. We are a pernicious weed that blights the garden of nature. Our lives are theft, our deaths a boon.
But wait! Aren't these the same people who told us that we must preserve the rain forest because every herb, every tree, every frog and sloth and bat might be a repository of wondrous chemicals that will cure all our ills? Be careful not to kill the Black-eared Fairy, a bird of the Amazon, lest you thereby condemn us to another hundred years of cancer. (My personal favorite specimen of avifauna is the Violaceous Jay, which is found in Peru.) Isn't there a sort of contradiction in the weather pessimists turning out to be the medicine optimists?
Religious types are optimists in both areas. They assume that the Creator will not junk His world until it has completed its purpose, by which point nothing we do can ensure its preservation. Man is charged with general stewardship of the resources of nature, but never needs to grow desperate that it's crumbling under the weight of fairly normal use. On the other hand, there is a principle that the goodness of God demands that every illness have an antidote somewhere in nature; indeed Jewish tradition says that the early prophets knew the cure for any ailment. So that rain forest may well hold the key to freeing us from one or another malady.
Libertarians, by contrast, are neutral on both questions. They feel that man should be allowed to live his life without looking over his shoulder at a 1 percent possibility that he might be overheating the world or killing the goose that will lay the golden medicine egg. Why, then, do today's secularists and liberals show this peculiar mix? Gloomy about the planet's viability but bullish on the jungle (and stem cells, for that matter) yielding magical potions. What gives?
There would seem to be only one explanation. Having "rescued" their souls from the ministers, and with psychologists leaving them to tread water, their last saviors are the scientists. Once you understand that the scientists are the new cult leaders, then the questions are all answered. They promise the messiah if we follow them into the forest and play with the birdies, and they threaten the apocalypse if we insist on being complacent in indulging our impulses.
It's always difficult to do battle against religious fervor, as witness our contemporary struggle with Islam. And it's particularly difficult to do battle with the people who are in control of the collection and dissemination of statistical information. Appeals to reason are also a weak stick to wield against those who wear the mantle of science. What's left? Only the appeal to reasonableness. Works ninety-nine percent of the time. And that is the best we can ever hope for. That, and a good pharmacist for our old age.
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