087: The U.S. Constitution guides my environmental behavior (transcript)

September 17, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

The United States Constitution

Before recording this post, I made lunch. To make lunch I turned on my pressure cooker and in the time of setting up my equipment and so forth the pressure cooker finished cooking and made this beep that said that the food is ready. When it does that, it doesn’t turn off. It goes into keep warm mode. I don’t remember the exact numbers but I think it’s something that keeps using 45 watts. So something like a dim incandescent bulb. As I was about to start recording it beeped and I thought, “Well, I can deal with that later” and then I thought, “No, I’m going to go take care of that now. I am going to turn it off.”

I [unintelligible] need to tell you why the United States Constitution plays a major role in my environmental action. I don’t know if it’s something that you guys think about but it’s something I think about and it happens to be that today is September 17 which is the United States Constitution Day. The Constitution is one of my favorite documents in all of human history. More to the point, it influences me every single day and specifically about the environment. I’m not sure why conservatives don’t see the constitution as such an important issue relevant to the environment. But I’m going to tell you why it is for me.

I’m going to read for you Article 6, Paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution. It says:

This constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby and anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

This is saying what is the highest law of the land. The supreme law of the land. This constitution, that makes sense why that would be the supreme law of the land, this is the thing that everything else comes from. “And the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof.” OK, so Congress passes laws so those are also the national laws that follow the Constitution. They are also supreme. “And all treaties made or shall be made under the authority of the United States.” Now that part confuses me. I learned about the Constitution… I don’t remember the exact learning of it but I think it was something like 4th grade. I know something in grade school they gave us a copy of the Constitution that was something you hold in your pocket and I carried it around for a long time. And sometimes I’d keep it by my bed and I’d just read the Constitution just because it was an interesting document. As a kid didn’t really quite get the full meaning of it but this part stuck with me. Why? Because I understood why the Constitution should be supreme. I understood why the laws that are passed following the Constitution should be supreme but treaties to others. Why do we make treaties to countries that are not us? Supreme over rules that are our own such as our own state laws.

Over time I realized if people don’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far. If people don’t believe in your word, you’re not going to get very far. And so treaties to others is how you relate to your community. Treaties you enter into are not little things. How you relate to other people, to other entities. I’ve grown to view that as increasingly important. Certainly, as I’ve gotten older responsibility is something that’s been a big part for me, maturation, to become a more mature person, to become a man. I’m not a woman but I would say the same to become woman, to become an adult. Responsibility is a big part of it. Responsibility to others. Of course, to myself as well but responsibility means I can’t do some things that I used to do that I used to like and I have to do things that I didn’t like to do but now I have to do. Any parent knows what I’m talking about. Responsibility to others means you can’t do what you used to do somethings and you have to do some things that you didn’t want to do before and in every case that I’ve taken responsibility in my life, it has made my life better. Yes, I can’t do those little things but the net reward in my life is better, especially from my relationships with others.

And so when I look at my pressure cooker and I hear it go off and I know that it’s going be drawing 45 watts and it’s not going to make my life better in any way to keep it warmer because it’s too hard for me to want it to cool down I think of a treaty between me and everybody else. Now I’ve not signed a treaty. I don’t owe anyone legally anything but there’s something certainly, if there’s one thing that seems universal it’s what we would call the Golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do I want people polluting my world? I don’t. I don’t have to see myself as owing anyone else not polluting their world. But the combination of the Golden rule and the United States Constitution Article 6, Paragraph 2 tells me that I put others’ interests before my own.

Now look if there’s stuff going on and I don’t have time and there’s something really pressing maybe I’d let the pressure cooker stay on for a little while longer. But if I’m leaving a room and I’m not going to be in that room I turn off the light. I find it weird when I walk in to someone’s place and they have lights on in rooms that they’re not in. I talked lately about a guy who was at my place who let the air conditioner on at home at his home when he wasn’t there. To me that is a violation of the spirit. I’m not saying some legal issue here. I’m just saying what the Constitution means to me. I love this document. I think it’s one of the greatest documents ever produced by any humans. This country has done supremely well by it. Other constitutions have followed ours, other declarations of human rights have followed it. I love this document. I live by this document. I think these people who thought of making this document I want to live by what they suggested. Do I disagree with some of it? Of course, I disagree with a lot of it. Obviously, we change parts of it. I think we made mistakes with prohibiting alcohol. I’m getting off topic. Well, we fixed that one. But all treaties made to others I considered that important. I consider when I’m doing something that affects other people.

Now you might be someone who says, “We should have less government.” Even so if there’s anything the government is useful for, if there’s anything we agree that I think most people agree governments are useful for, it’s to regulate behavior when your behavior affects other people. So if you’re going to sit in your apartment or your house all by yourself and punch the empty air in front of you, I have absolutely no problem with that. That’s your business. Go do whatever you want. But if you’re punching the air in front of you contains my nose, I agree that the government should be there to regulate behavior that’s going to hurt other people. You can swing your fist all you want when you’re not hitting anything but if you can hit someone in the nose with that fist, I’m a big fan of government regulating that behavior.

If you’re going to dump trash in your yard, if you’re going to dump trash in your house and you want to live as messy as you want, that’s your business. Go for it. I support you. I applaud your behavior. But when that behavior affects other people, especially if it hurts other people, I think that’s what government is for. It’s one of the main reasons for governments to regulate behavior that hurts other people. Once that litter exits your house and enters my world, the rest of the world, the streams, the rivers, the oceans, the land, the air and you can’t keep that all to yourself, you’re affecting other people. I think government is for that. I think government is for protecting people from getting hurt for other people’s negligence or not caring. Just because you don’t care doesn’t mean that your pollution doesn’t reach everybody else. Generations ago we didn’t think that pollution auto exhaust could affect the whole planet on a planetary scale. It can. We know that now.

Actually, even if you don’t care about that – litter, mercury, dumping waste into the groundwater, these things affect other people. I think this is what government is for. Just because you don’t think it does or you don’t want it to or you don’t care if it does or not, doesn’t matter. Do I think government should be huge and overbearing? No, I don’t think that. But I do think if you’re going to punch me in the nose, I’d like to have a government that can do something about that. If you’re going to dump mercury in water that me, my family, the people I know drink I think we should regulate that. I think it’s fair to… I’m sorry. I think that we should go through a democratic process, a fair process that follows the Constitution in order to create laws that regulate that. Now if the democratic process does not yield those laws, what I’m doing now is hoping to get votes to pass laws like that but until those laws passed I am not going be vigilante about it. I certainly agree that we should only have laws that are democratically passed.

In any case, I want to get back to the United States Constitution, Article 6, Paragraph 2. “This Constitution the laws of the United States which shall be made in the pursuance thereof and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land.” And it’s the supreme law of me. Not every single case I can think of but I think about it every time I do something or don’t do something by omission and that behavior leads to hurting other people or could lead to hurting other people, I think of the United States Constitution. Today is September 17, 2018. I learned it in the mid-70s and I think about it maybe every day. That’s what the Constitution means to me. I hope this makes an effect on others because I think that if you care about the Constitution, if the Constitution means something to you, I hope that this is something that you also think about and think about. Maybe under your constitution this isn’t something you care about but think about others. Does your behavior affect other people? That’s what the Constitution is about. And you might also say, “Well, that’s such a tiny little bit of a difference. It doesn’t really make that much of a difference. If you turn off now or if you turn off five minutes from now, it’s only 45 watts. People are doing so much more.”

I’ve got to say something else here. I’ll put this in context. I went to a lunch the other day. When I got there they were going to give you a plastic fork. I had a metal fork in my bag so I got it out and I started to use my metal fork. My friend who is with me sees me get up my own metal fork and says, “Isn’t that excessive?” From his perspective, that’s going out of my way. What I said to him was, “It’s really light. It doesn’t take up any space. It’s not heavy. It’s not a big deal. To have a fork with me is not a big deal and to get it out I’d rather eat with a metal fork than a plastic fork.” Now that’s what I said to him playing it down as if it was not that big of a deal. But actually, there’s another perspective which is the more important perspective and I hope, I hope this resonates with conservatives who normally wouldn’t pay attention to environmental issues. You can look at this what for you might be a small thing, if you’re flying around the world, then the difference between a metal fork and a plastic fork is not that big of a difference compared to tons and tons of CO2 that you are putting in the air. From my perspective the issue is not big or small. The issue is consistency with my values. Loyalty to me, purity, cleanliness, how I feel about myself. And from that perspective yes, start with the big things, start with the important things, start with the things that are… Start wherever you want but eventually if you keep living consistently with your values, eventually you get to the little details and that’s where integrity comes into play. When no one notices except you, when you’re by yourself do you live consistently with your values or do you let things slide? Because that’s integrity.

And it’s not just integrity to yourself although integrity to yourself seems to me more than enough. But it’s also to… Let me give you an example here. When I think of John Wooden, coach of the UCLA basketball team back in the 50s-60s. They won something like 10 or 15, maybe 12 or 13 championships in just a few more years. Inarguably one of the great coaches of all time, one of the great leaders of all time. He had the choice of all the best high school players coming into college because they won so much. What did they do the very first practice? It was how to put on your socks, then how to put on your shoes. Now, wait a minute. If you got the best basketball players in the country, you don’t have to worry about do they know how to put their socks on. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it which is I guess John Wooden’s way of looking at it as these details matter. If you don’t get the details right, how are you going to get the other parts right? As he would put it well, you don’t want to get a blister. It’s also teamwork. It’s also how you affect the other people around you. But to me it’s integrity to yourself. It’s integrity to others and that’s what wins. That’s what makes teams work. That’s why I think the Constitution has been so successful in part, how you interact with others and that’s what leadership is about.

That’s what makes your life better. When you look at a great athlete or a great artist, a great performer, the details are where everything counts. You don’t want to follow a leader who when the chips are down does what they want for themselves and doesn’t care about the people that are following him or her. You want someone when the chips are down does what they think is right because they practice it their whole life. I’m not perfect. We’re all flawed. But I try and I try to live by my values and the closer you get to that the more you get to those little details, the more you start finding out who you are, who you are under pressure, who you are when no one’s looking, who you are when it’s only you. And that’s what this is about. It’s about the Constitution. It’s about living by the values that this country lives by. It’s about living by your own values. It’s about integrity, about all these little details. So that’s my message for the United States Constitution Day, September 17, 2018.

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