Two Kinds of Economic Recovery
by Brian McLaren 02-10-2009
I just watched President Obama’s Indiana speech and town hall meeting from my hotel room in San Diego. I was watching on MSNBC, with Chris Matthews hosting and Pat Buchanan commenting. Pat (predictably) panned the speech, saying that people in Elkhart make RVs, and Obama’s speech failed to explain how we’d get Americans to buy RVs again. His comment, it seems to me, perfectly epitomizes an adventure in missing the point, and perfectly articulates two kinds of economic recovery.
For many people, economic recovery means “getting back to where we were a few months or years ago.” That means recovering our consumptive, greedy, unrestrained, undisciplined, irresponsible, and ecologically and socially unsustainable way of life.
I’d like to suggest another kind of recovery … drawing from the world of addiction. When an addict gets into recovery, he doesn’t want to go back and recover the “high” he had before, or even to recover the conditions he had before he began using drugs and alcohol. Instead, he wants to move forward to a new way of life — a wiser way of life that takes into account his experience of addiction. He realizes that his addiction to drugs was a symptom of other deeper issues and diseases in his life … unresolved pain or anger, the need to anesthetize painful emotions, lack of creativity in finding ways to feel happy and alive, unaddressed relational and spiritual deficits, lack of self-awareness, and so on.
Similarly, I’d like to suggest whenever we hear the word “recovery,” we as a nation see it not as a call to get back our old addictive high, but rather as a call to face our corporate and personal addictions, including the following:
1. Our addiction to carbon. Fossil fuels are an addictive substance. They give us speed … quick energy … serving as a kind of cultural amphetamine. Meanwhile, they toxify our environment and throw the ecosystem in which we live into dangerous imbalance.
2. Our addiction to weapons. Weapons are one of the most addictive substances possible. They give us a feeling of well-being and security, removing our feeling of fear and anxiety, much like a barbiturate. But like a drug, they make us lazy and slow — lazy and slow in the much more important work of relationship-building, justice, and peace-making, lazy in seeking the common good. And they plunge us into an addictive cycle, because if everyone in the world is getting more and more weapons, we aren’t safer … especially when increasing numbers of those weapons are nuclear, biological, and chemical.
3. Our addiction to fear. Religious leaders, media leaders, and political leaders have all discovered that you can raise quick votes, dollars, and members through the hallucinogenic stimulant of fear. By making straights afraid of gays, conservatives afraid of progressives, Christians and Jews afraid of Muslims, citizens afraid of immigrants, and vice versa, these leaders get a quick organizational high — crack for their unity and morale. But the more fear you pump into your system, the more fear you have, and pretty soon, you go from being stimulated to paranoid, seeing things that aren’t there and missing things that are. And soon after that, you move from paranoia to paralysis, leaving you in greater danger than ever.
4. Our addiction to stuff. Jesus said that a person’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of her possessions. An economy that measures growth by the number of durable goods (resources) extracted from the environment and turned into non-durable goods that are bought, used, and then thrown away into a landfill … that economy “succeeds” by turning goods into trash, and calling it success. That’s not success. We need to imagine moving beyond an extractive, consumptive economy to a sustainable economy, and beyond a sustainable economy to a regenerative economy. I believe that in God’s world, if billions can be made destroying the planet and exploiting people addictively, trillions can be made caring for the planet wisely and caring for people justly.
5. Our addiction to a single bottom line. During the president’s town hall meeting, a man from Indiana told how he started a solar-powered attic fan company, and how he chose not to ship manufacturing overseas, but instead, to provide good employment for his neighbors. That meant, he said, that he had a little less cash in his pocket … but wouldn’t you agree that being a good neighbor has a value that can’t be measured in dollars? The single bottom line of financial profit is addictive, and like an addiction, it destroys families and communities. We need to rediscover a triple bottom line — financial sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability. So we need a recovery of family values, and we also need a recovery of community values, and neighborly values, and ethical business values.
6. Our addiction to easy answers. “Government is the problem.” “Just throw money at the problem.” We can’t afford our addiction to these kinds of easy ideological slogans and facile reactive fantasies in a complex, real world. Ideology is, in many ways, a drug that substitutes the quick high of unthinking reaction for the hard work of acquiring wisdom.
So … maybe we can sabotage our addictive tendencies by letting the word “recovery” have a meaning that wakes us up rather than drugs us into the comfortable, dreamy, half-awareness in which we have lived for too long. That’s my hope and prayer. (For more on this, see my book Everything Must Change.)
Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.Uncategorized | Tags: Addiction, Barack Obama, Chris Matthews, Fossil fuel, Indiana, Pat Buchanan, Sustainability, United States | Comment (0)
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A Word About Easter Island And Other Calamitous Feedback Loops
by Don Williams
Stone faces of Easter Island gaze on as anthropologists, mythologists and space cadets endlessly debate their meaning. Measuring up to 28 feet high and more than 80 tons in some cases, the stones have elevated a ruined island paradise to the status of icon in the realm of cautionary tales.
Either Easter Island’s decline was brought on by smallpox and slave trade courtesy of Europeans who arrived there in the 1700s or else, shortly after sinking roots around 1200 CE, the islanders began destroying their own world by killing their verdant forests in a vain effort to avert disaster.
It’s an article of faith among tree-huggers–including me until I read up–that Easter Island fell prey to a cult or three. For centuries, the natives built enigmatic stone heads in tribute to dead chiefs. Such ancestor worship helped ward off trouble, they believed, and grew their clans’ prestige, but transporting the stones and erecting them used up lots of logs, adding to the decline of forests. This caused a shortage of wood for building boats and a shortage of trees for birds to nest in, and so the seafood and fowl that provided sustenance began disappearing from their diets. Soon this once proud and accomplished civilization turned to eating rats, even to cannibalism, the record shows.
One theory goes that, as the decline began, leaders commanded their subjects to accelerate the building of statues. More than 1,000 have been counted, many left abandoned in quarries or by the roadside. The idol boom was a vain attempt to call down the favor of Gods. In short, by the middle of the last millennium, they’d mostly destroyed their own environment by creating a feedback loop that spiraled out of control. More cutting, less food, more cutting, even less food. Or so the story goes.
If true, we’re wise to embrace this cautionary tale, for our leaders ask us repeatedly to feed our sustenance to idols they erect.
Idols to commerce, high finance, fossil fuel, the military-industrial-media complex. All bask in dogmas bordering on religion.
Behold Wall Street, where numbers rise like stone edifices. Today we’ve passed 9,000. Can 10,000 be far away? Is 12,000 once again within our grasp? Now watch as towering numbers tumble.
“More capital!” implore keepers of the Dow. $700 billion should do. No, toss in 150 more to prop up that idol, 200 for the one down on Main Street.
Be not deceived. We’ve rendered such sacrifice before. In the 1980s, the savings and loan industry failed, and we the people poured our sustenance into it. Behold! Wall Street recovered, then faltered. For a time leaders suggested feeding Social Security and perhaps, one day, all such safety-nets to Wall Street.
Yes, feed the mighty Dow your pensions.
Yes, feed it Medicaid.
Yes, let’s have another war–there’s a trillion we can feed Westinghouse and Boeing and General Electric and other makers of armaments. There’s how we’ll restore Halliburton and the Carlyle Group and other entities in which Bushes, Bakers, bin Ladens and others lay money on the bet that wars they insist we fund continue to pay dividends.
And so it goes.
Hear the people chant, “Drill here! Drill now!” Drill anywhere at all!
Yet deep ecologists tell us the wealth of nations is founded on the shaky ground of drawing down deposits of natural energy placed in this earth by the sun over billions of years. In this, “the last syllable of recorded time,” to quote Shakespeare, we’re drawing those deposits down ever more rapidly, turning them into money and ruinous greenhouse gases.
England stripped her landscape of most primordial forests in a couple of centuries and then turned to coal, mostly in the 19th century. Then, along with America, Germany and many other countries, she discovered the power of oil, bestowing prosperity on millions, yet contributing to wars around the world. It’s been little noted that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in part because of our oil embargo against that country.
Beginning some thirty years ago, Carl Sagan, J. E. Lovelock and other scientists began warning that burning fossil fuels would result in a greenhouse effect. Yet the same faith-based “conservatives” who ignored the need to conserve, applauded as Ronald Reagan stripped solar panels from the White House and clean energy incentives from the national budget. Now hear the pathetic chants from their benighted tribe:
“Drill here! Drill now!”
And so such chants resound. Death to terrorists. Build more bombs. More ships. More planes. Support the Troops! They’ll keep us safe.
In the next fiscal year we’ll throw nearly a trillion dollars at the military, counting supplemental funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s more than the rest of the world combined will spend on all things military. Some among those nations have signaled they’ll raise their defense spending in response, prompting a cry for still more from us. And so the military feedback loop spirals onward, mesmerizing the faithful.
Few pause amid the clamor to consider truths that might set us free.
Here’s one: For the cost of one cruise missile or one aerial drone, we could build 80 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, whence terror springs. Yet we feed the god of cruise missiles while starving the benign spirit of education.
Here’s another: Osama bin Laden told the world why he launched a jihad that most people agree included the terror of 9/11. It was because the feet of infidels trod sacred ground. Osama mostly won. We withdrew from Saudi Arabia as he and the house of Saud demanded. We linger in Iraq, oblivious that our presence recruits more terrorists for the likes of bin Laden.
Here’s one more: Clean energy cannot compete against Big Oil and Big Coal unless nurtured, yet the President and Congress spent the last eight years giving tax breaks to gas companies, while mostly ignoring wind, solar, geothermal and other sources.
On Easter Island, the stones stand looking, silent as voices of the faithful who built them so many years ago.
Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist for Knoxville Voice, a blogger for www.knoxvoice.com and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan Journalism Fellowship, a Golden Presscard Award and the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize. He is finishing a novel, “ORACLE OF THE ORCHID LOUNGE,” set in his native Tennessee and Iraq. His book of selected journalism, “Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes, the Best Writings About People” by Don Williams, is due a second printing. Along with Greg Palast, Marjorie Cohn, Norman Solomon, Will Durst, James Secor and others, he is a contributing editor to Media With Conscience (www.mwcnews.net) and his commentary frequently leads the page at www.opnews.com. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the NMW website at www.NewMillenniumWritings.com.
| Tags: 19th century, Carl Sagan, Carlyle Group, Easter Island, Fossil fuel, Pearl Harbor, United States, Wall Street |
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