Monday, December 15, 2014


I recently celebrated by fifty-fifth birthday, the first one that followed my personal transformation from a "reluctant planet-killer" into a "death stopper." As detailed in my new book, the transformation kept this birthday from becoming my last, dangling a thread of hope in place of a push over the precipice of despair about a future that looks grimmer by the day.

Since finishing the book, that hope has been manifested in an evolving vision of an ideal world. I now find myself seeing that vision overlaid with my experience of the real world, with the differences highlighted in almost overwhelming contrast. The contrast is overwhelming in large part due to coincidental timing with the consumption orgy preceding another celebration, Christmas, which cynically and hypocritically objectifies the most precious of human motivations, love, and uses it to accelerate our sabotaging the system of life that keeps the world habitable.

Despite my new-found courage and vision, I allowed some partial indulgence to mark this particular birthday, which typically signifies entrance into a sort of "pre-retirement." My wife and I stayed overnight at a local bed and breakfast, which unfortunately is now up for sale. I ate some not-so-healthy food, along with some good stuff. After more than a year of going without a watch, I finally got a replacement. I even felt okay with it, up to a point.

That point was reached during a trip to the local grocery store after we got home. There I was forcibly reminded that everyone including us is working at the equivalent of a job: buying unhealthy stuff that makes us and others unhealthy until society says we can do otherwise, which of course it will never do because too much personal power depends on it. It was craziness set to an appropriately mind-numbing musical soundtrack of repeating Christmas songs, much of whose meaning was lost in another century.

In the healthier (and more honest) version playing in my imagination, the store aisles would be replaced by an open space dominated with locally-grown food and products people had personally created. Neighbors would know each other and be committed to helping each other on a regular basis, so the "Christmas spirit" of giving would be a normal aspect of life, with competition for how much good we could do instead of how much power we could wrest from others to enhance the lives of a few close ones. The mall where I got my watch would be replaced with such markets, if anything, but more preferably it would be returned to open space that could be colonized by wildlife.

With Christmas only ten days away, the old habits are already returning. I expect I'll be compromising a bit even as my thoughts are further turned toward what a better future might look like and how to help create it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Employment and An Ideal World

Having accepted that common values and understanding are critical requirements for an ideal world (or even a healthier one), and the likelihood that crippling stress would return if I didn't contribute toward creating that world, I decided to look more closely at the kinds of employment that would help meet those requirements and meet my near-term financial obligations while my writing business was ramping up.

Nonprofit issue-oriented organizations are an obvious source of employment that addresses values, especially religious ones. I prefer organizations whose values are most in line with my main value (preservation and proliferation of life for as long as physically possible), yet provide opportunities for open-ended discussion about them and others while not undermining understanding of reality in the process.

Science is my principal model for understanding reality, so organizations that promote science are a clear choice for working toward meeting the associated requirement. There is, of course, a lot of subjective reality we all experience as humans, which needs to have common interpretation (understanding) identified, and I see psychology as a promising means of achieving that.

It would be great if I could find an organization that promotes both values and understanding, which I'm trying to do with my own business. Many issues-based organizations do this within the narrow range of their interests; but by doing so, they tend to discourage participation by people who don't share those interests (I admit being guilty of that myself). More research is clearly needed into finding or creating a viable alternative.

Finally, regarding the remaining requirements: I have for a long time considered joining organizations involved in environmental cleanup and renewable energy, which deal with the requirement involving management of the commons; but I recently realized that they are fighting a losing battle against a complex and cunning enemy enabled by not meeting the first two requirements. I'm therefore less likely to pursue work with them, though I won't rule it out entirely. The same goes for government, which has the theoretical power to enforce responsibility for maintaining the commons and ensuring that only extra resources are allocated by the economy, without detrimental effects; that power can be properly used if everyone supports it and its use, which again depends upon common values and understanding.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Money and Responsibility

It is likely a truism that you can't make money by trying to convince people to scale back on the consumption that feeds their happiness, at least the kind of happiness that depends on dominating Nature. Increasing that happiness is the purpose of our economy, evidenced by the fact that its size (Gross World Product) is proportional to the square of the average happiness of the world's population.

This is evident at the personal level, especially for those us who accept that we are consuming so much that we are critically degrading our planet's ability to remain habitable for species like us. Scaling back is our only rational option, but it is also the hardest option for the vast majority of us, especially since we continue believing that our economic system can still increase our happiness, and because that system has dominated so much of the world that our survival is intricately tied up with it – by making money.

I've described my own personal struggle with this in much of my writing. It is a key theme in Death Stoppers Anthology, the end of which publicly committed me to decisively following my own advice, no matter what the consequences. That advice involves scaling back on consumption and motivating others to do the same, which I am having some success with, but not enough, and not in a way that is obviously sustainable.

Like many families, my wife and I have used debt to maintain our standard of living while income has fluctuated; and since debt is a promise fundamentally based on the expectation of economic growth to pay it off (due to interest, which accrues no matter what), making more money is a personal imperative just to break even. Through the financial system, that money helps fuel growth in other parts of the economy, which ultimately makes our collective demise more likely in the near future.

Cutting back on expenses and living on a smaller income tends to put a brake on that growth; but it has a lot of negative side effects, not the least of which is the stress of feeling trapped with a huge threat hanging over your head, not only of debt but of a future when we can no longer work. While I tend to be most sensitive to the stress associated with not meeting my global responsibility, it is more normal to intensely feel this stress associated with not meeting personal responsibility. As I've written in many ways: under current circumstances, relieving one will make the other worse unless we can be desensitized to it (typically in an unhealthy way), but this will only work until we are all forced to deal with the underlying problem that is making it impossible to escape both.

In an ideal world, humanity would collectively make it impossible for any of us to take the means of survival from any others, including members of other species (reinforcing the concept of the "commons"), and make us all responsible for maintaining it. Whatever was left could be distributed by any means deemed socially acceptable, if there was anything left, which I would argue there isn't (thus, our underlying problem). This would follow a restart of global civilization with a common set of basic values and understanding of reality, along with common standards for developing each. This model would be reproduced wherever else we settled, such as other planets, with rewards for risks incurred in expanding habitable territory provided as part of the distribution of excess resources and lasting no more than a lifetime for those receiving them.

I've read about people (and know a few) who have gotten a head start on creating this ideal world for themselves and a few people closest to them. From what I can tell, they tend to be members of a small proportion of the population who come close to their limit of happiness with fewer resources than most of us, and are content to stay there. Put another way: natural environments require little modification to be suited to their wants and needs. As a result, global and personal responsibilities are largely in alignment, so stress is not an issue. Because their success is mostly a function of who they are than what they've learned (except about who they are), I don't believe it is generally transferrable to most of the population. The rest of us can still learn valuable lessons from them, though, such as the practical, physical constraints of living in a healthier world; but because we'll have less happiness by actually living that way, it won't be as popular as our alternatives without some forcing mechanism (such as reduced social acceptance and opportunities) that makes those alternatives less attractive.

Since finishing my book, the stress of personal responsibility has been growing, in large part because my wife is currently carrying the burden of paying our bills. The lessons I learned when our roles were reversed are still with me, and I have hope that my writing business can (at least temporarily) help turn my "death stopper" role into a means of reducing that stress along with the other stress it has largely alleviated. However, once again time is my enemy; making more money at another job is the quickest way to deal with the immediate problem; and the economy, like most of us, still doesn't value doing what is now the right thing, which increases the risk that I'll be compromising my way back into pain and a crisis of self respect. In the immediate future, I plan to do as much as possible to find a middle ground, balancing the two stresses and buying time to find ways of being more aggressive in doing that "right thing": helping to set the stage for the ideal world.