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Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

As environmentalist Tony Jupiter explains in his lecture What Has Nature Done For Us?, “no matter how clever our financial systems, impressive our rates of economic growth or sophisticated our technology, there is no place to move if should we degrade our biosphere to the point where it can no longer meet our needs and sustain our economies.”

Hello Wall Street, wake up from your 300 year dream! The economy you live in and worship is a proven delusion but also very dangerous fantasy that is risking the actual infrastructure of the economy and by the way the planetary system that is keeping you alive.

My question is how can we cure such a serious mental epidemic?  How can we bring these schizophrenic individuals and society back to sanity?

Natural and human history have shown that when a species expands so much that it exceeds the carrying capacity of its ecosystem, depleting the ecosystem’s resources and overwhelming  its ability to provide living conditions (clean environment and waste recycling, etc.), the species will either become extinct or radically evolve to survive readapting to the new living conditions.

Which fate will we humans experience? I bet on the latter.

Sources. Left photo: http://abcawesomepix.com/; right photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images;

Sources: http://abcawesomepix.com/ (left), STR/AFP/Getty Images (right).

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Why do we celebrate Earth just one out of 365 days of the year?

I may sound radical and against tradition but one day of Earth remembrance is just not enough. Our home planet is not just a celebrity whose birthday we remember or another mundane holiday or shopping day like Halloween or Valentine’s Day; not even the honorable causes that gave us Martin Luther King or Veteran’s Day. No, the Earth’s significance is far beyond any tribute we may pay to any past human hero or cause no matter how magnificent.

With all due respect the very organism that gave us life, everything we enjoy and keeps us living, our Earth, deserves our homage, care and devotion every single day in the calendar. I think we need more than an Earth Day.

Earth

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Dr. Fritjof Capra told us in his book The Web of Life our global crisis is a crisis of perception. I would like to build on that brilliant conclusion. Our consumption driven social and economic system dis-empower us by creating a warped perception of scarcity where we are led to believe we never have enough and we are never enough. We are not wealthy enough, not good looking enough (not enough boobs, butt or muscles), not successful enough, not courageous or free enough.

Global capitalism creates an illusion of inner vacuum which can never be filled. It was an amazing economic breakthrough, a Perpetual Motion Machine for the market moved by the ever thirsting egos of billions of consumers; an inexhaustible voltage of wants; an unbridgeable gap between we are and where must be. Most if not everyone who will read these lines can relate to the compulsive search to fill the vacuum we fill in our guts when we count the hours to complete our work day to the frantic weekend.

We try to fill this undeniable vacuum with that new car, next vacation, new extreme adventure, our dream home, possibly that new romantic partner or the marriage that will follow. Perhaps we will fill the vacuum when have our first born? Or will it be when we retire and we have more time to indulge in many more of these diversions.

Materialism and capitalism despite the progress and the quality of life that have brought to humankind, have also come at a very high toll: the disintegration of the world inside and outside of us from the processing and fragmentation of our food to the fragmentation of our psychology. All life on Earth including our very own species is was conceived and developed in a cradle of unlimited relationships, most of them synergistic. In fact if you want to look beyond the laws of biology and ecology, you can ask a physicist what is the essence of the universe. He or she will respond with more or less mathematical detail it is a dynamic flow of relationships.

Such notion of reality is in complete opposition to the ever fragmenting world the Cartesian-Newtonian materialism we are still abiding by. The compulsive categorization and break down of reality driven by such paradigm has divided the world into more and smaller compartments. Such event has literally fragmented the notion of our universe and our very selves. It is this culturally imposed sense of separation that has created countless disconnections between our believes, knowledge, emotions, our bodies, our fellow human beings, our sister life forms and the rest of the planet outside the lonesome voice of our ego, all of which used to be seamlessly connected sometime before we started looking at the world as a machine, and by default at ourselves.

Life is very complex and theories come and go but I am completely certain our prevalent profit and control driven notion of reality is fundamentally false. It is a psychological program designed to enslave us all. The future of humanity if it has one, is to overcome the current perception of ourselves and the world in which we have been imprisoned.

I highly recommend this article from Resurgence and Ecologist magazine. It offers a great insight on this topic.

The wolf of wall street

Image source: ‘Why Do We Like to Watch Rich People on TV and in the Movies?’

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Metropolis film poster (1926)

Metropolis film poster (1926)

Continuing on my previous post on trans-humanism I recognize this is a complex subject where a one size fits all analysis could risk the required understanding of and engagement with this movement.

On the one hand I am convinced repressing our human capacity to create and develop technology goes directly against human nature, self-realization and purpose. Subsequently I vehemently oppose the demonization of trans-humanism and by default, the demonization of human progress.

On the other hand I cannot stress enough the urgency to (1) raise awareness of the risks inherent to the trans-humanist agenda and (2) to manage such risks.

I am probably less optimistic or idealistic than most people in our society’s ability to manage the impact of these new powerful life altering technologies effectively and timely. We have been indoctrinated by modern society, primarily by corporations and universities into a blind faith in technology. Such faith keeps us complacent believing technology will save us all in the end. This inability to question technology’s limitations and safety keep us powerless in the face of considerable risks.

History has shown society does not wake up to major risk until we have come to the very brink of the crisis. An example of such human behavior was the insane arms race escalation which drove the US and Russia to the so-called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario. It was long after both super powers had made enough weapons to destroy several planets like earth that both parties realized nuclear war could not be won by either side. No nation could escape the enormity of the resulting nuclear holocaust. It took such an overwhelming and terrifying realization before the parties recovered the common sense to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

I am still looking for a way to manage the challenges that trans-humanists goals like human life extension will bring to a world where the carrying capacity of the Earth will have been exceeded several times over. We would need fantastic technologies to compensate for the extra people who would live by immediately reducing the ecological-footprint they would add.

And that is where my main argument arises. What will take to remove our anthropocentrism (human centeredness) from technology and from the human perception and interaction with the planet? That achievement would allow us to approach reality with a true consciousness that will call for the most ethical, rational and responsible use of technology. Such level of consciousness would enable us to prioritize our never ending list techno-wish list accordingly and allow us to better manage our development. It comes down to prioritizing planetary threats such as water scarcity over saving 40 year-old women from wrinkles.

It is amazing to see how the egotistical obsession with ourselves can cloud our judgment so much that we can completely detach from reality and  the urgent growing list of planetary issues which make such self-indulgent trans-humanist goals not just unimportant but shamefully frivolous. Resolving the global threats upon us, assuring the health of our life sustaining system and ensuring social justice and equality should take priority over any other goal by humanity. I will support trans-humanism in as much as it may contribute to the progress of sustainability.

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Retail analyst Victor Lebow is famous for creating what can be considered the American consumer manifesto as found in his paper “Price Competition in 1955” (Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955):
 
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats- his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.
These commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only “forced draft” consumption, but “expensive” consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption. The home power tools and the whole “do-it-yourself” movement are excellent examples of “expensive” consumption.”

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File:Shoppers at Toronto Eaton Centre.jpg

Photo by Benson Kua

I was posing the question to you of how we can save people from the perils of consumerism. That drug which lures everyone into a false sense of ego, independence and invulnerability; an illusion of power and control. Such cultural programming has become a drug-like belief by which the possession of material goods will allow us to instantaneously feel complete, successful, in control of our lives and in reconciliation with our internal judge who is never satisfied with our persona. We can realize how dangerous this drug has become when we evaluate its effects at the personal, societal and environmental levels.

Whereas in the 50’s the TV monitor brought daily ritual congregation in the American family, gathering all co-habitating family members and even neighbors, today’s TV has been multiplied four or five fold allowing each member to enjoy his or her respective show or virtual adventure in privacy and quite often in solitude. This trend is taking away the interaction of the individual with family, friends and others.

What about automobiles? Some of us still remember the magic of sharing a road trip, filled with storytelling and radio soundtrack to the natural motion picture projected through the windows. Most households nowadays have 2 or 3 vehicles and the only vehicle carrying more than one person is mom’s minivan or SUV. But unfortunately mom has little time or concentration left for a meaningful conversation with her children, particularly because they are distracted with Game boys, Nintendo’s or the TV in the back seat.

TV’s and cars are just two examples of how technology has increasingly lured us into the dream of independence and separation that fills our powerlessness and submission to society, full of mandates, pressures and responsibilities.

This vision of technological independence and private self-satisfaction feels to me like a masturbation of the ego; a rapid means to relieve our aroused senses believing that the excitement, self-importance and sense of accomplishment generated in the consumption experience will cure our fears and fill our emotional voids.

Think again, this vision has ironically turned us away from self-sufficiency. It has made us addicts of runaway consumption, where we are subjected to an intentional void in our sense of self-esteem and self -realization which generates an insatiable appetite to acquire goods and services condemning us to an artificial comfort zone which we fear to leave. This apparent sense of comfort and safety has drawn us away from family and society. It has taught us to revere individualism turning down our sense of community so necessary for emotional health from the personal to the community level. We have thus disconnected more and more from our relatives and friends increasingly becoming more protective of the time they take from us and less sympathetic to them.

At the societal level, ethics and values have then taken a heavy toll, promoting self-interest, competition and materialism. This is an effective way to get rid of compassion, the only true source and driver for man’s harmony with himself and the planet. In the name of freedom and independence, greed has been institutionalized.

At the environment level, our dangerous ego trip of separation from our own species has made our disconnection with nature only more obvious. That illusion of separation can only make us unaware and insensitive to our degradation of the environment as we encourage the super production, consumption and waste of products.   Our cult to self-satisfaction has been very instrumental in the unlimited uncontrolled growth of personal items designed not to be shared, cars, TV’s, DVD’s, MP3’s, computers, etc. The over consumption of these goods is responsible for huge increases of natural resource consumption, pollution and reduction of the planetary natural habitat.

The question that comes to mind is: Can we do anything to stop this quick deterioration of civilization? Unfortunately, the question is very difficult. in spite of the fact that we have the intellectual tools to engineer sustainable solutions that could correct many of the disrupting effects of our industrial existence, the problem cannot be resolved until we let go of our voracious appetite for consumption.

We need to be brought back to the real reality where human values drive our believes and behaviors. We need to regain our sense of empathy, which will trigger love, understanding and devotion for others. We need to let our revived hearts heal our sterile Cartesian reductionist minds and make them understand our iconic fantasy of separated egos.

We cannot live as isolated entities because we are simply connected to nature and everyone else in the planet. We cannot escape such overwhelming reality. Any attempt to do so becomes futile as we learn of the endless pain and lack of satisfaction we experience in this process of “independence”; as our irritability and neurosis develops in the cool of our failed parents’ marriage; as competitive rage makes us fight for a position at work or a parking space; as our non-negotiable self-focus prevents us from saving our friendship, our spouse or our child.

But how can we instill consciousness in this manipulated society at such a fundamental level? How can we recover empathy, love, understanding and the sense of community? I propose recovering the loss of the community institution, the perennial concept of tribe through its most powerful tool, the tribal art of storytelling. Telling stories that are exciting but meaningful.

Interestingly enough the very technology responsible for leading us down the path of isolation can now provide story-telling of global proportions and subsequently take us back to reconnect with ourselves and our human global tribe. It is communication and information technologies that are reversing the trend of isolationist consumerism and teaching us the ecosystemic potential of human development. The digital revolution can be worsen this problem or provide a solution path.

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