Monday, August 17, 2009


I confess to a major value conflict! If you know me well, you know that it’s not unusual for me when one subset of my somewhat complex, personal value system collides with another subset. Ordinarily, I work at keeping my values compartmentalized, so that I can pretend ignorance of my inconsistencies. I am quite mentally flexible and have become adept at disguising the contradictions within myself. Occasionally, I am honest enough to admit to them and sometimes I even celebrate my value paradoxes.

But this one truly has generated a restlessness in my ruminations which I can no longer deny and which I find difficult to celebrate. Try as I might, I just can’t ignore the incongruity or rejoice over the inconsistency. I keep running the “pro” values up against the “con” values and I keep coming out conflicted.

It’s about the US government’s recent decision to follow the lead of other world powers by encouraging consumption as an escape route from the world-wide economic mess; specifically, our leaders have chosen, simultaneously, to stimulate the faltering auto industry and to take a stand in favor of more efficient and ecologically sound automotive engineering; they have done so by encouraging the public to trade-in their gas-guzzling vehicles. I know, I know! I get it! These automobiles are inefficient! They over-pollute our already over-polluted air! And, besides, the US auto industry is in the dumpster! Something has to be done to stimulate this essential enterprise and to entice the American auto-buying public to pretend confidence in the economy!

But, on the other hand (I just hate it when there is an “other hand”!), to this day, I regret it that so many great, now-vintage automobiles were too-easily consigned to the scrap yards, just a few decades ago. As a vintage auto admirer and sometime collector, I know that cars represent a particular era, that they make a statement about who we were “back then” and what we valued “when.” I know that it’s more than mere sentimentality that causes so many to reclaim and restore old cars. I know that refurbishing vintage vehicles is something akin to protecting the “living artifacts” of social, political and economic history. I’m just grateful that the vintage wheels that I have owned were spared the dreaded extermination by cruncher and, to this day, (most) remain alive and thriving on the streets.

I feel this way about the current crop of so-called clunkers, because I know that some of them, perhaps many of them, are in fine shape and don’t “deserve” to be so sentenced to the scrap-heap. I know it’s inconsistent of me, but I just wish there was some other way to gain a boost to the economy and make some progress on our pollution problems without the sacrifice of all of this vintage sheet metal!

More importantly, this treatment of autos reflects yet another one of my value conflicts – the way we treat older persons. I can’t help but notice that our youth-oriented, narcissistic, contemporary-dominated culture is inclined to treat older persons like we treat older 4-door sedans! We are far too quick to set some arbitrary age limit and, without thinking or admitting it, determine that anyone over that age is, henceforth, of little value and is prohibitively expensive to maintain. I’m certain that my view is prejudiced by the reality that, last week, I began the process of registering for Medicare. Half-way through my sixth decade of living, I sense significant, growing prejudice toward those of us who are “chronologically advantaged.”

So, now, I must own-up to yet another value conflict. “What shall we do with grandma or grandpa?” How shall we treat the aged with respect and dignity? How can we so construct a viable social system that is efficient and, at the same time, able to “afford” the “inefficiencies” required to protect and treasure those who are living longer each year?

A clunker conundrum, indeed!