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(This is a talk delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Franklin, NC, July 5, 2015)

This story starts about 35 years ago, when I made my very first stop at an Ingle’s grocery store. I had visited these mountains in 1955, and camped in these mountains twenty years later, but this meeting happened when I moved here, and as I say, it was my first visit to an Ingle’s. This store happened to be in Black Mountain.

As I stepped out of my 1965 Volkswagen squareback I was hailed by a lanky old man who was leaning against a pickup truck about twenty feet away. He gestured at the canoe atop my car and said, “You oughta take that boat down to the Nantahalee Gorge!” Then he took a long drag on his cigarette.

I told him I’d not heard of that before. I introduced myself and he did the same. Luther Ownsby is what I think he said. Though it could have been Ownby, or Owenby, or Owensby. It wouldn’t be until sometime much later that I came to understand that in some of our hollers confusion about those names could get you punched or shot at or worse. So I’ll just call him Luther.

Luther nodded. “I died there, you know.”

As you might suppose, this was news to me. “Yes?” I asked rather than affirmed.

“Workin’ on the Fontannee Dam. I drownded. I fell in the water and sunk plumb to the bottom and I drownded.”

“Oh my.”

“I can’t swim, you know. So I sunk right to the bottom and drownded.”

I looked a little harder at him. He was wizened, and gaunt and had the grey pallor of a long-time smoker. But he seemed to be very much alive. “And you died?”

“I died. And I saw all my people on the other side of the river. Mamaw and Papaw and aunts and uncles and cousins. My dead brother too, and they was all in white and looked so peaceful. They was wavin’ at me and sayin ‘It’s not your time yet.’”

I didn’t say anything, only nodding to let him know I heard.

“Then I was up on the bank. Some fellas had fetched me up off the bottom and hauled me out.” He shook out another cigarette and before he lit up he looked hard at me and said, “Water is one of the powers, you know.” Before I could reply he added, “That was the second time I died.” Then he lit his smoke.

“What was the first?” was the obvious question.

“We was livin’ in cabins while we built the Fontanee Dam, you know. And they had screen windows. And one night when I was sleepin’ a terrible lightnin’ storm came around and the lightnin’ came in through that screen and set me on fire, and I died.”

“Oh, my!”

“Lightnin’s one of the powers, you know.”

I nodded again.

“But then an angel looked in at me, through a window in a wall where there wasn’t a window, and the angel said it wasn’t my time. And so I was still alive.” He paused and added, “Alive that is, you know, until I drownded.” He then lapsed into silence, smoking his cigarette while I tried to think of something to say.

Finally, I asked, “Did you say Nantahalee?” He simply nodded. So I thanked him for the advice and headed into the store.

What I later understood was that he was suggesting the Nantahala river and that he’d worked on the Fontana Dam which was built in the 1940s as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority effort to electrify much of the central south. You could say that before the TVA was established pretty much all of the technology in the region was wireless. Other than a telegraph wire along the railroad and barbed wire around the cattle, I suppose. Oh, and the Biltmore House which had electricity from the get-go. George Vanderbilt had money. You might say the Vanderbilts were one of the powers.

In the years since Luther made his suggestion I’ve rafted on the Nantahala, and at least in the gorge you really wouldn’t want to use a canoe. The white water is pretty fast and the drops pretty steep. Back when Luther worked on the dam I’m sure the gorge was a really remote location, but today it is easily accessible. Tourists by the raft-load run the river, dodging boulders and kayakers. Fontana Village is a well developed vacation resort.

But back before the TVA moved in, many sections of this region were extremely isolated. A native I met while I lived in Broad River Township, down south of Black Mountain, was named Luny Gilliam. Luny told me that growing up in the early 1950s there was no road to Black Mountain which is now the closest commercial center. Broad River even shares the Black Mountain ZIP code.

Luny told me, “You couldn’t buy a job here. And we’d load our apples on a wagon and take the dirt road to Hendersonville. That meant an overnight trip because you couldn’t make it there and back again in a day on a wagon.”

Another example of that isolation is a widow woman I worked for in Broad River from time to time. I put a new clutch in Pearlee Ledbetter’s pickup, and did repairs on her tractor, and even painted her barn. It had stood there unpainted for decades, perhaps a century or more, an unpainted, weathered gray. Pearlee told me she had always wanted it to be red, and it was one thing she wanted to see before she died. In exchange for my work, she let me farm an acre of bottom land for a couple of seasons. Pearlee was one of 13 children, and her dead husband was one of 13 children, and 12 of each set of siblings had married into the other. There weren’t other choices available. I think she had been an Owenby. Or an Owensby.

Luny told me once that he was more than a little upset when his son went all the way to Asheville to find a wife. Today that’s a half hour drive but in Luny’s youth Asheville might just as well have been Charlotte or Chicago or Shanghei – it was distant and foreign and strange.

Pearlee is long gone now, as is the barn. In its place is the fairly grand entrance to a gated community that replaced her farm, a place intentionally fenced off from the rest of the valley. Sixty years ago there was no paved road from Broad River to urban civilization and today there’s a gate on one of the recently paved roads to keep people out.

The railroad came to Western North Carolina in the late 19th century, reaching Asheville in 1880. Soon afterward George Vanderbilt began to make regular visits to the area, ended up buying everything he could see, and built an estate. Though we tend to focus on the immense wealth, architecture, landscaping and forestry practices he engendered, it’s worth noting that it was the railroad that brought Vanderbilt here and enabled the easy tourism of New Yorkers and others from eastern cities to these mountains. It ended the isolation of the towns and villages along the rails. Within 10 years of the train’s arrival, Asheville’s population swelled from 2,500 to more than 10,000.

Farmers had new markets and residents had more available commercial goods. Life was busier and arguably better, certainly for most people.

In the early 1900s, Edith Vanderbilt, Charlotte Yale and Eleanor Vance teamed up to create a combination training and marketing effort, teaching various crafts and providing an outlet to the wider world. This became Biltmore Industries, heavily dependent on the railroad to market its wares. That business continues today.

A company called Manual Woodworkers and Weavers was founded in 1932 in the Hickory Nut Gorge – in Gerton. It appears in retrospect that it was modeled on the success of Biltmore Industries. They organized local weavers and crafters who worked at home and the company made the connection to the railroad and out-of-state markets.

Once electrification hit, everything speeded up. Electricity meant knitting mills and manufacturing plants and canneries. Stokely foods canned vegetables and Gerber arrived to bottle baby food, while Ball moved in to make canning jars. Growing industry meant there were road-building jobs as well. New and better roads improved the connectivity of all kinds of local producers to more distant markets.

Luny, the apple grower I mentioned earlier, told me a story that relates to the expanding market here. In the 1950s, as I noted, Luny’s family hauled their apples to Hendersonville, At least they hauled the apples that weren’t converted to apple jack right in the valley. From the time of Johnny Appleseed, and surely long before that, a major impetus for growing apples was alcohol production. The same was true for corn, and clandestine distilleries were soon using Ball jars to bottle their product.

As roads improved Luny’s clan used a truck instead of a wagon. When the market expanded they were able to sell their apples to produce distributors who shipped the fruit to a much wider area. The funny part of Luny’s story involved television. Gerber baby food was running TV ads that promised to reveal the entire recipe for Gerber’s apple sauce. The ad featured a slowly tumbling, perfectly formed, blemish-free, Red Delicious apple. As the perfect apple landed the announcer intoned, “Apples, just apples.”

Luny’s punch line was this: all the apple growers in the region knew that the local Gerber plant was the market of last resort. If your apples were so bad that no one else would even consider buying them, you always knew you could sell them for baby food.

By the time I moved here just more than 35 years after Luther drownded while building the Fontana Dam there were satellite dishes beside a whole lot of homes in Broad River and everywhere else in these mountains. That’s why Luny was seeing Gerber ads on TV. In half a lifetime this place had changed from insular and isolated to being literally and figuratively plugged into the world. A boy who had grown up in a remote backwater holler had become an adult cracking jokes about Madison Avenue advertising.

But that was only a beginning, as we’ve seen in the 35 years since.

It is entirely possible that the changes wrought by the railroad and or rural electrification were more significant than the ongoing communication revolution… but the jury is still out and we’ll presumably have a more definitive conclusion 35 years hence.

Electricity brought effective lighting and power tools into mountain communities, whether for residential or commercial use. It had a huge effect on reading habits, as kerosene lamps gave way to light bulbs. It brought radio and then TV communication, delivering cultural and political change in its wake. It enabled some local craftsmen and artisans to compete with others more northern and urban, though still in a relatively limited market. Producers in the hollers had access to middle-men in a chain of wholesalers and retailers that linked to an ultimate purchaser.

Telecommunications changed everything again. Early phone systems like the party lines I recall from my youth, made local connections easy and cheap, with long distance more or less complicated and expensive enough to inhibit many phone owners. The barriers gradually fell until today most of us experience no difference in cost or difficulty between local and long distance calls.

During and following that same period we saw the Arpanet – a university and military computer system – evolve into the Internet across a World Wide Web. Today, anywhere on earth, you can access the Web. It’s easiest if you have a very local connection like an ethernet or wifi system in your home, but it is publicly available in many places, commercially available in many restaurants and hotels, and technically available via satellite if you have the right equipment.

In some sense there are no more obligatory “hollers” – places where people are technologically cut off from the larger world. A dozen years after I met Luther, when I lived in Broad River, off the grid and up near a ridge, with a phone line that predictably went dead during every other winter ice storm, I could log onto AOL via a dial-up connection. It was like magic.

I died there, you know. I did.

I was responsible for maintaining a couple of miles of private dirt road that serviced a dozen or so homes. Over the years I’d call in a truck load, or a few, of road bond – that’s unwashed gravel – and patch up one stretch or another. On the occasion of my death the driver was making his third delivery of the day and I hopped into the cab to write him a check. He raised the bed and started forward on a fairly flat stretch of road. Suddenly something snapped, the lift piston or a steel rod in the pivot point, and we were rolling sideways down the mountain. We tumbled three-sixty and were gaining speed.

Everything in the cab was floating around, like when astronauts used to train in those padded airplanes, only the cab wasn’t padded. A thermos, a lunch box, a clip board, an empty potato chip bag, my ball point pen, and two men, because of course we weren’t wearing seat belts. Somehow I managed to hold onto the check book.

My life passed before my eyes. First I thought, wow! So this is how my life ends! Then it was scene after scene and face after face and a profound sorrow that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to the people I loved.

None of them were dressed in white, however, and nobody said it wasn’t my time yet.

I flashed on the garden that I hadn’t weeded in weeks. A book I hadn’t finished reading. Did I leave dishes in the sink? Trivia and treasures and regrets and joys speeding by for, what? Seconds? Surely not a full minute, but in dream-time an eternity. Then everything stopped.

A stand of massive chestnut oak trees had broken our fall. Trees are one of the powers, you know.

We were upside down with the cab nose up. When it seemed clear we had stopped moving I pushed open the door. It was more than a dozen feet to the ground. I jumped, he jumped and we scrambled out from under the looming wreck. I was badly bruised, he had a couple of broken ribs.

That was actually the third time I died. But I digress.

Today you can run an internet sales business from your home in Broad River, do university level research, join a global chess club, post kitten videos to Youtube, share recipes, watch Jon Stewart, or find your next spouse on Match.com. A weaver in Weaverville can sell her creations to a buyer in Britain via Etsy. The buyer in Britain can sell the weaving to another in Malaysia via eBay. The buyer in Malaysia can sell it to a collector in Franklin via Bonanza or YardSellr – two of the many up and coming competitors in the person-to-person online marketing business.

There are financial barriers but they are falling fast. A three hundred dollar cell phone has more computing power than the computers that landed astronauts on the moon and is arguably a more effective communication tool than the radio the astronauts used to announce “Houston, we have a problem.”

That smart phone can take pictures and videos, transmit selfies around the globe, browse Web sites, find parking places, tap into restaurant reviews and provide driving directions to addresses you’ve never visited before, tune in to music or news both audio and video, be swiped at a checkout like a credit card or accept credit card payments and check your status on Facebook or tweet on Twitter, do conference calls and watch cute kittens frolicking in kitchen sinks or dressed up as Santa Claus.

To give you some sense of the scale of this communications revolution – people upload 400,000 hours of video to YouTube and over 350 million photos to Facebook –EVERY DAY.

Amidst all those Gee-Whiz apps, it seems to me that the two game-changing functions are for commercial transactions and social networking.

Following World War II, television became a great divider in our country as people opted to stay at home on the sofa instead of getting out in the world. Club memberships dropped, church attendance fell, bowling leagues dissipated, and local sports teams lost audience to 24-7 coverage of professional games. That’s because it represented the high point of one-way communication. They talked. We listened.

Today there is a very real sense of global community emerging, most famously on Facebook, but in myriad other social sites. People are exposing and sharing emotions and ideas that are often buried in old-fashioned face-to-face interactions. It’s really no wonder that people are falling in love online, and breaking up as well. Honesty is a two edged sword. But it goes far beyond one-to-one connections. Interest groups are coalescing without regard to geography, and local groups are recruiting more effectively than they have for decades.

And meanwhile the internet has become an economic leveler, at least among the 99 percent. As I noted earlier, anyone, anywhere can compete in a global marketplace, a market of both goods and ideas.

A Luny Gilliam growing up in Broad River today could find work as a game programer in Chicago or do day-trading on the New York Stock Exchange without leaving home.

The only threat to this wide-open communications system is financial. Some companies would very much prefer to peddle different levels of service so that the high dollar players would get faster service and the low dollar players be relegated to the slow lane. In other words, poor folks would be isolated in the electronic hollers, the backwaters of commerce. This raises the issue known as net neutrality, and it involves the idea of a last mile.

The World Wide Web is an incredibly complex network of server farms, fiber-optic cable, switching devices, radio communication and much much more stuff that few, perhaps nobody, actually understands. But to tie into that Web I need to find a place to plug in either physically or via wi-fi, and the company which makes my connection possible owns the so-called “last mile.”

Advocates of net neutrality raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content, to offer premium speed, and even to block out competitors.

Opponents claimed net neutrality regulations would deter investment into improving broadband infrastructure and try to fix something that isn’t broken.

On February 26 of this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service. By defining it as a common carrier, the FCC decreed that the playing field will be level. No company can relegate some customers to the hollers and elevate others to the Biltmore House.

Like water and lightning and the Vanderbilts and ancient oak trees, the FCC, it seems, is one of the powers.

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The Ten Non-Commandments

  1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  1. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  1. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  1. Every person has the right to control of their body.
  1. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  1. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  1. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  1. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  1. There is no one right way to live.
  1. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

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Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Mr. Rogers vs. Thomas Hobbes on the human inclination toward trust, empathy and friendship.

by Cecil Bothwell

(This is a talk delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Franklin, NC, Dec. 7, 2014)

(sung) It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Mr. Rogers became famous for his TV show that emphasized friendship, cooperation and neighborliness. Thomas Hobbes was famous for his pronouncements on the human condition. Probably Hobbes’ most famous elocution stated that absent civilization the life of man was “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

That’s why I set the two against each other in the subtitle of my talk today.

Its not that Hobbes was principally a negative sort of fellow, and some call him a progenitor of modern liberalism. Yet, his characterization of pre-civilized humans has turned out to be wildly off the mark.

fred rogers copy

Actually, studies of Cro-Magnons or what modern scientists refer to as European early modern humans, show that they were quite healthy. Furthermore they lived in tribal groups, so they weren’t solitary; they had tools and clothing, so they weren’t necessarily poor; they invented separation of labor with men doing the hunting and women doing the gathering and child rearing, which doesn’t seem inherently nasty; they had enough leisure time to paint the amazing cave art in Altamira and elsewhere around the world, which doesn’t strike me as brutish; and almost certainly lived longer than most people in early cities.

Once we began to civilize ourselves, which really refers to the agricultural revolution that allowed towns and cities to grow, the human diet tended to get a lot worse before it got better. People became shorter due to nutritional deficiencies, they had more tooth problems due to the change in diet, and diseases got passed around much more efficiently due to crowding, lack of sanitation and the poor nutrition, so we were sicker, sicklier, and died earlier.

To digress from my main theme for a moment, the tooth problem was particularly an issue in Egypt, where the available rock for grinding grain was sandstone. In other places grinding tools were made with harder rock. Egyptian flour was consequently full of grit which eroded tooth enamel. A common cause of early death in Ancient Egypt was infection permitted by serious tooth decay caused by sand in the bread. So much for the bread of life.

The rise of agriculture meant that wealth could be accumulated since large harvests could be stored. In fact, harvests had to be stored, because instead of depending on a steady supply of foraged food, major crops were harvested seasonally. Whoever controlled that food storage suddenly controlled the lives of the people dependent on the food, and soon the fellow who might have been the head man in a tribe (which usually meant the best hunter) turned into a king or a priest, and huge disparities in wealth became common. Great wealth and piles of food were a fine target for barbarians who engaged in looting wars. And a collateral effect was that once large populations became dependent on farmed food, crop failure could easily cause local famine. Hunter/gatherers rarely starve to death because they follow their food supply.

So to correct Thomas Hobbes, once we began to become what he would have called civilized, life for most humans became much poorer, much nastier, much more brutish, and a lot shorter.

Civilization is not the cause of human success. It is actually one effect of the thing that made us successful, which I have decided to call the Mr. Rogers Syndrome.

The Mr. Rogers Syndrome precisely contradicts one of Thomas Hobbes’ most famous statements, “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”

To get a handle on Mr. Rogers’ profound insight it’s helpful to start with ants, bees, wasps and termites. Edward O. Wilson is easily the most famous ant lover on earth and he explains this idea in his latest book, The Meaning of Human Existence. Wilson offers a particularly fascinating fact. Ants, bees, wasps and termites comprise about 20,000 species, a very small fraction of the million or more insect species on earth. That is, less than 2 percent. Yet those critters compose more than half the total body weight of insects on earth. They are very, very successful.

What makes these few types of insects different from all of the others is the Mr. Rogers Syndrome – or what scientists call eusociality.

Eusocial is spelled with “E-U” before the word “social” and it refers to animals that engage in cooperative brood care (including brood care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups.

In all the long history of evolution on our planet, all the many multiple millions, perhaps it’s billions, of life forms that have blossomed and disappeared, or emerged and morphed into the creatures we know today, eusocial behavior has only emerged about 20 separate times, and most of it belongs to that group of insects. In addition there are three species of shrimp, two species of mole-rats, and homo sapiens.

The golden rule is pretty powerful, and pretty common in the animal world. A lot of animals share food and defense and treat each other fairly, but the big difference for ants and mole rats and human beings is the division of labor and a baby-sitting co-op.

For instance, one of the explanations offered for why we beat out the Neanderthals about 40,000 years ago is that they never figured out a division of labor. So everyone went hunting. Everyone picked berries. Everyone fought battles. Their culture was consequently less efficient in accumulating resources, and that contributed to their extinction. Also there’s strong evidence that we cross-bred with them, and some evidence that we ate them.

It’s the Mr. Rogers Syndrome that made the civilization that Hobbes loved possible. Despite the fact that early civilization was worse for many individuals, on the whole and over thousands of years it was better for most. Once wide scale trade emerged, local famine was less frequent. As we realized cleanliness mattered, disease abated, and so forth.

It is sometimes observed that a greedy, strong individual, or a greedy, powerful nation, can take advantage of their strength to steal things from their generous, sharing neighbors, but that tends to lead to short term gain because the neighbors react.

From an evolutionary standpoint, one major strength of a community is its ability to deal with adversity and to ward off attacks. If a group of animals or humans operates only on self-interest, what emerges is the condition Hobbes referred to as “a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man … wherein men live without other security.” Over time the cooperative community wins and reinforces the tendency of its members to cooperate.

The Mr. Rogers Syndrome is the reason we find we can and do trust other people most of the time. Except for the most paranoid among us, our default attitude is trust.

To take a particularly clear example, most modern American adults drive cars or trucks on two lane roads, often at fairly high speeds. We place enormous trust in the oncoming drivers to not be suicidal, drunk, asleep, texting, or reaching behind the seat for a thermos of coffee. Without that implicit trust, none of us would drive anywhere.

And the thing is, most people are trustworthy, though we know that some are not, and some can be trusted in certain circumstances but not in others.

Trusting has huge advantages, as does being trustworthy.

For example, if you are the person tending a home fire and cooking up a pot of stew, the returning hunter needs to trust that you didn’t decide to experiment with some new mushroom you found that might kill everyone who comes to dinner.

And if you are the hunter roaming long distances to bring home the bacon, the person at home needs to trust that you are good at hunting and will come home with the protein, or there won’t be any stew left when you get back to the cave. If the folks at home don’t trust you, they might not even be home when you get there.

This plays out in fascinating ways in our modern world.

Some researchers did an experiment in restaurants. If some items on a restaurant menu are marked with an asterisk, with a note at the bottom of the page that indicates that those are the most popular items, sales of those dishes always increases by 12-19 percent. We not only trust the opinion of other diners, but we trust the restaurateur to tell us the truth about the other diners’ opinions.

If the restaurateur cheats and simply puts asterisks beside items she wants to sell, either to get rid of an overstock, or because the items are more profitable, it doesn’t take long for diners to realize that the advice on the menu is flawed. Business slumps.

We depend on each others’ opinions all the time, and that saves time and money as well. The reason the cheating restaurant loses business is because we talk to each other and news of untrustiness travels fast. Before you spend $10 to see a movie or buy a book, you probably either hear a positive comment from a friend, or read a review from a trusted reviewer. We trust our bankers and lawyers and mechanics and carpenters and grocers and nurses and doctors and day care workers and teachers and utility companies and insurance companies, all in more or less degree – but we mostly trust them, or we simply couldn’t function.

Psychologists like to invent games to investigate how people interact and one variety of game is called a Trust Game. Here’s how one trust game works. It’s called the Lost Wallet. Players are anonymous, seated at computers in separate cubicles. Player One is told that he has found a wallet which contains $150 and a note. There is no I.D., no credit card, nothing but $150 and a note. The note says he is free to keep the money, and no one else will ever know, or he can send the wallet to Player Two who will receive $300. Player Two may or may not send some of the money back to Player One as a reward.

The logical, selfish response would be to keep the $150. No one will know. Player Two is a stranger, so benefiting her isn’t necessarily a good idea. And Player Two may not send any money back.

In repeated testing 90 percent of people in the Player One position send the money to Player Two, and 95 percent of the second players send some money back to Player One.

Different versions of this test have been done over and over and over again. We trust complete strangers and our trust is well-founded.

More broadly, this is the source of the social power of Facebook. We are more trusting of those we know well, say those in our families, or our immediate circle of friends. But we also trust Facebook “friends” – people we may never meet face-to-face – but with whom we share some level of commonality. It allows the formation of a meaningful sense of community in the social media world. We share news, stories, humor, tragedy, and lots of videos of kittens and puppies.

On the flip side, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and other internet companies mine our data, looking for things we like and advertising them to our friends, knowing that we have shared tastes. And the very best advertising of all is if a company can tell you that your trusted friend liked something.

You may be familiar with the online encyclopedia called Wikipedia. A Wiki is a project to which many people or everyone can contribute, and Wikipedia has become the go-to source for many of us who use the internet. At first many people scoffed at the idea that everyone could get together and create a meaningful encyclopedia, because it would be so prey to misinformation from the uninformed or the intentionally duplicitous. In fact it is so effectively self-correcting that within a few years of its startup, Microsoft quit trying to compete with its Encarta software. We can trust all of us most of the time.

To take another internet example, look at eBay. The principal reason the site became so successful is the system that permits buyers and sellers to rate each other. Trust is reinforced when strangers you will never meet have reported that other transactions with a seller you will never meet have been positive. Trust begets trust. This idea has spread and many retail companies provide a forum for consumer opinion on their product pages.

Religions offer an interesting take on trust.

To start with, some religions teach that human beings are born in sin and are basically bad unless they are saved by faith or by one or another god or sacrifices to those other gods. It’s interesting that such beliefs gain any following at all, since they so directly conflict with our everyday experience. Very few people see a newborn infant and think of it as evil incarnate. And most of us are able to trust our intimate circle of friends and family and are unlikely to think of them first as sinful or inherently bad. Yet many people trust what they are told by others or in books said to be divinely inspired.

Most wars involve people on both sides praying for success. The same is true of high school basketball games. But there are always winners and losers. Still, many people trust that prayers are answered.

It seems miracles usually happen to someone else, somewhere else, far removed in space or time, but still people believe, apparently because they trust the reporter or the shaman or the priest. Trust is often more powerful than our personal experience.

Why is that? Did we evolve with some basic propensity to trust? Is it hard-wired into our brains?

The answer seems to be “yes.”

Our bodies produce a couple of hormones that incline us to trust each other. One is oxytocin (ox-ee-toh-sin) which is sometimes called the “bonding hormone.” Production is particularly ramped up after childbirth and seems to play a part in cementing the mother/child bond. This is true of all mammals. According to researcher Larry Young at Emory University the hormone “is there to make the mother think that this baby is the most important thing in the world, and I’ll do whatever I need to take care of that child.”

But it isn’t just present in new mothers. All of us produce extra oxytocin when we are happy and it makes us feel calm and pleasant. Interestingly, oxytocin production has been shown to increase when we help other people. A feeling of empathy is particularly likely to trigger oxytocin release. Everything from a sappy movie to petting your dog can trigger it.

To circle back to Facebook, if you’ve used it or other social media you know how often people post pictures and videos of both happy puppies and kittens and stories of abused ones. You read of other people’s personal losses, illnesses, work-place problems and more. All of these tend to arouse empathy and therefore oxytocin release. It’s no wonder many Facebook users feel a strong sense of community there.

Oxytocin works in combination with other pleasure hormones such as dopamine. Dopamine is closely associated with pleasure and reward, and is released when we have rewarding experiences including food and sex. Both of these hormones operate on some of the oldest parts of our brains, that is to say, the parts we share with many so-called “lower animals.”

We also seem to have a built-in drive for reciprocity. The common saying is “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” If you’ve ever watched non-human primates grooming each other you know that this inclination long predates our descent from the trees.

Another psychology experiment reveals how innate that drive can be.

A waitress was recruited to perform the test. The experiment went this way: For some diners Nicole delivered just the check at the end of the meal. For other diners Nicole delivered the check and two pieces of chocolate for each diner at the table. For still other diners Nicole delivered the check and one piece of chocolate for each diner, stepped away from the table and then turned back and offered the diners a chance to take another piece of chocolate from the basket she was carrying.

The diners who were given two pieces of chocolate with their checks showed a slight increase in their tips over those who got no candy. But the diners who were given one piece and then offered another increased their tips by an average of 21 percent over the two chocolate diners. It seems that their sense that they were being treated a little differently, that the waitress was going out of her way for them, increased their sense of obligation to reciprocate.

The important thing about reciprocity is that we all know that we all tend to feel that way. So we aren’t simply guessing when we do something generous for someone else, we know that what goes around comes around.

What our trust, our sense of reciprocity, our oxytocin and dopamine levels do, working together, is to help create social norms. Those norms are very powerful.

Social norms keep us trustworthy. We don’t dig into the cash register even though the clerk has gone to the back room. We don’t park in front of fire hydrants even though we figure we could get away with it while we run a quick errand. We pay our tab in a crowded bar even though we could pretty easily slip away. We are trustworthy even when no one’s watching, because we have deeply shared standards for our conduct. And those standards are shared in large part because we want to feel good about ourselves. We want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and like what we see.

And recent psycho-social research has demonstrated that we feel best when we are part of a group. We actually feel more ourselves when we are part of something larger – whether it’s a congregation, a cult or a book club.

In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments and creating an objective science of morality.

Hobbes imagined what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all.”

But in fact, we were already good before we came up with civilization, with religion, with government. We are good because we evolved to be good. We evolved to cooperate. We evolved to trust.

(sung) It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Won’t you please,

Won’t you please,

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

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By CECIL BOTHWELL

Following Billy Graham’s 95th birthday bash at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, many observers deemed the guest list unfortunate, perhaps unrepresentative, of Graham’s career. Donald Trump? Sarah Palin?

Some blamed son Franklin for the rightwing/corporate tilt among invited guests, accusing the son of tainting Dad’s image.

Such criticism is unfounded. In Graham’s myriad authorized biographies, one can’t miss endless photo-ops with the rich and powerful. Graham was ever eager to shake hands of presidents and despots, movie stars and industrial kingpins, and to offer grandiose approval of their greatness.

To read more, click here.

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Some scenes from my latest book: She Walks On Water, a novel (Brave Ulysses Books, 2013)

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8th Grade Commencement Speech

Francine Delaney New School for Children

June 4, 2013

by Cecil Bothwell

 

You are about to step out of your childhood, a step that will take the next four years of your life.

 

High school is where you will learn the basics about being an adult, about taking charge of your own life, about taking responsibility for your own finances and about steering your own education for the rest of your life.

 

Really learning how to learn is the most important lesson you’ll gain from these next few years, if you pay attention and take advantage of the opportunities high school offers.And the most important lessons may come when you least expect them.

 

In terms of earning a living, the two most important experiences in my entire education came when I was about your age. In geometry class I learned the Pythagoran Theorem which involves the relationship between the three sides of a right triangle – that is, a three-sided figure where one corner is 90 degrees.

 

At the same time, in Boy Scouts, I earned Home Repairs merit badge—that’s a badge you earn for learning how to use screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, saws, drills and other basic tools to fix things around your house.

 

Most of my adult life I have used those tools and the Pythagorean Thereom to build and remodel houses. If your house is square and level you can thank some carpenter’s geometry teacher.

 

My most important teacher, not counting Miss Nanette who taught me how to read in First Grade, was a man named Dr. Harold B. Bender. He was my 11th and 12th grade chemistry teacher, and he taught me everything I needed to know to continue my education for the rest of my life. Was it chemistry? No.

He taught me how to use a library to conduct research, how to track down essential information, how to sort facts from fiction, and how to use multiple sources so that I arrived at the best possible understanding of a problem and its solutions. If he were alive today, he’d be teaching students how to optimize internet search engine results.

 

How did that help me? Well, in my first career, as a builder, I knew how to use geometry and tools, but there was a whole lot I didn’t know about specific building skills. I had started out as a mason – that’s a person who builds with bricks and blocks and stone. In 1980 I traveled to Alaska because I wanted to see the big northern wilderness – and I did see glaciers and grizzly bears and moose and lynx and big horned sheep and Mt. McKinley and all the rest. And I figured I’d find work as a mason to pay my way.

 

Wrong. They have so many small earthquakes up there that nobody builds anything with bricks and blocks – they just shake apart. But because I had learned to read blueprints in an eighth grade shop class, I got a job as a foreman on a carpentry crew. Unfortunately I had never built a wooden house – so I went to the library and checked out some books. Each night I’d read about what we had to do the next day, and suddenly I was an expert! (At the same time, I asked the carpenters working for me a lot of questions.) When I came back south I became a general contractor, and built homes and did remodeling for another twenty years.

 

Along the way, I began my second career, as a writer. Here my chemistry teacher’s lessons really paid off. I became a newspaper reporter and editor, I won awards for investigative reporting and have written nine books. Along the way the library grew to include the whole world, when the internet was invented and computers extended research around the globe.

When I was in 8th grade, I thought I would grow up to be a herpetologist. That’s a scientist who studies amphibians and reptiles. I was fascinated with snakes and turtles. In my high school years I had 16 pet snakes and did presentations for Scout troops and school clubs. I was a summer camp counselor when I was 17, and taught all of the nature related merit badges to other scouts. I was certain my future was in science.

 

What I learned along the way was that my future was actually in learning how to do whatever I needed to do in order to do the things I wanted to do. Learning how to learn was the most important lesson of all. Oh, I still think snakes are fascinating, and I’m always available to catch rattlesnakes and copperheads if my neighbors find them in the garden. I take them way out in the national forest and let them go. But I’ve never made a nickel on herpetology.

 

Now here’s the thing I really want to tell you today, as you take your next big steps toward adulthood. You won’t really believe me for about eight or ten more years, but if I tell you this now, I think you’ll have a lot higher likelihood of being alive eight or ten years from now, and maybe then you’ll think back to this day and think: Hmm, that old geezer wasn’t as much of a fool as I thought back then.

 

Your bodies and your emotions are growing up fast right now, and your brain is right behind. What scientists have proven in recent years is that the part of a human brain where good judgment comes from isn’t developed and fully formed until you are 20-22 years old. That’s not a criticism, that’s a physical fact. Right now, inside your head, you do not have the wiring to easily know better.

 

Your parents might say to you, “You should know better than to go out in freezing rain without a coat!” but actually, you don’t. A teacher might say, “You should know better than to turn in a term paper with doodled cartoons in the margins!” But, actually, you don’t .

 

There will be a whole lot of experiences over the next few years when you’ll do something pretty stupid, and then argue, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

 

That’s why so many young adults take stupid chances. They climb on slippery rocks at the top of waterfalls. They drive too fast, or drive while texting, or sometimes even get hold of some beer and drive while drunk. They hang out with the wrong crowd and get tempted into doing things they might not have thought of on their own, or get into bad situations where someone gets sexually assaulted or into a fight or gets bullied. Trust me, you won’t avoid it all. But with a little bit of smarts you can navigate through these next several years with minimal damage to yourself and the people around you.

 

Even though, as I said, you currently lack the part of your brain that will make that much easier ten years from now.

 

To help you out, I’ll now pass along the most important life lesson I learned in school. This was from a Commuinty College professor named Dave Ehlert. It was in a Humanities Class, which is a class where you study how the arts and literature and theater and sports and history and science all come together to create the world we live in.

 

Dave told us this: If you want to live in world where people drive the speed limit, the first step is to drive the speed limit.

 

Now that seems pretty simplistic, doesn’t it. But it is actually pretty deep.

 

At the most basic level, most people want other people who drive throught their neigborhoods to drive the speed limit, to drive carefully, because their children and their pets and their friends and their neighbors are all less likely to get hurt or killed if people obey the speed limit. The reason we have speed limits is because we have agreed as a community that there need to be some rules so we can all live together happily. We’re all better off if we all play by the rules.

 

In a way, that’s no different from sports. Basketball and baseball and football and tennis and volleyball and ping pong and horseshoes … all of it, would make no sense at all if everyone made up their own rules.

 

So if you want your neighborhood to be safe from speeding cars, the first step is not to speed yourself. And if you apply that everywhere, then you’ll be encouraging everyone to do the same, and make everyone’s neighborhood safer. And every driver safer too, since mistakes at high rates of speed are more likely to cause accidents than mistakes at slower speeds.

 

But if you apply that rule throughout your life you’ll find that it helps over and over again.

 

Do you want to be in a school where people don’t cheat on tests? Then don’t cheat on tests.

Do you want to live in a town where your money is safe in the bank? Then don’t rob banks.

Do you want to be part of a world in which everyone is treated fairly? Then treat everyone fairly.

Do you want to drive a car safe from drunk drivers who do really stupid things? Then don’t drive drunk.

Do you feel better when people don’t make fun of you? Then don’t make fun of other people.

 

You see, it goes on and on. And many of you have probably noticed that it is nothing more than a special case of the Golden Rule. Do on to others as you would have them to onto you.

 

From my perspective though, the specific rule is often more useful. The Golden Rule? Well, sure, we should always do that.

Drive the speed limit? Oh, right. More times than I can possibly report, over these many years, I have been in a hurry, and tempted to speed through a neighborhood and abruptly recall Dave’s lesson. And I slow down.

 

And the lesson doesn’t just have to be negative.

 

Do you want to experience a community where people express their love and affection for others? Then tell the people you care about how much you care.

Do you want to live in a world where who you are counts more than how much money you have? Then choose friends and heroes for who they are regardless of how rich they might be.

Do you want to be allowed to express your creativity? Then express it, and congratulate your friends who paint or write poetry or dye their hair six different colors or play guitar or draw cartoons.

Do you want to live in a world of happy people? Then do what makes you happy.

 

We make the world around us every day, by being who we are, by doing what we do, by sharing what we share. The most important lesson you will learn in the next few years is how to learn to be who you are, and to be who you are to the very best of your ability. No matter what someone else tells you you ought to do. No matter what someone else thinks is impossible for you to do.

 

We old folks are more excitied than you can imagine, waiting to see what kind of world you create for yourselves. I certainly hope you have fun.

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I’ll be delivering something like the following (draft) lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Franklin (NC) this morning. Happy Earthday everyone!

Water, water everywhere?
by Cecil Bothwell

 (sung)

“The river flows, it flows to the sea Wherever that river goes that’s where I want to be

“Flow river flow, let your waters wash down Take me from this road to some other town”

Depending on your age, and depending a great deal on my voice, you may recognize that as the Ballad of Easy Rider by the Byrds. It struck me as appropriate to my topic today.

 

Our lovely planet, dubbed the blue planet because oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface, is facing what we ought to consider a permanent drought.

How can that be? What’s causing the problem? What can we do about it?

 

The first piece of that puzzle derives from the same fact I just stated. That 71 percent of the earth’s surface contains 95 percent of the water. All of the rivers, lakes, glaciers, plants, animals and clouds share the other 5 percent. That 5 percent is what we call fresh water. The salty stuff is okay for swimming, for cooling power plants, and for all of the animals and plants that are adapted to exist in the sea – but it is of very limited use to human beings and other terrestrial life forms. If you drink it, it makes you dehydrated because it takes more water to get the salt out of your body than the amount you drink.

When you frame it in the old question about whether the glass is half full or half empty, you’d say that a glass full of sea water actually makes the next glassful half empty.

Presently we divert more than half of the liquid fresh water on earth to human uses, leaving less than half for the rest of our companions on big blue. Of course, those figures like all statistics, can be read in different ways. And an important thing about water is that it is constantly shared. No one keeps it for long, in any form other than inside a wine bottle, and even that is likely to be poured out sooner than later.

 

But, the other side of that argument is that we change the water we use: not so much in our own bodies, but when we filter it, add chlorine and fluoride, heat it, use it for washing our clothes and our industrial machinery, or drain it through fertilizer and pesticide laden fields.

 

As another aside, one of the coolest things you can tell a child is that we’ve had the same water on this planet since water first puddled up when the planet cooled enough for it to exist in liquid form. The glass of water you drink today was drunk in the past by dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers, and Aristotle and Vincent VanGogh, and queens and princes and aboriginal Australians and Ghengis Khan’s Mongol horde. The first fish that crawled up on land to evolve into amphibians and lizards and mammals and birds came out of that glass, and the hippopotamus cousins that went back to the sea to evolve into dolphins and whales dove into that glass. If the youngster is still listening, you can add that a baby is about 75 percent water, an average adult is about 50 percent water, and we continue drying out all our lives until we finally die and give back all of that water to the planet. So, when you were born, 75 percent of your new self was once a dinosaur.

Salt water can be desalinated, but that’s a very energy-intensive process. Under traditional methods the water is heated and the steam is collected and condensed. It uses so much energy that the only countries that have done it at a large scale are oil rich water poor countries in the mid-east.

A newer and cheaper method uses membranes to filter out the salt – but even that requires the water to be forced through the membrane and that requires substantial energy to accomplish. Energy is a big factor for another reason as well, and I’ll come back to that in just a bit.

The reason life forms that we know and love evolved on this planet—from bunny rabbits to broccoli, to warblers, to human beings—though not in that order—is because our planet’s atmosphere is constantly desalinating ocean water for us, powered by the incredible energy of the sun. And on much of the planet that fresh water is delivered free as rain and snow and hail and sleet and slizzle and fog.

That free delivery system is part of a central conundrum about water, which is this: How do you price water? Or to ask that another way, what is fresh water worth? If you were dying of thirst, you would literally pay whatever price was asked for a sip, even everything you owned. If you were clinging to a tree in the midst of the rising water of a flood, about to be swept away, you would literally pay whatever price was asked to get rid of the water—or, more realistically—for a helicopter to swoop in and save you.

The price we pay for water in this lovely, lush, green, mountainous, thinly populated place we inhabit is for delivery. If you have a well, you pay an electric bill or have a windmill. If you have a spring above your home, you pay for piping and a reservoir. If you’re on City water, you pay for building and operating the system that gets water to your faucet. But the water is free.

In eastern North America, water has been essentially free forever. And that’s the second reason we ought to begin to consider ourselves facing a permanent state of drought. Our homes, our facilities, our industry, our habits, our aesthetics, have been well watered, and we waste an awful lot of the stuff. Moreover, because of the systems we have invented which are based on free water, we have an infrastructure that won’t work very well with less.

Our love affair with lawns can change, though there are plenty of suburban homeowners who are unlikely to give up their riding mowers until their cold dead fingers are pried from the steering wheel. But our sewer system is a lot less flexible. Toilet design has been pushed to the lower limit of how much water is required to flush. Our plumbing consigns all waste water to the same pipes, despite the fact that wash water from your bath and sinks and laundry could be reused before it heads for the treatment plant. We’ve installed millions of garbage disposals that wash down food scraps that have fertilizer value as compost, and that clog up our sewers, but whose convenience is seductive. And there are waterless urinals now, but they require storage tanks that must later be pumped—so again we’re talking energy.

 

Now, to get back to the natural desalinization, as you know, the evaporation of water from the sea along with transpiration of plants, puts fresh water in the air as clouds. Both of these processes are speeded up by warmth. Our planet is getting warmer. Whether or not you agree with most scientists who study our atmosphere that much of that warming has been caused by human activities, there can be no disputing the fact that the world is heating up.

So, hmm, if warmer temperatures evaporate more sea water, that should be good, right? More fresh water for all of us landlubbers.

The fly in that ointment is that a warmer atmosphere is also more volatile. Storms are more likely to be superstorms, rain is more likely to be torrential. And the core problem there is that when huge amounts of rain fall in a short time, more of it runs off, instead of being absorbed into the soil. Wells, springs, creeks, branches, streams and rivers depend on fresh water that is absorbed into the soil and only slowly leaked out over the hottest months of the year.

At the same time, in warmer weather between rain storms, more of the soil moisture evaporates, and the trees continue to suck it up and transpire it into the clouds. So wet times are wetter and dry times are drier. That’s the third reason why we seem to be headed into permanently droughty times.

The fourth reason is one that most people are quite surprised to learn, and again it involves energy. The biggest use of fresh water in a modern economy is for power plants. Thermoelectric plants, that is those systems that use heat and steam and cooling towers, coal, oil, and nuclear plants, use 49 percent of the water humans divert for their purposes. Some of it is sea water, but 45 percent of the fresh water we use goes into those plants. If you have heard about the energy/water connection it probably came from a news story about water shortages or extreme heat causing a plant to shut down. The first time that happened in the U.S. was in 1988, in Illinois. But it is becoming more common, with plants in North Carolina and Georgia facing possible shutdowns during recent summer droughts.

Another wrinkle showed up in 2012, when the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., had to shut down one of its two reactors because seawater was too warm to cool it. A heat wave last summer raised the temperature of Long Island Sound, the first time in the plant’s 37 year history that the intake water was insufficiently cool.

At the other end of the pipes, energy is made more expensive because the waste water from a thermoelectric plant is hot, and therefore requires massive cooling systems in order to protect the environment at the outflow. Sometimes, if a large enough cooling pond can be constructed, water can be reused, but as a matter of dollars and cents, it is much cheaper to intake fresh cool water, then cool the outflow just enough to prevent fish kills and other side effects, and send it back to nature.

This brings us to the fifth reason we need to prepare ourselves for permanent drought. Water use has been growing twice as fast as population growth, causing more and more communities to suffer water shortages. As regions of the world develop, electric power comes into high demand. With the massive populations of China and India moving into modern manufacturing, the industrial demand for power and water ratchets up. Then as more workers achieve some level of wealth, the personal demand for modern sanitation and cleanliness rises as well, together with a diet that shifts toward more meat.

Meat production consumes the majority of grain crops grown in the world, and by some accounts, growing that grain uses 70 percent of the non-energy fresh water used by humans.

The sixth reason drought is going to figure very strongly in our future is the biggie, and its the one that drives all the rest. There are more than 7 billion of us on board spaceship earth. Barring a monumental natural disaster or disease epidemic, we are likely headed toward 10 billion by about 2050.

Different experts offer differing guesses, of course, depending on what is factored into their equations, and some believe we won’t exceed 7.5 billion. That’s still a lot of people.

Population growth is slowing as education and wealth liberate more women from multiple pregnancies, and the benefits of smaller families begin to outweigh traditional beliefs and practices. But population increase is a huge force, and with the majority of the population in developing nations only now reaching child-bearing age, the surge will continue.

So even if we take the best case scenario and reach a high point at 7.5 or 8 billion, as wealth and education increase, water demand rises sharply. Here we come back to the question of what water is worth.

In a rich country like ours, most of us would be willing to pay a little more, and certainly be willing to use a little less. Simply due to a growing evironmental ethic, residents in WNC are using less water per capita than they did a decade ago—at least in their homes. But we sometimes forget that we are using Chinese manufacturing water as well when we purchase a cell phone, and Chilean agricultural water when we eat a fresh apple in April, and taking a virtual sip of water in Mumbai when we phone customer service and reach a call center in India.

 

As I noted early on, a thirsty person can be driven to extremes to get a drink. And a thirsty country is no different. Why did China conquer Tibet in

the 1990s? Possibly partly to find room for an expanding population, partly for the meat —and truckloads of wild animals have been slaughtered and shipped to market—but also to gain control of the headwaters of major Chinese rivers that flow down from the Himalayas. Headwaters which depend on the snowpack laid down during cold Tibetan winters, winters that aren’t so cold any more. Himalayan glaciers are in retreat.

At the same time, climate change is affecting the monsoon rains which are so imperative to the population of the Indian subcontinent.

So the two most populous nations on earth are facing growing water scarcity, and their people are thirsty for development and a better life.

A Pentagon report issued during the G.W. Bush presidency identified climate change and population growth as the two most destabilizing factors in our future. Resource wars could definitely be on the horizon.

 

A much less known report developed during the Nixon and Ford administrations was never released. Here I come to the religious part of my sermon, which I’m sure many of you have been wondering about.

“When is he going to start preaching?”

That report was called the National Security Study Memorandum 200, or NSSM 200 for short. It detailed the security threat to the United States posed by uncontrolled global population growth. It emphasized the need to educate women and make family planning options available to them. It emphasized that such a policy would not be successful unless abortion were included among those options.

The United States Catholic bishops got wind of the report and used every avenue they could find to block release of the report. They stalled it through the Carter administration and the Reagan administration finally scuttled it altogether. Catholic and fundamentalist Protestants continued to press against any such policy, and during the G.W. Bush administration, all funding for any organization that performed abortions was cut, along with a diversion of substantial resources from effective family planning to abstinence-only programs. Had the U.S. implemented the Nixon-Ford plan, the world today would be cleaner, healthier, wealthier on average, and facing far less dire resource scarcity.

The power of religious dogma to do real harm in the world has probably never enjoyed as explicit a demonstration as when the Bishops intervened.

Every manufacturing nation needs feedstock, and competition for what’s left is ramping up quickly. Easily mined minerals have been exhausted around the world. As Arctic ice retreats, all of the northern nations are exploring the seabed for potential exploitation. China and the U.S. are engaged in a bidding war for mineral wealth in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Rare earth minerals, which were rare to start with, are getting more scarce, with China controlling most of world production now. And those minerals are essential to modern technology, in your computer, cell phone, hybrid car and more.

Here in the Southern Appalachians the most valuable resource we have is our pure water. Mountains squeeze clouds as air is forced up to cooler altitudes and no matter how climate change affects big weather patterns, that effect of the mountains will only change over geologic time. It is the core reason why Asheville is fighting to retain control of its water system right now. Our pure mountain water was the reason why knitting and weaving factories emerged here in another century. It’s the reason our regional beers win national awards, and why major breweries are building new facilities here. If we lose control of our water, it may be sold down the mountain to South Carolina and Georgia, or voer the mountains to eastern Carolina for fracking operations. If it is going to be sold as a high value resource, the benefit needs to accrue to the people who have paid for the reservoirs, for the pipes, for protecting the watersheds, and not handed off to commercial interests.

No resource outside of air is more precious than fresh water. To compound our water problem, other resource extraction often impinges on the water that is available, as in the environmental disaster of tar-sands mining in Alberta, or hydraulic fracturing for gas drilling in Pennsylvania and possibly North Carolina, or in copper mine tailings in Chile, or gold mine residues in South Africa.

In sum, I think we need to stop thinking of water as free. We need to stop imagining that water will always be abundant. We need to change our minds, and change our infrastructure to prepare for what, during our prospective lifetimes, will be a permanent drought.

Like the experience of the characters in that movie, Easy Rider, I don’t expect it will be an easy ride.

 

 

“Flow river flow, past the shaded tree Go river, go, go to the sea, flow to the sea, Flow river flow”

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