What’s the Big Hurry?

February 12, 2007 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Is the world in a hurry? Because we seem to be barreling full speed toward something and I’m wondering what it is. Construction is everywhere, traffic is clogged and rude, people are urgently speaking on cell phones and there’s certainly a lot of stress out there. In fact, I feel like we are throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater! It better be good because we’re risking the environment and the resources that sustain us as well as our future survival. I have a feeling that the collective answer is “we don’t know, we hadn’t thought about it.” Can I suggest that we slow down a bit and put some thought into how we’re investing and what returns we’re getting.

What are we racing toward and why? These are significant questions since we become the focus of our efforts. Like the Meyers Briggs test, the best way to qualify who we are is by looking at how we actually behave or how we allocate our society’s resources today: the budget for the United States. The most glaring trend is that resources dedicated toward the military and security only grow. In general, important issues such as the environment, education and health care do not receive the attention and resources required to address those matters. So, if one of the benchmarks of our ideal society will be when the President of our country can walk in public without security — we are headed in a direction opposite our ideals.

It would be one thing to speed somewhere if there was a purpose, but the economic activity seems to be self-serving as wealth continues to concentrate among a few while population growth adds to poverty. Its been argued that this fury of economic activity is to raise people out of poverty; but America’s economic history teaches us that there are limits to what such an engine can achieve. And more importantly, our economy is the source of our environmental problems — it is based on oil and the consumption of goods. Such an economy might be sustainable for a population of one billion, but at 6 plus billion we are taxing the environment’s ability to renew itself. The question isn’t if business is good for an economy, the problem is that consumption of the Earth’s resources on such a massive scale is bad for us! And, any economy that continues its reliance on fossil fuels also faces an uphill battle.

Then, what should we be aiming for? I’m not sure what the answer is, but there is a number out there that describes the maximum ecological footprint each person on the planet can produce in a sustainable economic system. And, such a system should incorporate efficiencies of new technology. For example, the central market that a city used to provide is easily replaced virtually on the internet. Perhaps a more useful question is in a system how is that ideal different from where we are today and what steps do we need to take to get there? Unfortunately, Americans already out-consume the rest of the planet! By identifying our prosperity with our consumption, we enable societal dysfunction by thinking that to decrease our consumption is also a decrease in our quality of life. Well, I would suggest that we will actually be increasing our quality of life, but that doesn’t make a counter-intuitive choice easier to make. Once we have a definition of the ideal we will have a basis by which to compare ourselves and make conscious choices.

Many obstacles to proactive reforms exist. After economic momentum, our biggest obstacle to real change relates to how much the United States has invested in the current paradigm. Specifically, our society is built on and the presumption of the car that carries with it two assumptions fatal to sustainability: plenty of oil and individual ownership of an automobile. In addition to facilitating isolation and depression, our car culture has also had a profound effect on city planning and consequently American health. Whereas most European cities were founded on walking, American cities don’t have human-friendly efficiencies built into them such as pleasant parks to rest in on your walk home. Walking is essential to who we are as an animal and insufficient activity, which our urban design has built into it, is having repercussions in both health issues and increasing system failures. This is what is commonly referred to as working against yourself. Are we adult enough as a community to recognize basic systemic failures and address them without bias.

Our society’s failure to answer the questions we have raised satisfactorily means the blind is leading the blind. The road we are on is not towards increasing happiness, but rather the opposite – it is a road built upon fear of the unknown. Some may say that it is immoral for our generation to pass our problems onto the next, but the longer we wait to address them, the more we continue to invest in the current paradigm that is fundamentally flawed. We each feel an emptiness that we are trying to fill with things we can buy. But maybe the hunger that we feel can only be satisfied by the most basic of human desires – to be needed. Maybe that hunger can be filled by serving the greater good that our reality presents to us today. And, by acting individually toward the common interest through the way we live our daily lives, life gains a new meaning all unto itself.

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Entry filed under: Consumerism, Philosophy, Sustainability.

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