I might be the last person who should write about the need for balance. As a biology major, establishing a balanced life should have been easy, Ecology 101 teaching me all I needed to know. Only I drank too much and ate poorly, as if the ecological lessons I’d learned in my classes – balance in all things – didn’t apply to me.
Living a balanced life should have been natural, even obvious, given that our planet and everything on it seems to function under an operating system of balance: our bodies are balanced with bilateral symmetry and constantly make internal homeostatic adjustments to keep our insides humming along in a relatively balanced state; our days are balanced by night, evil by good, hot by cold. We try to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy (or know we should). After a night of over indulgence we instinctively take it easy to return our bodies back to balance before sickness takes hold. We try to balance our budgets, our time, our work with play (since either extreme leads to trouble); and we prefer to be in a relationship with a significant other (or better half) for the harmony and balance such a relationship can bring (not that I would know, having failed miserably in this department). Even our football and baseball teams tend to be better when balanced between offense and defense.
All ecosystems are based on balance. If the population of any species becomes too large within its ecological system, it is eventually brought back into balance by predation, starvation, and/or competition. Either that or it destroys its own environment. Mice would cover the planet if not kept in check by owls and hawks, and owls and hawks would fill the skies if not for a limited supply of mice.
They balance each other out, keeping the growth of their populations under control. Unsurprisingly, for those who still doubt our involvement in climate change, the atmosphere also operates under a system of balance in a circular dance between the release and absorption of oxygen and carbon dioxide from plants and animals. Or at least it did before we exponentially increased greenhouse gases through petroleum production while cutting down most of the trees needed to absorb those gases. It’s a simple equation. Why should most of us get bogged down in debates on complex scientific data and models that few fully understand when common sense and a basic understanding of the planet tells us we can’t live unbalanced lives for long before having to face the consequences?
Our government, interestingly enough, is set up on a system of balance between the two dominant parties, failing more often than not because they’re focused on money and power instead of balance and harmony.
Focusing on money and power, however, is also a natural phenomenon. We instinctively search for balance in our lives. It’s intrinsic to who we are, a thread still connecting us to the sensuous world, and yet few seem to attain it, because like all other species, we also strive for growth. Every species would take over the planet if it could, fueled by pleasurable addictions, if they weren’t kept in check by the forces of nature. We humans are on the same path, perhaps even well past our natural threshold thanks to our clever technological accomplishments. But when will the bubble burst? It has to for life on the planet to survive. No other possibility exists.
We strive for growth, for the perpetuation of our species, often manifesting as a desire for money and power. The desire for unchecked capitalism is completely natural. If I look at capitalism only through the prism of my own economy, I’d want it unchecked and unregulated, too. As a biologist – believing in evolution – one might think I’d believe in the strict philosophy of letting the market decide (survival of the fittest). But no one exists, or survives, by themselves. My desire to keep all of my money is individualistic. It’s a fantasy to believe that I am on an island, completely independent, a macho cowboy or caveman living self-sufficiently without the help of others. We are social creatures. We survive and thrive as a whole. I am completely dependent on the society I live in for paved roads, electricity, food, military protection, etc. Like it or not, I’m a member of society, and it is better for me and for all if the society I depend on is healthy, with safety nets (social security, health care, etc.) in place, instead of the crime-filled alternatives. These must come about through a balanced approach.
If we don’t recognize and keep in check our natural desire for growth we will eventually do ourselves in. We compete for growth in the same way a mouse population attempts to take over a field. The mouse lacks the intellectual ability to recognize that if it wasn’t kept in check by nature, it would eventually suffer anyways by depleting its food supply and destroying its habitat. Unfortunately, the survival of the fittest mentality by so many in the human race puts us in the same intellectual category as the lowly mouse, unaware of its fate. We’re smart enough to overcome many of the forces of nature, up to a point, but eventually nature wins. It has to. It’s the only way life on this planet can continue. It has to find a balance.
I hate politics. I’m much more interested in biology and what it teaches us about how we should live on this planet. Politics is about power, about chasing votes; it isn’t about solutions. I like to think of myself as independent, not beholden to either political party. I once identified as liberal, and am still forced to lean left because of my environmental views, but I’ve learned to hate labels. Taking on a label, whether it be political, religious, or a cause (environmentalist, pro-lifer, etc.), is the same as putting up a wall. The label says, this is what I believe, and if you don’t feel the same, you’re on the other side of my wall, so let’s proceed to beat our heads against it for eternity and accomplish nothing. Labels are boxes designed to limit thinking.
There are over 300 million people in the US, so there are over 300 million opinions. How can we govern if we put up uncompromising walls and say my way is the only way? It’s an act against natural law. Balance means that no one gets what they want. It means you act like an adult instead of a two-year old with his foot down refusing to budge, and you share ideas and work together for the common good. Anyone who can’t understand this needs to be sent back to kindergarten to start over, where the concept of balance and how to live in harmony with the planet we live on should be taught every step of the way.
This makes me sound political, which I don’t want to be. I want to focus on balanced solutions that bring us back into balance with the planet that sustains us.
The only hope, in my opinion, is to recognize the need to keep ourselves in balance with nature. To do that, we have to limit our natural desire for unchecked growth. Unchecked capitalism leads to an unhealthy society, creating too big of a division between rich and poor. We all want freedom, but only modified capitalism, with moderate taxes and regulations, can be part of what forces mankind into sustainable living. Some say taxing the rich will remove their incentives to make more money and create more jobs. History says otherwise. Higher taxes in the past didn’t limit economic growth because it’s in our nature to strive for more. The wealthy tended to become wealthy because of this desire. That won’t go away. A higher tax just installs another obstacle on the natural path of pursuing more wealth (not that government spending isn’t out of control, too). There’s nothing wrong with trying to lower taxes with less spending at the right time, when the state of the economy allows it, as long as it’s done fairly across the societal spectrum, recognizing the need to keep society balanced without such huge divisions between the classes, and without eliminating the safety nets we depend on. In other words, a balanced approach. Until we demand what we already instinctively know, for people to compromise and come together in the balanced middle, we will always fail. What we really need to strive for is a green economy, growth that is in balance with nature. Otherwise we’re doomed to follow the same path of all other species, having our unbalanced ways corrected by nature’s will, which will be brutal since we’ve been so good at overcoming nature’s forces for so long.