Consequences

In the movie, “Inherit the Wind,” attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) makes a speech about progress. The part that stands out to me is when he says that we can have airplanes, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell like gasoline. Not only is it a beautiful turn of a phrase, but it embodies a truth that becomes more and more obvious as we age. Everything we do has consequences.
We have known for 60 years or so that smoking is not healthy, and yet, many of us still smoke.
Alcohol, red meat, sugar-all have been proven to be bad for our health. But we continue to consume until the inevitable consequences occur. Why?
We like these things. They give us pleasure. We are willing to trade a piece of an uncertain future for a pleasant present. This is why, in spite of the well-known fact that eating celery burns more calories than it contains, it has never become one of Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors.
President Harry Truman got the first report saying that we would start running out of oil by the mid ‘70’s and that this shortage would lead to an ever-destabilization of the world and possible wars between those who have the oil and those who need the oil. Truman and every president since has spoken about the need to conserve and create alternative fuel sources.
But when all is said and done in Washington, more is usually said than done, and little has been done. Perhaps a part of the problem is that, when one goes through the rigors of campaigning for the highest office n the land, one is not inclined to give up the limo, the 767, the helicopter and the other energy sapping perks of the job.
Changes in societal structure are a smorgasbord of consequence. The emancipation Proclamation is generally thought to be a good thing. While it was, inarguably, the right thing to do, the objective observer has to admit that there were (and are) consequences. For instance, telling someone who is illiterate and lacks any marketable skills that he is free is like giving a high school (or, God forbid a college diploma) to someone who has not achieved the necessary level of knowledge to have earned it. It’s a nice, temporary self-esteem fix, but the real world will be, to say the least, harsh.
The unintended consequences of our choices are obvious on so many levels. Those mean-spirited people who suggested back in the sixties and seventies that a woman’s place is in the home might have been accepted if they had coined a catchy phrase like, “latch-key kids” for the unattended children the women’s movement helped to create.
Unions were created because industrial-era capitalists were greedy and short-sighted. Since nobody gives up power voluntarily, wasn’t it predictable that the union bosses would, in turn become greedy and short-sighted?
Then there are the unintended consequences of a woman’s right to choose an abortion over responsible behavior. There is one school of thought that says Roe vs. Wade was responsible for the decrease in crime in New York City in the ‘90’s. Simply put all of the children that would be most likely to commit the crimes, were never born. If we accept this perfectly rational explanation we must also accept the equally cogent argument that we do not have a cure for cancer because the person who would have had that spark was never born, either.
The good news is that consequences are not always negative. I happen to know a list of ten things we can do (or not do) for which there can be nothing but positive outcomes. Check them out. You’ll find them in the Book of Exodus.

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Posted in Ageing