Our government continues to cheerlead for “recovery.” No, not twelve-step recovery, which would be wonderful, but the kind of recovery an alcoholic has when he is over his last binge and is cruising for the right opportunity to start the next one.
The administration, and its “loyal opposition” agree that Americans need to start spending money on consumer goods again, need to start buying houses again. Uh…what is wrong with this picture?
Well, to begin with, all the so-called “economic growth” of the last thirty years has been fueled by debt. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go,” runs the old joke, but now there’s a problem–there’s no work to go to, for an increasing number of people, and, with the housing market in the toilet, people can no longer borrow against their home equity for spending money. Besides, more and more people are coming to the realization that they already have more useless junk than they know what to do with. It’s not for nothing that the you-store-it biz has mushroomed right along with consumer debt, which peaked at about 2.5 trillion dollars as the economy maxed out in 2008, but is still well above the two trillion mark. If you’ve got more stuff than you can fit in your home, what do you need more stuff for?
The other big hope for being able to renew our societal binge, er, “recovery,” is “increased housing starts.” I have news for you. “Increased housing starts” is the moral equivalent of “another line of cocaine” or “another fifth of whiskey” or “another pack of cigarettes.” It may help our country feel better in the short-term, but in the long-term, it’s a renewed commitment to stumbling down the road to ruin. Building more houses would likely mean urbanizing more rural land, which would require our financially shaky cities to somehow raise more money to build more infrastructure, and would definitely mean cutting down more trees to make more lumber, using more oil to make more asphalt shingles and more vinyl siding, burning more oil to build more roads and more power lines and more fossil-fuel powered electric generating capacity–all the things we don’t need to be doing more of if we intend to reduce our species’ carbon footprint and keep the only life-supporting planet we know of habitable.
And, of course, there’s the little practical consideration that there are already 18.4 million houses sitting empty in America– three-quarters of them for rent, for sale, foreclosed, or simply abandoned. The other quarter are “second homes” where the wealthy go for their vacations. it’s still a lot of inventory–over five vacant dwellings for every homeless man, woman and child in the country–but, I digress.. The housing market is swamped, credit is still tight, and home prices are still in free fall, so building subdivisions on spec like we did in the good ol’ days is a financially indefensible move. Sometimes our state religion of radical fundamentalist materialist economics does make sense. Sometimes, but not often, and certainly not in a timely fashion. We should have figured this out sixty or seventy years ago. We wouldn’t be in nearly the mess we’re in now if we had…but, again, I digress.
Back to our topic–OK, next, let’s not talk about military spending—hey, neither the Democrats nor Republicans will, in any meaningful way–they know who’s got ’em by the short hairs. Believe you me, our political duopoly will pull the plug on every social and environmental program they can slash before they cut military spending, even though that’s what’s really driving this country into bankruptcy.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” boys and girls!
So, as I said, when our government talks about “recovery,” what they really mean is “another binge.” What would a genuine, 12-step style recovery be, on a national level?
Let’s look at the “twelve step program” and see what we can figure out.
- Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
- Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
- Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Hmm….don’t see much of this happening. Most of the people who are even willing to talk about God or “a power greater than ourselves” seem to believe He (most emphatically He, in their cases) is somehow on our side and wants us to binge.
The “Transition” movement is the best place to find a collection of people who have at least begun to realize that “Western Civilization” as we have known it all our lives is an unsustainable 200-year fossil-fuel fueled binge that is about to be over, whether we like it or not, whether we are ready to quit or not, and that our future options range from gracefully continuing the best elements of human culture in much more materially sparse conditions, at best, to being grumpy, sociopathic, fascistic, impoverished “dry drunks” somewhere in the middle, to complete extinction of all higher life forms on the planet due to unbridled human hubris, at worst.
It is interesting to note that those champions of “God wants us to keep on binging,” the Tea Partiers, have lately turned their sights on the Transition movement. It’s hard to predict what will come of that collision. The Transition movement genuinely embodies the Tea Party’s ostensible ideals of local control, self-empowerment, neighborhood interdependence, and participatory democracy, while the corporate-controlled Tea Party uses these ideals as a cover for a movement that seeks to rationalize complete personal and corporate self-indulgence and a shocking neglect of the effect such behavior will have on future generations–these people talk about “right to life” and “protecting the unborn”? They have some nerve! Once again, I digress…
Meanwhile, it seems to me that a lot of people in the Transition movement–and “a lot” is a very relative term, since in my opinion there are far too few people in it overall–anyway, a lot of Transitioners haven’t grasped the importance of the spiritual dimension of Transition. They see it as a technological, social, political problem, not as an addiction that we in the movement are, as individual egos, fairly powerless to combat in ourselves, let alone others, until we align with a deeper, more pervasive and universal energy and intelligence (which IS how I understand the word “God,”at least in this context), and create, in ourselves, a “turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness” that alters “who” we are, and how we express our identities, values, and goals. Intellect alone simply cannot do this.
So, a lot less Bible-banging and a lot more internal inquiry are what is called for. Next?
“Step 4– A searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”
Whew….I could write a book!
Let’s start with A fairly well-known statistic: that the US, which is 5% of the world’s population, consumes 25% of its resources. Now, follow me while I do a little math with you. The richest 20% of Americans actually consume 85% of that 25%, meaning that 1% of the world’s population, the richest Americans, are consuming about 21% of the world’s resources, while those of us in the bottom 80% of the US wealth profile, who constitute 4% of the world’s population, are consuming…about 4% of the world’s resources.
In other words, those who are taking five times their fair share of the world’s resources are leading the charge to cut social services, environmental protections, and limits on the ability of the wealthy to unscrupulously become even wealthier, all the while chanting the mantra of “job creation”–I guess that means so they’ll hire more servants if we’re willing to work for a pittance? In addition to opposing any kind of income redistribution, many wealthy, conservative Americans are also fighting tooth and nail to prevent action on climate change. They are determined to hang on to their unfair share, and believe they have the resources to pull through whatever the future may bring, and to hell with the rest of us. “Class warfare”? You bet!
The pity of it is, that even though most of us are technically not consuming more than our fair share of the economic pie, there is more pie being served now than will be available in the future, as we run up against one resource depletion after another. Peak oil is just the tip of the iceberg. Think peak coal, peak uranium, peak phosphorus, peak water, not to mention peak money, which means that all those cool high-tech solutions to the world’s environmental problems will be increasingly difficult to finance. World wealth, at least in material terms, has nowhere to go but down. Going with that flow would be much easier than fighting it, but American President after American President has proclaimed more or less what Barack Obama reiterated in his inaugural address:
“We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.”
Sorry, folks, this is not “a change I can believe in.” It’s not a change, and it’s certainly not “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of our American self.
And then there’s the way we have secured that unfair share for the American elite. The US government maintains somewhere between 700 and a thousand military bases overseas, depending on how you count them. The US accounts for over 40% of world military spending all by itself, and has intervened militarily in the affairs of other countries over a hundred and thirty times in the last century or so, to keep oil and other things flowing “our” way.
We recently had the bizarre spectacle of outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling for other countries to increase their military spending. To continue with our 12-step analogy, this is like a mean drunk saying he’s being mean because nobody else has the nerve and somebody has to do it, and that everybody he knows would be better off if they were meaner and drank more, yadda yadda. Military spending is the problem, not the solution. If we weren’t so hellbent on military protection, we could fix the planet up nice enough so that nobody would have anything to fight over, and it would be cheaper than maintaining standing armies.
So much for “a fearless moral inventory.”
Wow, eight steps to go–let’s take a musical break.
Greg Brown: “Poor Backslider”
OK, next in the 12 steps:
- Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
- Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Step 7 – Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
Gee….I’m not sure if the distance between this and our country/most of its inhabitants is best measured in miles, astronomical units, or light years. Still, it happened to Paul on the road to Damascus (although, from my point of view as an amateur Bible scholar, his was a less than complete transformation that has warped the Christian Church ever since–but again, I digress).
Now, once upon a time, one of America’s leading psychologists started doing research into how to produce “aha” moments in people–those critical junctures in our growth when we have the openness and insight to go through “admitting the exact nature of our wrongs,” feel “ready to have those defects removed by a power greater than ourselves,” and “ask to have those defects removed.” The researcher found a system that seemed to work pretty reliably, and one of his associates shared it with “Bill Wilson,” the founder of the 12-step program, who tried it out and emphatically agreed with him.
Our government’s response to this research was to demonize and jail the principal researchers and do everything it could to suppress the research and make sure it was never applied to large numbers of people, an effort that has been strongly resisted by those aware of the society-changing potential of this research, but that has, at least at this point in time, ended in a victory for the government and the unstable, unsustainable status quo. Can you say “United States of Denial,” boys and girls?
The researcher, in case you’re unfamiliar with this bit of American history, was Timothy Leary, his associate was Aldous Huxley, and the technique, of course, was conscious reprogramming through the use of psychedelics, which the government has spared no effort to suppress. It’s not for nothing that the DEA’s in-house publication is called “The Microgram.” There’s plenty of coke, speed, and narcotics around, but good luck finding psychedelics–that’s been their only real victory in the “war on some drugs.”
So, somehow, without the kind of chemical assistance that was available from the 60’s through the 90’s, , a whole lot of Americans, enough to be an effective political force, are going to have to realize–as in, “have it become part of their reality”–that this country, its society and its economy, are on the wrong track, and, as the next 4 steps declare,
- Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
- Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
- Step 10 – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
- Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out
- Step 12 – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
OK,”Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”
Wow, that’s quite a list–from the inhabitants of the Maldives, whose home is being overwhelmed by the ocean because of our carbon emissions, to the working people of Mexico and the U.S., whose livelihoods have been destroyed by so-called “Free Trade” treaties like NAFTA, to the people of China, who live in virtual slavery to produce cheap consumer goods for us, to the whole web of life in the Amazonian and African rain forests, which are being torn asunder to put beef on the fancy tropical wood tables of white people, to our depopulated and acidified oceans–and on, and on, including ourselves, who have been spiritually impoverished by our predilection for short-term material wealth and comfort at the expense of the long-term health of the planet and all its inhabitants, from the simplest microbe to the wisest and most complex first people, who lived for eons in harmony with the planet we are now on the brink of destroying.
“Making amends”–just what would that entail?
Where to begin? I’m going to have to free-associate, so what you are about to hear/read is in no particular order.
We need to stop mining and burning coal. Tomorrow. Yesterday, even, if that were possible.
We need to quit all the operations that turn tar into oil. I love you, Hugo Chavez, but you are doing good things with bad money. Stephen Harper, I think you’re a creep, you deserve a trial and a chance to prove you are not a corrupt, selfish sonovagun who should be stripped of your wealth, and whose supporters should be stripped of their wealth, and driven from the halls of power with bull whips. Well, maybe cream pies. Shaving cream pies.
We need to cut our oil production way back–say, assume that known reserves that can be accessed without undue ecological stress need to last about five hundred to a thousand years, cut production to that level, and prioritize oil use accordingly.
We need to quit “fracking” for natural gas. If it escapes from the ground without much assistance, that’s wonderful, but, as with oil, we need to cut back on production to make sure it lasts. Besides, clean water will get you through times of no natural gas much better than natural gas will get you through times of no clean water. Fracking is a way to create hell on earth–have fun drinking your flammable water!
This obviously means massive changes in the way we in the First World live our lives. That’s OK, there’s nothing on TV anyway, it’s more fun to entertain yourself and your friends than it is to stand in awe of the latest pop star or unreality show., and doing the genuine physical labor involved in basic human activities is better for you than trying to make time to go to the gym or jog.
We need to do a combination of disbanding and redirecting our military personnel and expenditures so that the troops are doing positive things, like assisting in environmental remediation efforts around the world. Such money as we can genuinely afford to spend without borrowing from the Saudis and Chinese should likewise be invested in environmental remediation. Believe me, the investment will pay off like no other.
We need to plant a lot of trees, and otherwise reorient ourselves towards basic, local agriculture and commerce. I’m going to talk about this a more in the next segment of the show, a review of Albert Bates’ new book, “The Biochar Solution,” so I will skip over it lightly for now. Let’s get back to the attitude stuff. It’s more basic than the technique, because without a change in attitude, the technique is useless.
We need to “Continue… to take personal inventory and when we (are) wrong promptly admit.. it” because old habits die hard…they like to find new ways to express themselves. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has observed, change is rarely a sudden, sharp turn–it’s more like a curve on a railroad track, where you barely seem to be changing direction at any given time, but after a while you realize you are going North instead of South. That is a good thing. We don’t need to “go South” any further than we have already gone.
That’s not an excuse for foot-dragging, though. It’s vitally important that we start walking the walk and talking the talk as soon as we possibly can, never mind if OUR mind is thinking the thought. The mind is a drunken monkey–you just have to not believe everything you think.
“What’s with all this woo-woo about prayer and meditation and conscious contact with ‘God’ and “praying to know God’s will” and ‘spiritual awakening’? I thought this show was about politics, and here you are getting all New-Agey on me. Whassup?”
The Green Party is, at its very best, a party of those who have had a “spiritual awakening” and felt called to translate it into politics. We went up on the mountain and experienced something almost unspeakably profound, and part of that exsperience was a directive to come down off the mountain and into the world, without forgetting what we had seen, and live our vision in the world.
As I have detailed before, our party’s lineage springs from environmental and social movements, such as bioregionalism, the anti-nuclear movement, and the movement for participatory democracy, all of which, ultimately, had their genesis in the spiritual awakening that Messrs. Huxley and Leary attempted to bring about, and that has been so thoroughly distorted and stifled by our government and its supportive corporatocracy ever since They need ants, not self-realized, autonomous individuals who look within for direction rather than submit unquestioningly to authority. We are not talking about going to the mega-church and having a wealthy, oily voiced pastor tell us what the Koch brothers want us to think and live and how they want us to vote. We are more along Quaker lines in this movement, calling for everyone to contact the highest wisdom they can find in their own hearts, and then join with others who do the same, and conduct a truly free, unprejudiced inquiry into what the highest truth and wisest course of action might be There is no workable solution that can be imposed on the unwilling by a slim majority. Daunting as this challenge may seem, I believe it’s possible. The alternatives are unthinkable.
music: Roseanne Cash, “I Want a Cure