Saturday, July 17, 2010

how shall we live? part 1

My attention has returned in recent days to a theme that has long concerned me, a theme that has popped up in several very interesting blogs.

Will of Zen Agnostic sums this theme up nicely in this quote:
"most of what the doctors are calling mental illness, clinical depression, neurotic behavior - this not illness. It is a natural reaction to an insane culture and a dying planet....Part of the problem in this insane screwed up world is that people can't be open about their grief and anger. Our emotions are natural and healthy - but society at large labels us as unhealthy if we don't put on a smile every day and joke about the weather and sports and the latest celebrity DUI arrest. Simply writing about it, naming it, not hiding from it, is an act of resistance."
Over at Robert Jenson writes:
"To be fully alive today is to live with anguish, not for one's own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse."
And Dave Pollard at how to save the world writes of the dissonance between the messages from our bodies (physical survival, avoidance of pain, procreation of our genetic material), our culture (values, beliefs, attitudes and norms), and from our environment or biosphere which he labels gaia. Dave argues that:
"this dissonance is paralyzing; it renders us ill, physically and mentally, and ultimately we get exhausted trying to handle it so we become desensitized, shut down."
Like these three bloggers, everything I know, everything I study as a sociologist, as a observer of human society and culture, suggest to me a world in collapse, that has already "overshot" the material basis (resources, food, energy) on which its existence depends. I strongly recommend reading the work of Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows, The Limits to Growth (1972), Beyond the Limits (1992) and The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update (2004). Meadows, Randers and Meadows wrote in their first book (1972) that:
"If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrolled decline in both population and industrial capacity."
By 1992, Meadows, Randers and Meadows were convinced that those limits had already been reached in several areas (for example world wide grain production peaked in the 1980's), and by 2004 the conclude that we were approaching other limits much faster than their original hundred year time line.

Most people in modern industrial societies have lost awareness of how deeply the health of society is tied to the health of the environment. They think of our technology as lifting us above the vicissitudes of weather and changes in climate. Yet all one has to do is examine the extent to which "normal" daily activities in our society are fouled up and even stop dead, when it gets too snowy or too hot, or when a hurricane stops the pumping of oil for the Gulf, to realize that our technology has made our societies more rather than less vulnerable to changes in our environment.

We are on a path that is unsustainable in human social terms, not just in environmental terms. The two are so intimately intertwined that we cannot deal with one without dealing with the other. Our economy is not only unsustainable in terms of its use of resources and energy, but it is unstable and unsustainable in terms of the ever increasing disparity between the tiny percentage whose wealth is growing and the other 95 percent whose wealth is declining. We are impoverishing our people and our society as well as our ecosystems and biosphere.

[I realize that this is a larger topic than I can do in one post, given all the other immediate deadlines in my life, so I'm going to make this a multi-part post, with this installment just identifying the problem and linking to some great blogs. more on the actual question posed in the title another day.]


Anonymous said...

I whole heartedly agree with most of what was quoted BUT.... I feel it is the "human condition" to be wanting for more all the time. That is what makes us as a human race move up the ladder of evolution.
We have to learn not to over-step the boudaries of common sense. As individuals I don't feel we do.....The worse thing that has happened in this world is GREED.....
Greed of money....Greed of power.... Political & corporate. That is the destruction....
Wonderful thought provoking post!

Maggie May said...

Yes..... a thought provoking post. Greed and loss of care for others is ruining the planet.
However, man is made of tough stuff and I believe that somehow we shall prevail.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Geraldine said...

you have hit the nail on the head here sue. ive thought these same things for a long time. being a non-conformist now is even more important to our wellness and sanity. let the so called norm be damned. wonderful post

Jessica said...

That is a great question Sue! We sure as hell cannot go on living the way we have been living, as it is a road to certain collapse.

I'll be quiet blog stalking for your other parts to this post! VERY thought provoking!