Ruth Bass: Consistency meets contradiction and incongruity


RICHMOND — We are such a mess of contradictions. Or incongruities. We want, for instance, to have a thriving economy with newly created jobs, new businesses, better technology. Most people running for high office promise to create jobs, but it's easier said than done. Improving technology, for instance, may knock out jobs. And the other side of new businesses and new factories is that they may add to pollution in general. So a growing economy may not meld with a greener, cleaner world.

Then there are the doubting Thomases who scoff at people who regularly go to church, synagogue or mosque — and then a crisis hits them. "God help me," may well be the first words out their mouths. For at least a second, belief emerges.

What about a forest of wind turbines: You think, now there's a thriving business that helps reduce air pollution and the cost of power. But on the other side are the people who say the turbines are bad for your health if you live nearby, and their 'thunk, thunk' sound may drive you crazy.

Consider painkillers. It's good to quell pain — unless the quelling leads to addiction and a risk of a new customer for heroin. And in the realm of pills, it's possible for a patient to become very ill when it turns out that two of his/her pills don't get along. Also, you must, the health people say, get rid of leftover pills. But flushing them down the toilet turns out to be wrong — you've saved someone from taking them but released new pollution into the world.

Many Americans, possibly the vast majority, want clean air, clean water, clean land. But in fire pits and fireplaces, they send wood smoke into the air. They release chemicals and minerals into their water source, and they spread pesticides all over their farm land. Urban homeowners work out regularly to keep fit and then use a spray on sidewalk weeds that almost instantly dispatches a dandelion. We also want to live in safety, so we go after Isis with thousands of bombing missions. How long will it take for those ravaged countries to regain a landscape with clean water, clean air, clean land? Was this factor included in the international agreement on climate change?

Many Californians look for a place to build a house with a view, high above the curling waves of the Pacific Ocean. So the houses were built, and the view was there — until the mudslides began to send them down the cliff. Their architectural wonder enjoyed Mother Nature until she turned on them.

And we have tobacco companies whose right hand harvests the crop and pushes cigarette smoking with campaigns targeting teens — the potential new market — while the left hand sends out materials that warn about the dangers of smoking. Cars? We teach the dangers of high speed but create automobiles that will top 100 miles an hour for a thrill. And conservatives rail against welfare but oppose a mandatory living wage.

Slavery has an interesting incongruity. Plantation owners bought and sold African humans as if they were chickens or cattle and considered them inferior beings. But inside the plantation house, it was accepted practice that the lady of the house turned her babies over to slaves for breast-feeding. And a fair amount of upbringing, as well — not inferior milk, apparently.

Then there's the American lawn. My rural-living grandparents, both sides, had tiny lawns that cut a small swath around the house. The rest became hay. People today mow acres and the purists, in love with the green, pile on pesticides and commercial fertilizer. Rain sends those poisons into the ground and streams; and if a professional treats the lawn, he puts up a small sign warning against walking on it. Rabbits and birds, take notice.

In the tumult of this political year, candidates from the presidential on down are assailed for the contradictions and incongruities of their pasts and presents. Apparently, we all have 'em.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is


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