Sunday, December 17, 2006

Whose World Are You Living In?

Riding home on the commuter train last week it dawned on me: we're still in the stone age. I was looking out the window at the dank swamp of polluted marshland, power lines, and industrial plants that separate New York City from the New Jersey suburbs. It all seemed so primitive, not in terms of technological progress, but in terms of human progress.

A small group of people with access to large amounts of capital see opportunities to accumulate even more capital: industry, international brands, mass consumption and mass waste. It is they who have created the world that we live in. We work at their jobs, shop in their malls, eat their food, dream their dream of ever increasing prosperity. Why are we living in their world? Why aren't we creating our own?

Like all generations before us, we are living in modernity. But if your idea of human progress involves goals like universal acccess to education, health, information, employment, and self expression then we have barely begun our development.

Our system is not working. The goal of work for pay for consumption is not sustainable. There is little debate that this lifestyle is destroying the planet. However, it is also destroying ourselves. Most people spend the majority of their waking moments doing work they don't like to earn money to buy things they don't need. However, for most of the world's citizens even dull work and unecessary consumption is but a faint dream. They see this broken way of life that we enjoy in the West and they want in on it. But what would be the result of mass adoption of the Western lifestyle? A degraded planet unfit for life, a planet of degraded souls.

We need a new system, but it can't be founded on something as flimsy as values. Values are pretty, but they are too easily undermined and co-opted. And anyway, the people with the power to change the system are too cynical to believe in them. Self-restaint, rejecting the quest for wealth, taking an active interest in the well-bing of people we've never met, thinking in the long term: we humans have never been too good at those behaviors. We've been too intent on survival. It's time that we realize our survival depends on changing those behaviors.

photo: kouchi

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