Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Building a Better World

A couple of days ago I hit my personal threshold for stress about the state of the world. I've been tracking our progress toward population collapse for a long time, invested a lot of effort in determining what we can do to stop it (at a high level, anyway), and have recently been commenting on news stories of interest – which are multiplying almost exponentially. The last straw was the military action in Libya, which no matter what its immediate justification, was a dangerously reckless move by a president who I expected to know better (and judging from his own words, once did). I decided to localize my attention, in no small part because my own survival is in jeopardy.

Most of the jobs I'm applying for are contracts with companies that are part of the problems I've been pontificating about. This has the advantages of buying time, meeting my financial obligations, and presenting opportunities for changing minds; but it still feels like I'm thrusting a proverbial knife into what might still qualify as my soul. To develop alternatives, I've continued to study human ecology, and started doing an ecological study of my own region, which includes the three cities covered by my local Transition group. Educational opportunities are still on the table, if I can find ways to improve my chances at admission and paying tuition while helping my wife with paying our other bills.

Yesterday, I decided to change my approach (at least mentally) from trying to keep bad stuff from happening to building a better world. I began by going back to first principles, which is reflected in today's Idea Explorer post, “Delta World.” In addition to providing a new, useful way to frame world events, as a value system it has the potential to help make decisions about how to interact with the local environment. I chose the concentration on differences with that in mind. Looking at what's around us and asking how it can be changed to maximize good (as I defined it) leads the way to action, which in my experience is the best cure for despair.

Personally, I don't have to go much further than my own house, which is full of items that have already reduced all three of good's component variables just in their construction, and if disposed the wrong way could decrease them even more. The yard owned by my homeowner's association is a classic suburban deathscape, occupied by thirsty grass, non-native trees and shrubs, and sprinkled with rock hauled in for nothing other than questionable aesthetics. Most of the residential area is like that. Industrial and retail space isn't very far away, sharing the primary goal of serving just one species -- ours. With my new perspective, I can imagine how the parts of my mostly artificial world directly or indirectly affect the longevity of individual people here and at the next links in the supply chains they may be part of, in many ways manifested as happiness (which, you'll recall, is linearly correlated with life expectancy). In the interest of making at least this part of the world better (again, as I define it), I can think about how the existing structures and activities might be improved, and how others might be brought into service to address deficiencies.

In the world I currently live in, meeting my own needs depends on transactions with other people, who trade currency for my services that I can use to access resources I can't as easily get on my own. No matter how much “good” I enable, I must convince someone that it's worth what they had to do to get the currency they're trading with me. If they don't share my definition of good, or see it reflected in what I've done, then I have to find someone else or effectively perish. Because the overlap between my values and those embodied in most economic activity is pretty slim, I probably won't make much money doing what I consider right, and to get the amount of money I need right now I may be forced to do a lot of what I consider wrong. In short, my life is a microcosm of the world, at least in a so-called affluent country.

In the interest of trying to have a positive attitude, I have to consider the likelihood that I'm just not being creative enough.

By the logic of an ideal marketplace, we are all responsible for building demand for what we do, whether it be providing a product or service. There's an exquisite overlap between the need for a change in our culture's values and the need to increase demand for what's “good.” I've played that game, early in my career with my father in our education business, and lately with my own creative writing, both with dismal results. The “green” movement has been a lot more successful than I may ever hope to be, by attempting to use people's current values to trick them into accepting new values; but the results are still less than adequate, probably because there has been too much compromise in the process (see “Green Economy?” in the Idea Explorer blog). Co-opting the green approach may be my best option for at least morally neutral income in the near-term, but I can't shake my sense that it's a loser overall (note that, by my calculations, we must be making major changes within this decade and many years afterwards to avoid a catastrophic reduction in our population).

As I pointed out in Delta World,” I see the main problem being a fundamental disagreement over values. If that changes, our economics will be naturally in line with the new values, though I expect them to work in a very different way. Again: if we don't change over the next ten years, it will be too late. If I'm to contribute to solving this problem and meet my financial obligations, then simultaneously working for a green organization, doing other “good” things for free, and making a strong case for my less ambiguous value system may be the best strategy, at least until I think of something better.

No comments:

Post a Comment