|by Thom Fowler
When I was in college I used to worship at the altar of wisdom as an abstract principle. The Sophia of the Greek philosophers. The wisdom sought after by the author of Ecclesiastes. The wisdom of Erasmus, trying to define what it is, by defining what it isn’t in In Praise of Folly. I grew up like most people, knowing that we as individuals, as a society, as a nation and a world are in a big heap of trouble. From politics to the environment to the economy, we are in a constant process of solving problems.
Ironically, those with real solutions are often moved aside if they impinge on the bottom line. The auto industry, who you know has ties to the oil industry, which is basically the current State administration, has had the ability for years to create high gas mileage vehicles. Hybrid technology has been available for well over a decade, but is not in the best interest of the bottom line to market them, even if it is in the best interest of consumers and in the long run, in the best interest of not only ecological concerns but political ones as well.
Most of the time I’m thinking about problems and solutions since my life has mostly consisted of solving problems. I was talking to a friend of mine and she emphasized how important it is to wait for the best of whatever it is you are after. “When you find the best thing, you can just stop.” I said.
“What you said is so profound. When you find the best thing that means you can just be with it. You don’t have to keep searching,” She tells me.
Sometimes the best solutions are near impossible to implement. There are the things I want for myself and then there are things I want for the system that myself is wholly integrated with. I’m too urban to drop out of the system and join a farming collective – which has crossed my mind a few times.
My over-arching goals are basic health and happiness, but not just for me, but for me as part of a larger human and natural system. So I guess you could say I’m always looking for solutions to systemic health and happiness.
The relationship between consumers and industry is very subtle. We relate to the economy at the point of consumption, not the point of production. We are generally out of touch with how things are produced, and the waste and pollution that comes out of that process. We have an emotional attachment to the tip of the iceberg and never think much about the huge mass of ice that holds that tip up high enough for us to be aware of it.
The buzz in the auto-industry right now is that SUV’s may see a drastic price cut, thus creating what seems to be an incentive to buy. But like film for a camera, ink for a printer, or disposable blades for a razor, the real money is not in the machine, but what it takes to keep it going. Those who are suckered into “no money down, no payments for a year” will find themselves gouged at the pump as the cost of gas climbs steeper, we continue to deplete the natural oil reserves at an ever increasing rate. Some estimates say that that world oil supply will dwindle to next to nothing over the next 20 years at the current rate of consumption – not because we are running out of oil, that won’t happen until 2080. By 2020, world oil mining will double thus completely overtaxing a by then depleted natural, finite, energy resource. By 2080, the amount of energy it will take to mine for oil will surpass the amount of energy that can be created by the mined oil. An SUV gets 15 miles per gallon in city driving. The long, long commutes of people moving into increasingly remote “suburban” areas and the lack of access to adequate public transportation all adds up to a hefty price tag and a little lesson in hubris when the bubble bursts and we find that what was preventable has now become incurable.
I was watching CNN as I often do to keep up on how the stories about our world are being told to a wide audience. The oil spill off the coast of Spain is not “old news”, it is still a current catastrophe. CNN ran a follow-up story and showed footage of the sludge and at the tail end of the sludge footage, the camera cut to a unidentifiable creature smothered in crude and floundering to stay afloat. Instead of letting that image register, the studio camera cut back to the announcer as if it the important thing to focus on was all that wasted oil, and not all that environmental damage.
The Environmental Liberation Front has stepped up its activities, setting fire to SUV’s and bombing IKEA’s. That’s a little extreme. I like those bumper stickers though that people are surreptitiously putting on SUV’s (and that insult to the future, The Hummer) that read, “Driving an SUV Supports Terrorism.” Our oil dependence in part has created the current world political stage and our dependence on oil has absolutely fueled American involvement in Middle East politics.
The U.S. is not the only culture in the world, the only economy, or the only country. However, like good colonialists, we will force the world to be like us, to fit into our paradigm as the only good, true and right way.
More and more people are buying homes in newly created subdivision in outlying areas, clambering for their slice of the American dream and the traditional middle-class symbols of so-called success. Not only has traffic choked up old access roads and by-ways, people are living farther and farther away from work in areas where city and suburban transit authorities have yet to budget into their short-term, five and ten year plans. That means our individual dependence on gasoline is skyrocketing. Multiply that by population growth, limited access to water and power and you are looking at a civic infrastructure that has reached the point where growth is not desirable, it is disastrous.
In order to grow the economy, you have to create jobs. But how do you create jobs in the private sector if industry isn’t growing. President Bush’s new 600 billion stimulation package is supposed to supplement a shrinking economy. But its just a numbers game. Our economy is not based on true sustainability. True sustainability takes into consideration our use and management of finite natural resources that are the true base of our economy. Ultimately, it is STUFF, not SERVICES that support our economy. Industry is shrinking. A stimulus package is one way of sticking a band-aid on cancer. You can also invent a dot-com market sector, pump phony money into it and hope that the “stimulus package” takes off. Or you can start a war which would keep larger sectors of the population out of the workforce, lower the birthrate, create mass casualties, thus lowering the population, and turn the economy into a planned, rather than a market, economy.
That sounds a little bit too much like the plot of a book called 1984, but it would be a way to quiet dissent in society if people found out they are just units in a numbers game, little more than slaves, programmed to obey as if feudalism ever really went away. Peasants exchanged a duke for a boss. Most people take home only a small portion of what their work is worth to their companies. The family lineage may not be as important, but the concept is exactly the same. Thrown what amounts to a bone. But when the pickins get slim, as they are now, with no sign of economic recovery in sight, people may become desperate. In a competitive economy, this fuels the careerist to go into overdrive and stresses everyone out, seeing as how we depend on a paycheck for our survival more than good weather or healthy seeds. Maybe this recession will teach us about over-consumption and open our eyes to the gross abundance that we collectively enjoy in the USA. I have learned that if you stop making less than 40K a year that you don’t fall over a cliff and die.
Countries like Sweden, Germany and Holland, while capitalist, keep their growth in check. It is part of the culture to limit consumption, to watch the birth-rate, to demand social services from the government and to collaborate rather than compete to meet their basic needs as a society. Not perfectly, but the citizenry seems to have a greater awareness of being parts of a whole and not an island unto themselves. Americans are forced to act as if they are cornered animals – building political alliances to gang up and fight for limited resources. It is savagery hidden in the trappings of an “advanced civilization.”
American society is based on competition, which pits us against others for jobs, which is the only way to get food, clothing shelter. This system works great if the unemployment rate can be kept low, but if you can’t create jobs, or if growth is impeded because you can only sow so much corn, build so many houses, cut down so many trees or divide up so much water, the have-nots, who are have-not, not because they don’t ascribe to the Protestant work ethic that demands that you not only work, but work hard and constantly to maintain your accustomed level of consumption, but because full-employment is impossible in our economy because it means that growth is not possible and without growth, stock value stagnates. If stock value stagnates, there is no increase in wealth, at least on paper, and without an increase in wealth, what’s the point of investing in a company if its not to see a return on that investment?
Simply stated, there are limits to growth. Our unbridled greed tells us that growth leads to bigger profits. But it really leads to more consumption, more waste and more pollution. American’s are so fat because we are forced to consume to keep the economy spinning at a breakneck speed. Krispy Kreme Donuts is a publicly traded company fully endorsed by Elizabeth Dole.
Krispy Kreme donuts are puffs of fat, refined flour and refined sugar, a combination roundly decried by nutritionists as leading to obesity, heart-disease and colon illnesses. Encouraging people to eat them, or even making them available should be looked at as the height of unethical behavior. Do you leave lye in arms reach of a child? The Krispy Kreme donut company is under pressure to get you to eat as many of their donuts as possible. They aren’t the only food company that creates an unhealthy, non-nutritive product and sells it to you as “pleasure” and “entertainment.”
Wise up, suckas.
America has a class structure and I’ll tell you what it is. The jobless underclass, the working poor, the middle-classes and the aristocracy. It is true that class distinctions are fluid in the U.S. Unlike England where you social status is a product of your class regardless of income, hence the Lord who turns his family home into a bed and breakfast to make ends meet. In the U.S. class is a product of your income level. And like the Wheel of Fortune, you can be taken up, and brought back down.
When people come into money in the U.S. they suddenly began to mimic the mannerisms they think are appropriate to that income level, which they see, wrongly, as denoting a class characteristic. The ideal for the middle-class is to become upper middle-class and consume high-end retail products because it gives you an air of financial value, which is the sole criteria for importance in our society.
It really is all about money as the measure of personal value. Many people don’t know how to value themselves. Gang violence is more about proving your self-worth and establishing self-esteem than anything else. People need a healthy, sane, avenue to assert their sense of self and self-worth. It doesn’t help that most of us go around invalidating each other all the time, using tactics like bullying, belittling and humiliating to coerce and control others. Every time we tell someone else they aren’t good enough, we throw ourselves into the game of negative reinforcement where the object is tear everyone down faster than they can tear you down and whoever is the least pathetic at the end of it all, wins. Girls do it. Jocks do it. Co-workers do it. We do it in grocery stores, on the highway and in our living rooms. Queers do it a lot, mostly because of internalized self-loathing because many Gays and Lesbians are straight-identified because there aren’t many historical models of queerness, at least in modern history. So we have to invent it right out of ourselves. Everyone should be inventing their life right out of the mystery of themselves.
All living creatures have inherent worth. The living world has inherent worth. Being part of a living, changing, moving universe has inherent worth.
There are better paths to power than domination, coercion and violence. There is the power that comes from being able to rule yourself and act autonomously and on your own authority. There is power in letting things simply be. There is power in merely observing. There is power in doing nothing.
Lots of people who are middle-class do not realize how precarious their financial well-being is. It would be nice to see this current and ongoing economic shutdown cause a reordering of our values and priorities in our society
Everything is connected to everything. You are not a single unit. An industry is not an isolated industry. Our geo-political and economic ecology is not as mysterious as biological ecology. We have formulas, graphs and theories to understand it and manipulate it to yield the highest profit. A social democracy can protect us in the long run but individuals will still need to undergo some behavior change to insure the long-term survival of the human species and maintain the quality of living the first-world has, in general, been enjoying. We will have to examine our impact on other cultures and other countries and other value systems and belief systems. We will have to collaborate instead of compete.
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originally posted: 01/06/03 08:08:01
last updated: 12/31/03 22:18:36