Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wealth at too great a cost

Culture Change - Wealth at too great a cost

Every so often I come across some writing that I feel compelled to share. Below is an excerpt that says a lot about what I see around me.

Wealth at Too Great a Cost
Written by Jan Lundberg

Culture Change Letter #181

An observation on modern society, from a Mayan village

Rich people can afford anything, or so it is assumed. But our rapidly changing world demands a new accounting of what goes on in the creation and distribution of material wealth amidst unprecedented global population size.

We've heard that the high mucky-mucks will eventually find they can't eat money, nor get into Heaven as well as a camel can get through the eye of a needle. We've heard that "You can't take it with you," from the Keef Hartley Band's song of that title. But now it's time to think in terms of the historic change facing humanity, as the excesses of the pinnacle of Western Civilization take our breath away.

The result of pursuing gain and privilege has been self-destruction for a large segment of modern humanity and life in general. The obliteration of countless species is seldom mentioned in mass-media commentaries or political speeches. Yet, even as we all -– rich and poor -– notice the unraveling of nature's intricate structure that wealth has been built upon, we see the blind continuation of massive exploitation by the few for the few.

I have written about my concerns regarding the promotion of over-consumption before. As a society, we are seriously addicted to pursuing the next material thing or experience. It saddens me greatly.

However, such sadness was greatly tempered when I read this post of Richard Heinberg, who has written extensively on the issue of our dwindling resource supply. Now, a lengthy excerpt from his remarks:

Beyond Hope and Doom: Time for a Peak Oil Pep Talk

Awareness of Peak Oil, Climate Change, impending global economic implosion, topsoil depletion, biodiversity collapse, and the thousand other dire threats crashing down upon us at the dawn of the new millennium constitutes an enormous psychological burden, one so onerous that most people (and institutions) respond with a battery of psychological defenses-mostly versions of denial and distraction-in an effort to keep conscious awareness comfortably distanced from stark reality. I discuss this in "the Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change," chapter 7 of Peak Everything, where I conclude that the healthiest response to dire knowledge is to do something practical and constructive in response, preferably in collaboration with others, both because the worst can probably still be avoided and because engaged action makes us feel better.

Some people who are aware of global threats respond psychologically with a relentless insistence on maintaining mental focus on possible positive futures, however faint their likelihood of realization. Other knowledgeable people are irritated by this behavior and prefer to plunge themselves into prolonged contemplation of the worst possible outcomes. On various Internet discussion sites this split plays out in endless flame-wars between "doomers" and "anti-doomers" (the latter differ from cornucopians, who deny that there is a problem in the first place).

I generally try to avoid both extreme viewpoints. To me, all that matters in the final analysis is whether awareness leads to effective action that actually reduces the risk of worst-case scenarios materializing.

He then asks:

Who among us hasn't fretted over the likely impacts of societal collapse on oneself, family, and friends? Of course, it's perfectly sensible to make some preparations. We should have some food stored, we should be gardening and making efforts to reduce our energy usage and need for transportation. But the obsessive thought that it's not enough can be paralyzing. What if financial collapse proceeds to economic, political, and cultural collapse; what could one possibly do to insulate oneself in that case? Tough question. There are too many unknowns. No matter what we do, there can never be a guarantee that we will be immune to the consequences of Peak Oil and Climate Change.

But this quandary is similar in some ways to the universal problem of personal mortality: we do what we can to maintain health (we eat right, we exercise), knowing nevertheless that eventually we will die. Still, the point of life is not to spend every waking moment trying to cheat death; rather, it is to enjoy each day as much as possible, to grow, to learn, and to give of oneself. Time spent building a family emergency preparedness kit needs to be balanced against time spent helping make one's entire community more resilient, and raising awareness in the world as a whole-and time spent with loved ones, and time spent singing and dancing or whatever it is that makes us happy.

He concludes with some friendly advice:

Assuming you're reading my words on-line right now, you might want to bookmark this page and jump for a moment to, the site of an on ongoing research project of Carnegie Mellon University that has concluded that "Greater use of the Internet is associated with increases in loneliness and symptoms of depression."

So with this pep talk comes some friendly advice (again, I'm also talking to myself here): Take breaks. Eat well, and make sure you get enough exercise and sunlight. Ask yourself: What would I do for joy if I knew I had only a year left? A month? A week? Would I make love, spend time in nature, play music, or...?

Well, do it! But remember the rest of us, and don't drop the ball entirely.

In the end, there is no blame or guilt attached to any of this. And there is a limit to the utility of pep talks. Each of us has different brain chemistry, a different reservoir of past experiences that has shaped our character and repertoire of behavioral responses, all of which results in differing levels of tolerance for bad news and hard effort. We will each do what we can, given our unique makeup. But if words can help, let no courageous worker down tools for lack of simple reassurance.

We're all in this together. Let's rely on one another's reserves of psychological strength when we need to, and provide strength for others when we can.

Yes, we are all in this together. I am most curious how the next few decades are going to unravel. Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to experience two or three of them to the fullest. Time will tell. It is going to be an interesting journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment