Thursday, 29 October 2009

We Know Not What We Ask For...

I have often been labelled as pessimistic, though I often like to think of it as making sensible choices as to what to be optimistic about. A recent post through the peak oil mailing list I subscribe to was both troubling and illuminating at the same time.

The article "Obama Turns to the Financial Elite for Campaign Cash" starts out describing the exorbitant amounts spent in U.S. political campaigns, and points out that some of this has come from the very Wall St. institutions that the taxpayers over there were so busy bailing out just recently. It's all stuff you've no doubt read and been outraged at before, but here's an example to give the gist of it:
“The investment community feels very put-upon,” he told the Times. “They feel there is no reason why they shouldn’t earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don’t want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown.”

The “investment community” feels “put-upon?” This, as Wall Street prepares to dole out $26 billion in year-end bonuses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The near-record figure represents a 40 percent increase over 2008. At Goldman Sachs, the bonus pool has doubled.
Wow! Yet the masses just trundle along hoping to get ahead. Sure they must get outraged, rant at the nightly news, or drink or shop themselves into a stupor, but short of outright revolution there's little they can do when the political system is tailored to circumvent any hope of achieving real change.

Whilst the article goes on to further highlight the various outrages perpetrated by the current administration in collusion with the financial elite, it is the final paragraph that is the most troubling:
A solution to the social crisis is impossible outside of a frontal assault on the power of the American financial aristocracy and the social inequality that pervades every facet of life. The vast wealth monopolized by Wall Street must be confiscated so that it can be utilized to create jobs, fund health care and education and raise living standards. These tasks can be achieved only in struggle against the Obama administration and by workers mobilizing themselves independently in the fight for a socialist alternative.
I'm not sure about the U.S. but here in Australia our political parties no longer fall on either side of a Left/Right divide. In their efforts to secure the majority of the vote both sides have come closer and closer to a "null space" between the two ideological extremes. They seemingly stand for nothing beyond feathering their own nests and doing the minimum possible to secure a comfortable chance of re-election.

Unfortunately the called for solutions on either side of the divide (more socialistic capitalism, more capitalistic socialism?) miss one critical point. We are facing a future where there will be no more prosperity for any but the ultra-rich. It doesn't matter how much money is re-distributed from the wealthy to the poor if that money is worthless because society's resource base is stretched beyond bearing.

So the poor wish to rise up and join those with a standard of living that will soon be impossible to maintain. All the effort and energy put toward revolution will be wasted when everyone arrives at the finish line and discovers there are no more prizes to be handed out.

Sure, if there was a revolution tomorrow we have a few more good years of productive capacity such that a couple of billion flat screen TV's could be produced and handed out in a socialist undertaking to improve general living standards, but once it's gone, it's gone. I guess if it's not wasted on flat screen TV's for today's poor it will only be wasted on newer models of flat screen TV's for today's rich and middle classes.

The trouble is that no-one really wants to recognise that the revolution should be in the opposite direction, away from riches and toward frugality. The only way to save ourselves from future poverty is to consciously devolve to a comfortable poverty, starting today.

Productive jobs in a consumer society are a relic of a dying age. If people want to secure their future then they should be creating productive jobs for themselves in an neo-agrarian society, not clamouring for revolution to redistribute money so the delusion of modern wealth can live on, more thinly spread, for another decade or so.

Where we need the revolution is in reclaiming rights to land, water, clean air and self-determination and self-care.

We can live without great wealth if we have enough space and water to grow our own food. We can live without great wealth if we are allowed to utilise the resources that fall upon or exist within the space we inhabit. We can live without great wealth if we aren't held up to maintain the standards of the wealthy when we erect our homes, or to abide by the myriad rules created by people with nothing better to do, and no more noble way to earn a crust than making other's lives miserable through endless regulations.

We don't need to be saved from ourselves, for that saving is set to be doing a whole lot of killing where it now mandates solutions that are just not suitable for the future we face. Try erecting a one room shanty made of native stone on your block of land and see how far you get before the local council is there with the sheriff to see you off! Yet a one room dwelling with outside toilet would have to be one of the most sustainable and suitable homes there is. When there are five or ten families doing the same on a block of land, there you have a potentially sustainable future with a low ecological cost. You wont see that solution at the top of most people's list!

The greatest dilemma of those not of the rich classes is securing our right to live in a comfortable poverty in the face of all the wealth, or in spite of all the "wealth" (the term is used loosely!).

At the moment we don't have a chance. In order to achieve the simple goal of living off the land we need to struggle to make enough to support all the parasitic classes that feed off potential landowners, then we need to struggle with the powers that be just for the right to dwell upon and work that land. Options to circumvent the various strictures are closed up as swiftly as they are found, so governing bodies attempt to ensure each family remains isolated, unable to pool resources with others, unable to draw upon their own resources.

We don't need a revolution to bring us more jobs and more opportunities in a dying system. We don't need more chances to ensure our excursion into overshoot territory is as damaging as possible.

What we need is a revolution to allow us to live in our place on earth in a comfortable poverty of our own making, and to allow us the opportunity to make the most of that as we each see fit. We need a revolution to protect all of that from those who would own every acre of the world and every man, woman and child upon it, yet would not step foot outside their tall towers, much less grub in the dirt to make a real living alongside us.

More than anything we need a revolution in our understanding of our place upon the Earth, a revolution in our relationships with one another, and with ourselves, such that we would demand these things in the first place, such that we would demand less rather than more.

This is the crucial revolution, and sadly the one that we are least likely to see.


Gavin said...

Here, here! A very well written essay and one that I also believe in.

The western way of life that the third world is striving for is already in decline, but yet even the first world nations can't see it!

The revolution needs to be an evolution back to nature and has to come from within. Most have lost touch with the world we live on, which is a very sad thing.


Geoff said...

Thanks Gav!