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Stephen Gottlieb: Mass Suicide, From Jonestown To America

I recently met a woman who grew up near the site of the Jonestown mass suicide. Digging through the rubble to find the bodies, tore her father’s heart out. Many civilizations died for lack of knowledge of impending disaster. We have the knowledge and can prevent the extinction of humanity just by making our votes depend on it. Most of our religious traditions categorically prohibit suicide. So why are so many of us talking about the impending mass suicide of humanity, and then why haven’t we been able to stop it?

We know greenhouse gases from gasoline, oil, methane and fuels like coal are heating the climate, increasing drought, deserts and forest fires, shrinking animal habitat, reducing arable land, spreading disease and increasing health risks. The warming globe destroys the earth’s natural self-cooling, which brings us closer to turning our earthly home into a totally unlivable planet, like Venus, with a surface temperature over 800°. In other words we’re slowly broiling our earth, ourselves, the animals, fish and all other life. Doing it to ourselves, it’s looming mass suicide.

We also know the warming globe is acidifying the oceans, on which much of life depends. As they acidify, the oceans lose the ability to sustain fish, shellfish, seabirds, reefs and other incubators of ocean life.

We’ve been learning how plastics are getting into our food and into us and speeding up our own demise. Fish and birds eat and swallow plastic and microplastic garbage that poisons their and then our bodies.

Did I say poison? Mercury and arsenic, among other toxins and poisons are being pumped into our lakes and rivers. Some communities can no longer drink their water. Soon you won’t be able to either. Breast milk is already contaminated. And the contaminants in what babies suckle and we all drink are already destroying our ability to reproduce.

BUT whenever we try to keep toxins out of the water, stop plastic contamination, protect the oceans or head off further global warming, we’re told it’s unthinkable because it’s “REGULATION”!  This country invented self-government. The Constitution says it was to “promote the general welfare” – by creating a government capable of setting rules for our mutual benefit. That’s what government does. Human institutions aren’t perfect but ours was designed so we could regulate ourselves. Now fools and worse say we can’t – “regulation” has become a curse word. What’s left without regulation is anarchy and those who want it are anarchists. They make the bizarre claim that our government was created to protect only the kinds of liberty, license and chaos that are left without government. The anarchists’ dream is to overthrow the U.S. government, leaving the meanest to survive and rule. Time was when advocating anarchy was outlawed and many such laws are still on the books, unenforced only because the First Amendment has made us tolerate the worst and most dangerous ideas. People who would substitute anarchy for responsible government won’t make our country “great again.” They’d destroy it, because the power to promote the general welfare would be – Oh God forbid – “regulation.”

Apparently some people haven’t grown up enough to understand that we share this country and this planet and that it’s normal and proper to take account of each other’s welfare. I’d gladly lock them up in reformatories where they can be re-educated or in dungeons where we’re safe from them, at least until the Lord welcomes them to the fires of hell.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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