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“Habits change.  Men doesn’t.”  In 1958, a history professor who had escaped from communist oppression in Hungary, wrote that announcement  on a blackboard.  His English wasn’t all that good yet, but he certainly knew a lot about human behavior. Fifty years later, I’m more convinced than ever that he was right.

Saturday evening I attended a performance of Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” at Washington University. Although written in 1882, the point Ibsen was making applies with as much, or maybe more, eloquence today.  The hero of the play tries to warn the town that their main source of revenue, a health spa, is swirling with polluted water and making visitors sick. The pollution is coming from a tannery which employs many of the townspeople.  Rather than face scientific evidence from a university lab and fix the problem, the town authorities, with help from a co-opted newspaper editor, incite the townspeople to condemn the man trying to do the right thing as an enemy of the people.  Fast forward to 2010.

There are so many examples of the point Ibsen was making that it’s hard to pick one.  CAFO’s? Nuclear waste dumps?  Coal ash from power plants? (which Sen. McCaskill doesn’t think is dangerous, BTW) Concerned Missourians visited state reps and senators on Februrary 3 to present evidence of the need for raising water pollution permit fees. During one of those short visits, a state rep made the comment that he didn’t “believe in” climate change because scientists are not in agreement. (sound of jaws dropping) I have been exchanging emails with that state rep since our little chat, and his “sources” are free-market think tanks disguised as “institutes” and “policy forums.”  This particular state rep once taught geography so I’m holding out hope that evidence gathered by the National Geographic Society and available on the DVD I gave him will eat away at his “belief system.”

Hope?  Did I say hope?  Am I, like President Obama, an eternal optimist or just an old fool

When lawmakers speak candidly about “pay for play” in Jeff City, naive Missourians are shocked. Rep. Curt Daugherty is quoted by the KC Star as saying that Mo legislators might as well put a “for sale” sign in front of the Capitol.  And then this Ibsenism:

“It is not about being right or wrong,” Bushart recalled Dougherty as saying. “It is all about money. I hate to put it this way, but it’s the truth.”

The current issue of Newsweek offers  an excellent analysis of our current political paralysis by Jacob Weisberg.  Rather than polarizing the spectacle in Washington as one between Dems and Repugs or even public interest vs private greed, Weisberg sees the struggle as one between politicans who are brave enough to tell the truth and those who aren’t.  He says Americans generally live in “Candyland” and want everything taken care of without paying for it.  President Obama is one politican who will “speak frankly” rather than “indulging the public’s delusions.”

So, in addition to the powerful corporate lobbies threatening progress on health care reform and climate change issues, we also have to face the fact that we, the people, can’t have our cake and eat it too.  Weisberg warns that

“Our inability to address these long-term challenges makes a strong case that the United States now faces an era of historical decline.  To change this storyline, we need to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office, and look instead to ourselves.”

“Habits Change.  Men Doesn’t.”  What do you think the chances are that we can alter human nature in time to stop polluting ourselves into extinction?