Steve Sanders shows how hard it is to really get a grip on what’s coming down.
We’re faced with some of the most difficult decisions of our life. This generation. Weighing against those decisions isn’t just our cultural values and expectations, but our families too. What kind of world are they going to inherit? Will they even be able to survive, or will it be a hardscrabble living subsistence existence?
The inheritance we received and what we are now already passing down, isn’t what our fathers received. Each successive generation is getting less and less while the shallow material wealth and consumerism has been on an exponential rise. Everyone in the first world is rich as a king, materially speaking to what our forefathers once had (or the third world today). More and more “stuff” is being created from natural resources all of the time, distributed around and the material wealth of first world nations is higher then it’s ever been.
Yet on the other hand, our real financial wealth hasn’t kept pace. We’re poorer now then ever. The growing discrepency between wages and the cost of living is gigantic for lower class wage earners and growing all the time. This is the world that our children are facing when they leave home and try to make a go of it. They’ll be laboring under ridiculous and outdated minimum wage laws while getting 2o or 30 hours per week because their employers refuse to hire “full time” employees and be required to pay them benefits.
It’s going to be a lot harder for them to get on their feet then it was for us. I slept in my car a few times when I was first starting out. Always broke, always poor, but never hungry. I somehow just managed to make it and things got better, but I can’t even imagine what it is like today. Rents are sky high, gasoline is staggering and food costs are ridiculous. I doubt very much I could pull this off on minimum wage like I did before. Not unless I worked three jobs.
Much of our real wealth isn’t wealth at all, but tied up in mortgages and debt borrowing. The concept of credit cards isn’t that old, something that my parents didn’t have until they were my age. Debt of any kind isn’t an asset, but a liability. As world populations continue to climb, the level of consumer debt is rising to astronomical heights. It seems like we have more, but do we really?
All that material wealth comes from somewhere too. This is the basic problem with the exploitation of the world’s resources. Our “stuff” isn’t created from nothing, but came from all the natural resources once found lying around in their natural state. The entire world is now in a mad scramble to commandeer what’s left. It doesn’t make for a peaceful world.
The basic problem is us. All of us. We’ve chosen unsustainable and unsuitable ways in which to live, learned from our parents and passed down to successive generations. Unless and until we break this cycle of wealth, materialism and consumerism (and the corresponding debt loads), we’re destined as a species to spiral ever downward until we hit absolute rock bottom. By then of course, it will be too late, because the planet itself will be totally uninhabitable.
The only logical course of actions is to break this cycle of generational insanity now. But that is much harder to do then to say. The emotional and psychological attachments we have to our “stuff’ can’t be simply overlooked. Our cultural foundation is at fault. Nothing in our cultural teaches us what we now desperately need if we’re going to survive. Our culture is at impossible odds with what needs to be done and vehmently fights against doing what is right, sensible and common sense.
I realize just now hard this is. Everyday I’m asking myself how I might simplify my life. And whether or not I need to buy anything. It’s not easy and I often fail. I fail more often then not to be honest. My own dependency upon the dominant system is still very much in place. The efforts I have made toward sustainability are incomplete, inadequate and unable to meet my daily needs. But to be fair, there are many reasons for this. For starters, I didn’t learn the concept of sustainability from anyone. That would have helped a lot if I had. My father didn’t teach this to me, nor did his father teach it to them.
And that’s the problem. We can come to understand what needs to be done, but we’ve no experience in how to make it happen. We weren’t taught this as children and even if we were, many people come to reject it as they grow older anyway. Why? Because the dominant system makes it so damned easy to be a dependent. And to be completely insulated from the entire process and knowledge of your own dependency. Just pay a little bit of money, or a lot as the case may be, and you can have whatever your heart desires. You’ve no real investment in the process at all (fiat money is not an investment). You have no idea of what forests were cut down, what species were eradicated, what devastation was caused to extract the mineral or mine the ore. You don’t see the slag piles, the waste dumps or the belching factory chimneys. You’re immune to the effects of the fabrication, machining, transportation and pollution this all causes. Nor do you see the waste piled up high in gigantic landfills and junkyards when you’re done with it. You didn’t grow it, plant it, fertilize it and nurture it. The only sweat you’ve invested is what time you gave your employer doing any of the things you were told to do. But for almost all of us, none of these things are even remotely connected what it takes for each one of us to actually survive, physically, day by day.
All you see is the apple of your eye and you want to buy it. So you do. Your “time” is what you think you traded, but in reality, the trade is far, far more then this and far from equitable.
Our culture insulates us from so much. Even death. Everything is ritualized and preprocessed, packaged and pretty, made as perfect as possible. Grow up, go to school, graduate, get a job or go to college. Start a career or get another one. Packaged, processed and cellophane wrapped lives. Sanitized and homogenized with all the ugliness and dirtiness taken out. All packaged up nice and pretty with clean lines, straight fences and clipped lawns. But underneath it all is a terrible ugliness and denial and continual gross imbalance. And a complete lack of involvement in the very processes that make our packaged professions and day to day existence possible.
There is a terrible human cost to our present mode of existence. We are of course destroying the place in which we live, but we’ve also forgotten how to take care of ourselves. We let other people do it for us. Faceless corporations. We only live because they make it possible. If they were to fail – then we would fail.
Which is exactly what is now happening. Their existence is co-dependent upon our existence, and it’s all based upon cheap energy to generate all of the crap we consume, eat, wear, drive, live and build. Food, clothes, cars, electronics, electricity, fuel, heat, air conditioning, consumables, roads, housing, lumber, tools, everything.
This is the reason that the desperate race for energy supplies is now underway. When Cheney claimed the “American way of life was not negotiable”, he not only meant it, but he was declaring just how critical it is to human survival. If our economy or our corporations fail, it is us that will be losers. Our civilization will collapse – and so will we.
Of course I’m not in agreement with Cheney and his ilk and their global greed, but I suspect that they do recognize that this generational dependency we have created is a serious crisis. Or in their money grubbing case, an opportunity to keep us at the feeding trough of oil dependency. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner and there’s no getting out without badly messing up the intricate mosaic we’ve created.
Somewhere, somehow, a massive cultural shift needs to take place before we run out of time. Tiny shifts have been made, but they are woefully inadequate (such as the Green Revolution) which in itself, isn’t so tiny. It represents a significant change in people’s attitudes and thinking which eventually translated into corporate changes. But it wasn’t enough, not even close. Where the Green Revolution has failed is where we need to start. Buying green does nothing towards addressing the problems of consumerism and materialism, you’re still consuming. Or stopping the cycle of dependency, you’re still dependent. All we’ve done is to raise the awareness that some things we’re doing aren’t good for us and are harming the environment.
We’re going to have to get hardcore and deadly serious about making the cultural adjustments necessary if we hope to continue our survival on this planet. And this needs to happen at home – not just in corporate boardrooms, whose motivation for profit and dependency cannot be trusted to make the right decisions. So how does a home embrace a new cultural standard?
It’s not easy. It’s damned hard because there is so little support for it. Outside of the home, where do you find it? You can emesh yourself in a village or a cult, but outside of these miniscule examples, you’re still on your own. But it’s still the place to start, the lowest common denominator there is. Everybody lives somewhere, if even it’s just under a bridge.
We have to become our father’s father, teaching ourselves and our children that sustainable begins here, right here, between your own two feet and theirs. We have to practice the preaching and put actions behind the words. And we have to teach it religiously to our young, because it is they who are going to need it more then we will. Their lives are just beginning and they will be facing a lifetime of needs. Ours are ending, winding down. There’s still a reasonable chance that the world will last just long enough to bury the last of us even if we do nothing. But not for our kids. They’ll need this knowledge like a desperate man needs a drink in the desert. It will be life or death for them.