Practicing contentment would be economically catastrophic


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The Truman Show was a scary movie. It wasn't designed to be, but it was for me because one of my recurring dreams as a child was that I was the subject of some elaborate staged reality where everyone else was in on the secret except me. I have an increasing and sometimes overwhelming sense that we (democratic capitalist civilisation) are living in this monumentally stupid reality. It's not a conspiracy theory because the leaders and advocates for this reality are just as blinded as we the citizenry are. (Although it is harder to excuse them because they are accountable and they present as if they are always smart and right when they are not.)

We are not only told that the health of our society is enhanced if our economy is growing, we continually, relentlessly behave as if spending more is good for us. When have you ever heard a government treasurer deliver a budget designed to enhance the health and wellbeing of citizens? I don't mean by repeating the mantra from within the economic rationalist 'truman show' that 'the most important dimension of a healthy community is a healthy national economy', but by starting with values and national wellbeing indices and aligning spending to them. Imagine mapping the power of resources available to government with things like love, peace, and joy; with things like justice, equal opportunity, health and wellbeing. To say it can't be done, or is inappropriate for a government budget, is simply to reflect the current paradigm right?

But it's not our politicians' fault. They're just part of our collective stupidity. We're all busting our guts doing work that keeps the economy ticking along so we can have more money to go more places, live in better houses and fill them with more stuff. But here's the thing ... we already know that harder work and more stuff doesn't mean healthier communities. In fact, maybe it's the opposite. We already know that the stuff that really matters, I mean really matters at the end of the day once the blinkers of ideologies have fallen away; love, justice, health, peace, fairness ... this stuff is not, is not, enhanced by working harder to get more stuff. And yet we keep on living as if the main thing, yep the main thing, is about consuming so our economy can keep growing. (This is not to be confused with working a meaningful job so the essentials of life are taken care of.) 

Within the current economic paradigm the idea of 'enough' is completely destructive. If we all practiced material contentment we'd have an economic catastrophe on our hands. It's just completely and utterly stuffed. And yes, we must determine what jobs can be developed when people don't end up doing work creating pointless stuff and delivering services that don't add real value to peoples' lives - understood.

Heck, we know how much we need to respond to complex economic challenges like this as well as other environmental, health, geopolitical and community problems. Why is it that our best collective efforts at innovation are driven by commercial incentives? Why have even our governments bought into the idea that it is not their job to be innovative, creative, clever and, maybe even risk taking, when it comes to being fiercely committed to supporting the things that ultimately matter; love, peace, justice, fairness, health etc? In other words, why do all the smart young things get snapped up by Google or Space X? Imagine what it would look like for the best and brightest to want to work for local, state or federal governments to help solve the incredible tricky challenges associated with community peace, community wellbeing and joy ... and I don't mean out of political ambition. We're spending our best energies on the things that are of, at least, secondary importance.

We've got to talk about this stuff. What will it take for us to stop consuming? What will it take for us to say no to upgrades? What will it take for us to stop buying anything, yes anything that is motivated by faster, bigger or more fashionable? What would it look like to keep the same car, the same clothes, the same devices, the same stuff of which we already have too much? What will it take to align our behaviour to the things we already know are the things that really matter? 

When will we stop being part of the system that is designed to make most things worse not better? It feels like everything we do uses energy that is exploiting the planet (our only one) in unsustainable ways. Take the politics out of it just for a second and stop and think how monumentally stupid that is!!! Why are we working such crazy hours in environments that are eroding our mental and physical health? Think about it ... how dumb is it???? How do we make choices that say 'no more'?

If I am being preachy, believe me, it is self-directed. I am frustrated at my own inability to live with integrity. Maria and I try, we really do, but it is so hard to maintain basic practices that are aligned with the way we want to live ... the pull to conform to spend more, be busy-ier, upgrade, etc is insidiously strong. It is so so hard to walk in to a shop, innocently pick up an item and not be completely naively unconcerned about the labour practices and environmental impacts that enabled it to sit so apparently innocently on the shelf. And to be doubly dumb, even if I grasp the supply chain and end of life requirements of the 'thing', I have been taught by democratic capitalism that I am immune from the negative implications, that they are about someone else's environment and someone else's community! Really? Can I hold on to that lie anymore? Apparently I can. Apparently I can say I'm committed to being environmentally sensitive but I then go and buy a T-shirt for $10. The disconnect is mind-boggling but I just keep doing it.

The system is seriously rooted. The incentives are so strong in the opposite direction to the things ... we ... already .... know .... are the things that matter most. Why do we just play along and participate like lambs? (while imaging we are strong independent lions!) Is it, like Jim Carey's character, that ultimately we are more comfortable in the construed perspectives of the Truman Show than doing the work to learn the confronting reality of our own collective stupidity.

We've got to talk about this stuff. How do we live consistently with how we know the world needs to be without opting out of civil society? Is it actually possible? Have the radical hippy hermits got it right despite how much polite society looks down on them? How does the emerging consciousness about radical wholeness and connectedness get expressed in urban contexts? I wish I understood more.

If you've read my ramblings this far then you're either curious about how I've lost the plot completely and have taken my left inclinations too far, or you identify with my struggles. If you are in the latter crew, let me know how you are scratching away at improved integrity while navigating the insane stupidity of normal living. 

I find radical truth bombers a bit intimidating, I think because from within the mainstream there is comfort in numbers and odd people can be politely accommodated but effectively ignored. "So many of us can't be wrong" ... radical idealists are out of touch with the dominant lived reality (read 'truth'). But, I am increasingly suspicious that the mainstream-middle scarily represents the mindset that is out of touch. Frightening isn't it? What if we are caught up in a grand system of collective stupidity? 


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