Carpe diem! Seize the day! Live for the moment! It’s a mantra many of us have chosen to live by in a world increasingly focused on perception of entitlement and insistence on instant gratification.
Whether it’s Vladimir Putin’s desire to move Ukraine instantly back into Greater Russia or our own penchant for fast food over nutritious nourishment, our society is built on an extension of the mindset that a new credit card is something to be maxed out as quickly as possible.
Few, if any, of us study Latin anymore, but if we did, we might want to translate the full phrase from which “carpe diem” originates: “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.” Literally: “Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.” Or, in words a bit more vulgar, pluck whatever you can now and do something that rhymes with pluck to the future.
It’s time to change our credo from “Carpe diem!” to “Carpe futurum!” — “Seize the future!” Each of us enjoys the opportunity to gather our rosebuds while we may, but we too often forget that someone had to plant and tend rosebushes to allow this.
Why put more refined gravel on county roadways, pack it down properly, and ensure that it stays that way by establishing and maintaining proper ditches when we can save a few pennies now by haphazardly spreading cheaper rock that looks like Paleolithic weapons designed to rip apart modern tires?
“Carpe diem” says it’s no problem that we might have to do this over and over again. “Carpe futurum” says that, while all county roads can’t be paved, we should at least consider the example of how brick streets, carefully created more than a century ago, have stood the test of time much better than roadways designed to last only until the next heavy rain.
“Carpe diem” says it helps the little guy get in business by not requiring him to have more than one restroom or more than a gravel parking lot at his business. “Carpe futurum” says we should encourage the type of long-term commitment to the future that more than a century ago led to creation of stately stone buildings instead of what will be short-lived sheds and trailers a business homes.
“Carpe diem” says planning and zoning are impediments to development — overly burdensome rules that need to be ignored, changed by decree, loosened, or waived with conditional use permits for short-term political gain. “Carpe futurum” says that, if we had adopted proper zoning, half-million-dollar mansions next door to fishing shacks at the county lake would instead today be million-dollar mansions without spending another cent on them. There’s nothing wrong with either type of housing. They just don’t need to be adjacent to each other.
Most of the issues that come up in Marion County have to do with stress between these two mantras.
“Carpe diem” says it’s fine to give municipal workers big raises when the people who pay for them struggle in jobs that pay not nearly as well.
But the fact that a raise this year can be paid out of excess utility revenue isn’t reason to max out that particular credit card. Raises are permanent. While this year they may be covered that way, how will they be covered next year?
And why is it that cities seem to take great pride in utility surpluses when utility rates, priced to include hefty profits for the city, are taxing residents — especially those with the lowest incomes — to a far greater extent than property taxes, which unlike utility rates are designed to take the greatest toll from those most able to pay?
We see these stresses in everything.
Even if we did not happen to attend that particular school, we celebrate — as rightfully we should — another marvelous state championship by a county sports team. Yet we provide nowhere near the glory for what likely will be far more long-lasting achievements by other students in robotics and welding competitions. These achievements will have much more to say about our “futurum” than our “diem.”
If we truly want to seize the future, one of the most pressing needs is to bring under control a dysfunctional local housing market. It’s not just that we need bigger, newer homes. It’s that we have to deal with an ever-growing number of smaller homes that have become rental properties with absentee owners, inviting into our community people who aren’t always positive influences on its future.
We can seize the future by enacting ordinances regulating the growing absentee landlord business — ensuring that anyone with more than one house to rent is properly maintaining those homes rather than allowing them to become low-class lures for lowlifes.
Incentives to replace or truly renovate our communities’ housing stocks will pay far more dividends in the future than will cheaply flipping those homes or continuing to rent them until they fall apart, bringing in renters whose presence will tax and tangle our social safety nets.
It’s a matter of opening our eyes. When we look around our communities and see the threats and violence caused by drunken and drugged-out people, why do we simultaneously push for even more places to drink and even looser laws on possessing drugs?
Our grasp of reality appears to be too limited to seize both the day and the future. As much as we say we will do anything for our children, perhaps it’s time we started doing so and devoted more of our attention to ensuring that they will have a world worth living in when they are our age.
Saving the environment isn’t just about recycling and pollution. It’s about vision and values and infrastructure, as well. We need to save them with at least as much fervor as we devote to used aluminum cans.
— ERIC MEYER