Paul Andersen: Ushering in the Age of Unity

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport stinks — literally! The noxious fumes rising from Sardy Field are choking

Cross-country skiing the Owl Creek Trail or doing laps at the golf course is supposed to be a health benefit — great exercise — peace and quiet. Not anymore.

Not with the stench of exhaust and the incessant roar of jets. The stink intensifies during inversions that concentrate a haze of toxins for our lungs to filter with every exertion.

Aspen has a world-class nordic trail system that is tainted by pollution because of the constant flow of private and commercial aircraft. And they want bigger jets?

I could join Skippy Mesirow in a rant about Aspen, but I haven’t eaten a steak in years. The Aspen city councilman’s ire was understandable given the frustration of gridlock on Main Street. The “f—ing disaster” Mesirow described comes from witnessing too much of too much.

Aspen’s contribution to the existential crisis described by scientist/philosopher E.O. Wilson is undeniable: “In a relative blink of evolutionary time, humanity has become master of a global endgame. Our unique blend of animal instinct and social and cultural genius has created a historic path of reckless consequence for all of life on Earth.

“Saving the rest of life is one of the primary humanitarian, humanistic and political issues of our time. The environmental issues that are looming call for the best of our scientific knowledge and ingenuity, along with a strong sense of compassion and moral compass.”

Our moral compass is wildly gyrating in this Age of Materialism, an age that has given us Donald Trump and his dubious base. The Age of Materialism has enabled predatory banks, rewarded rapacious corporations, fostered gross inequalities of wealth, subsidized the plundering of natural resources, reduced lifespans, propagated war, and popularized commercially saturated social media.

The Age of Materialism is perfectly symbolized by the “selfie” culture of Me! Me! Me! Yet a growing disillusionment with the Me culture may be a reason suicide — “deaths of despair” — among young Americans is peaking at 16 per day. The emptiness of the Me culture contributes to veterans returning from deployments who become so despairing that 22 per day choose suicide to escape the soul vacuum of civilian life and its religion of capitalism.

The Age of Materialism not only consumes resources, it eats away at the psyche, the spirit, the meaning of life. It kills from the inside, like a runaway cancer.

History is a progression of ages that ideally leads to a more enlightened future. The Age of Materialism has run its course with blind obeisance to acquisitive strivings for the stuff that no longer meets the promise of happiness. This age has come at a huge cost to the biosphere and is crushing the hopes of future generations.

Enter the Age of Unity — the unity of man and nature … of man and man. This new Enlightenment is defined by interconnectedness, a moral revolution that cultivates humanism upon which the Aspen Institute was founded in 1950.

That’s why it’s so ironic that Aspen’s cerebral, artistic and spirit-based mien is shadowed by conspicuous consumption. The generation in the wings recognizes such contradictions within an outmoded social structure that endorses short-term luxuries and long-term liabilities, a culture where Machiavellian values — money, fame and power — are dominant.

Defenders of the Age of Materialism will stridently resist a new enlightenment where stuff is no longer equated with fulfillment. That world is ending in a climate apocalypse whose only precedent is the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub asteroid.

Humanity needs a dose of eudemonia, an Aristotelian prescription for happiness and well-being. Eudemonia is based upon “a person’s state of excellence characterized by objective flourishing across a lifetime, and brought about through the exercise of moral virtue, practical wisdom and rationality.”

Virtue. Wisdom. Rationality. You won’t find these words in the job descriptions of the ruling lords of the Age of Materialism as it jerks and twitches in death throes. These words contradict American exemptionalism. They are antithetical to the prestige and privilege of the consumer hierarchy.

These words — virtue, wisdom and rationality — are passwords to a new decade in the Age of Unity.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at