Friday, December 8, 2006

Speedbumps on the road to sustainability

I'm just semi-randomly posting stuff I've written in the past few months to kinda lay a foundation for where I see changes occuring and the evidence I use to come to some of these conclusions. When it has no known basis in fact, I'll try to point this out. Usually.

Yesterday was three articles I'd written immediately after the 2006 mid-term elections. I needed something to fill some space as I was getting the blog setup and seeing how it looked.

I was originally thinking about calling this blog "Goring Sacred Cows: More Inconvenient Truths," but decided it would be way too limiting, as well as not really expressing the positive and creative focus I like to take on where we direct our effort, and on what do we base our choices. But it's going to be a recurring theme as we can't continue making bad decisions, and especially bad decisions that involve little more than making more money. Let's be honest about the sorry state this mindset has gotten us into and what a more rational and sensual alternative might get us.

And then let's just do it. It's all just a story that we believe in, and we can not only choose the interpretation of the story, we can choose an entirely different story as well.

Originally written in October, 2006, here's one in a set of Goring Sacred Cows: More Inconvenient Truths

Speedbumps on the road to sustainability

One of the biggest uphill battles in the quest for sustainability is going to be getting the "progressive" sector of the population to come to grips with their complicity in sustaining the doomsday economy and its voraciously expanding military budget. The denial that runs rampant, not just in the "limousine liberal" set, but with middle-class Democrats and Republicans, is more deep-seated and entrenched than anything you'll find at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

While it's true that you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and that beating people over the head with the coercive emotional forces of fear and guilt will only produce resentment and defensive rigidity, getting help in overcoming one's addictions starts with admitting you have a problem. This entails becoming aware of the consequences, both personal and social, of daily lifestyle choices before healthier alternatives can be evaluated. One reason this admission may be so difficult is because so many Americans interact with daily life through a Prozac haze. The latest figures show that about 50% of Americans take at least one prescription drug daily, and 20% take three or more. When you add in alcohol and other recreational drugs that are self- prescribed, somewhere between 70-80% of Americans desperately need some type of chemical salve to either make it through their day or to be able to tolerate their day.

I once ran an ad for my non-profit's counseling services announcing the creation of a consumer's support group to help overcome the addiction to materialism and actually got a few calls, but no one followed through. It is more of a taboo subject than what gets classified as sexual deviancy. It seems most people would rather talk about why they masturbate than why they continue to drive the mini-van to the mall.

That the materialistic and mechanized mindset of Western Civilization's Industrial Growth Society is a root cause of systemic problems is something that even many social and environmental justice non-profits don't want to deal with. This first became apparent to me about five years ago. Our non-profit was invited to participate in an educational fair. A large regional mall was trying to show how much they cared about the local community by allowing a dozen tables to be setup one day a year for non-profits to interfere with the shopping experience and pass out literature. This basically gave them the justification to chase anyone off during the rest of the year who would dare attempt to awaken people from the consensus trance.

I decided that I'd put a large sign above our table that said, "We can help you overcome your addiction to shopping." The other groups wouldn't let me put the sign up. They didn't want me "causing problems" or distracting from their own messages. They were afraid that the mall management wouldn't invite them back next year. They didn't want to address the fact, or even be reminded, that the whole reason their non-profit group even had a mission was because the mall existed in the first place.

Does human happiness need to be opposed to the needs of the planet? Can satisfaction be found that is harmonious with nature and with people's inner nature? By seeking satisfaction through consumerism, we are doing as much harm to the planet as is caused by overpopulation. Not only does consumerism fail in its promise of happiness, but by decreasing our free time and by keeping us from developing satisfying relationships, consumerism makes us less happy.

Consumerism -- the concept of growth through consumption -- is US economic policy's primary goal. We are 4.5 times richer than our great-grandparents, but are we 4.5 times happier? In the effort to turn consumption into a ritual to deliver happiness and fulfillment, we have fooled ourselves into thinking that material goods can fulfill what are actually social, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Surveys have consistently shown that people have believed for decades that if they only had twice as much money they'd be happy, no matter if their yearly income was $15 thousand or $15 million. But surveys also show that the number of Americans who report they are very happy -- 1/3 -- is the same now as in 1957, despite a doubling of GNP and personal spending since then.

People are unsatisfied, without knowing why. They think they need more of what they have now. But, if what they have now is what makes people unsatisfied, will more of it make them more satisfied or more dissatisfied? Perhaps people are tuning in to the fact that if human desires are infinitely expandable, it is physically impossible for material consumption to provide fulfillment -- a fact either ignored or vigorously denied by orthodox growth economists.

Consumption fails to make us happy, and advertising then cultivates and preys on that unhappiness. Ads make people self-conscious about being human and unique; to be unhappy with whatever they have that doesn't match this year's fashion. The advertising industry then assures people that the corporate gods have the proper synthetic salvation for their falsely created, non-existent problems.

The things that people say make them happy and life rewarding include developing talents, building stronger family and social relationships, appreciation of nature, pursuing education, and having quality leisure time. These are all sustainable and non-consumerist. But the race to keep up with the Joneses is subverting these desires. Instead of having more leisure time, Americans devote one billion working hours per year to buying more leisure wear.

It's time to create a NewStory. The People's Declaration of Interdependence, known as the Earth Charter, points toward a path for doing this based on our common shared values of respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, nonviolence, and peace. The Earth Charter provides a framework for the NewStory of sustainable development. Remember that the antidote to despair is righteous action. The more we focus on what we don't like, the more it increases. It thrives on that energy. We must focus on what we're for, instead of spending so much time protesting what we're against.

It is also instructive and empowering to realize that we are far from alone in the desire to consciously make new choices that are in balance with natural systems. The voluntary simplicity, Cultural Creative, and relocalization movements toward a post-corporate and post-carbon economy can combine with political progressives to make up about 45% of the electorate. It is estimated that about 90 million people in the U.S. are included in these groups, which makes them about nine times larger than the radical right of Christian fundamentalists, and three times larger than either the current Democratic or Republican Parties.

As the German Greens say, we're neither right nor left--we're in front. Would you like to help lead this parade into a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy?

1 comment:

Diane said...

Great site! Fascinating and profound. But that is what we’ve all come to realize when reading your works. Always makes a person think (even if we kind of wanted to be lazy and not think) and education is a key part. Action is too. We know that you equally do both. It really helps knowing there are others out their doing things. Educating, inspiring, even enraging helps….. gets people involved and thinking.
Keep up the great work!