We Need a New System — 14 Comments

  1. Pingback:Rachel’s Musings » Week 4: June 16 – Gay Liberation History

  2. I am glad you’re enjoying my blog, Andy! It wouldn’t be the same, though, without readers taking the time to comment. I very much appreciate your insights from the “other side of the world,” even if it sometimes disappointing that the grass isn’t greener there…

  3. Hi Rachel

    Australia has long been stuck with an informal two-party system similar to the USA. Presently the Greens potentially hold the balance of power in the Federal Senate; however, they do so with two independents, one of whom is a ‘family values’ religious conservative. The Greens have no representation in the Australian equivalent of Congress, the real seat of power, which is dominated by the centrist Labor party and the conservative Liberal/National Party coalition. I doubt whether the Greens have ever won more than ten percent of the national vote (and voting is compulsory here), although they often poll quite well in inner-city electorates, and do have some representation at state and local government levels.

    Just also want to say that your blog is very thoughtfully written and deals with a lot of things that have been crossing my mind lately: narratives and the making of meaning; singledom; religion; hyper-consumerism – even some of those ‘healing tools’ that you seem to be reconsidering!

  4. I agree, Andy, that Obama’s rhetoric and actions don’t match. The growth drum is being played despite evidence that growth is wrecking everything. Maybe part of the problem is that there are no clear alternatives that can overpower the “extreme psychological/ideological hold” of capitalism.

    Do the Greens have any chance in Australia? That’s one of the things that I really don’t like here in the US: The third parties just don’t have a chance… After seeing the influence of third parties on the political directions in Germany, the US political scene seems rather undemocratic…

  5. My gut feeling (thank you Timothy Wilson) is that global warming, overpopulation and growth-dependent capitalism are here to stay – at least until the oil runs out.

    I’m in Australia and don’t follow USA politics all that closely, but Obama’s actions (as opposed to his rhetoric) seem primarily directed at reviving a broken, corrupt, debt-fuelled financial system; even at the rhetorical level he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in re-regulating or re-creating a less speculative financial sector that doesn’t have a stranglehold over ‘main street’ (and Congress?). I really do fear that growth-based consumer capitalism has such an extreme psychological/ideological hold over all of us in the West that any non-growth, ‘environmentally sustainable’ alternative (if such a thing exists) is untenable (and I say this as a Green-voting left-wing dreamer).

    Sorry to sound so gloomy on my first post!

  6. I was wondering if someone would point out that oranges can be incredibly delicious if you have untrained your taste buds from over-sweetness of processed food. I still remember the expansion of the raisin eating meditation. During a meditation class, we were given a piece of chocolate and a slice of mandarin to eat very, very slowly, savoring all the experiences that come with eating mindfully. I love chocolate, so I was really looking forward to this. But what blew my taste buds was the mandarin! It was just simply incredible, yeah the piece of chocolate was nice, but the mandarin slice had so much more flavor, so much more experience with it, the chocolate just couldn’t compete with it.

    Good point, Fiona, that the current crises allows us to witness supercapitalism in its naked and ugly truth (Robert Reich is calling this system we have here in the US supercapitalism – money influences everything). It is infuriating!

    I am off to eat a blood orange now 🙂

  7. “But will my life really be happier if I forsake the cheesecake because the orange would be healthier?”

    Sure it would, if you learned to taste the incredible perfection of the orange. After you ate the oranges for a long time, the cheesecake wouldn’t hold much interest for you anymore. I think you got it right when you said we are addicted. Most people I know haven’t even begun to investigate their true selves, so how in the world are we supposed to get the masses to choose what would create true happiness?

    It is amazing to see, even during a crisis, just how greedy these power mongers can be. What we are witnessing today is the truth of what is going on at all times, but stripped down and naked. There is no where to hide right now, but this is business as usual, even in the wake of possibly putting their families lives at stake. Money came first for the AIG folks. What WERE they thinking? So…

  8. I had an interesting conversation today which reminded me of your points, Wiebes. The question that you raised could be phrased as: Is it in our self-interest (assuming that’s what motivates us mostly) to protect the environment (or flush the toilet in a public bathroom that we won’t even visit again)? Maybe we’re in the current mess not because something went wrong – as I argued by suggesting that the way we’re meeting our needs has been redefined by THEM – but rather that the mess is a consequence of the way we humans operate. Protecting the environment is, at best, an abstract benefit to us, so it is difficult to see why driving a car, say, to make it more convenient for myself to get from A to B is in my self-interest. Taking the bus or walking takes up much more time. Similarly, eating a piece of cheesecake is much more in my self-interest right now than eating a sweet fruit. Though this last example might point to the crux of the matter: Short-term satisfaction vs. long-term happiness or what Hecht calls good day vs. happy life. But will my life really be happier if I forsake the cheesecake because the orange would be healthier?

  9. I will start flushing the toilet immediately. You have convinced me!

    Love the blogs, well done, keep up the good work!

  10. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts, Wiebes!

    I think the ability to deduct mortgages from taxes has also created incentives for some of the “creative” financial instruments available here in the US.

    Where does our responsibility to the environment and thus future generations end? This is similar to how we treat any commons, any area shared with others: Leave it in as good or better shape than how you found it. If you use a public bathroom, you’d flush the toilet, maybe even pick up some trash littering the floor. Why? Because you’d prefer going into a bathroom that’s clean. Similarly with the environment. It’s not just for future generations that we’re doing this. It’s also for us.

    I don’t think that all the growth of the past 30 years was just bubbles but if you look at the data, there’s a clear break in the upward trend. The increase is much more dramatic – I suspect that this has something to do with the deregulation around that time. So, the change in the slope of the upward trend line is what I am questioning as sound.

  11. My thoughts:

    a) The biggest single difference between Canada and the U.S. in my opinion is that Americans can deduct their mortgage interest expense and Canadians cannot. This means, in many situations, that Canadians work like crazy to pay down their mortgage (or eliminate it) since it’s after-tax debt. Americans tend to be a nation of renters, constantly refinancing their mortgages and then using that money to do other things with it. I know this is a stereotype but on the whole I believe this is fairly accurate. If the U.S. changed the tax laws to disallow the mortgage interest deduction, Americans would start to actually save some money in order to reduce their mortgage payment.

    b) Overpopulation is the world’s largest problem. We can all drive smart cars and eat lentils in the dark but if the world keeps cranking out babes we are all doomed.

    c) Where does the responsibility to the environment end? I am not really an environmentalist since I feel no strong obligation to help future generations that do not exist yet. My philosophical argument is that if we are going to give future people rights, then by definition we must also crank out the maximum number of babies physically possible since, if we do not do this, we are effectively “killing” a future person. It’s an interesting philosophical debate, because if you say that we owe the future something, then you have to decide what you owe them. How many people on the planet is acceptable? Who is the authority to say that only certain people can have babies? Not easy answers. I don’t like recycling and I don’t apologize for it since I don’t feel obligated to help someone who does not exist.

    d) Jon Stewart is a big proponent of “work” being the new value added by Americans instead of “risk” and “ideas”. I’m paraphrasing here. (I love the Daily Show). The idea is that the U.S. needs to create some actual wealth (like saving money or creating goods) rather than playing a shell-game and flipping money around at the expense of the average worker. This view, however, taken to the extreme, is communism, whereby all the workers are working (0% unemployment) but no one has any ideas (there’s no incentive) and no one takes any risk (because the gov’t owns everything).

    e) I think it’s unfair to say that the last 30 years or so of the stock market has been all bubbles and swaps. There are some real companies that have grown out of nothing and have become quite valuable. I don’t think anyone, for example, thinks that Microsoft is a shell company or a house of cards- they have created some incredible value through marketing software that everyone needs (even if we don’t necessarily like it). There are lots and lots of companies that have cash, ideas, assets and technology to create wealth. I think that more regulation is the answer in these cases – yes I am Canadian so I consider myself an “American Lite” basically we boom and bust the same as you but just less. Everything in Canada is basically watered down U.S. versions (except our beer).

  12. Pingback:Rachel’s Musings » Existential Vacuum and Self

  13. Great, Kate! I’ll check this out! I was excited when I started reading the Spring 2009 issue of the magazine Green America puts out because they were saying almost exactly the same things I posted here. There are lots of thinkers & activists addressing this.

    The only missing link that I’ve noticed: I believe that capitalism & consumerism are misplaced ways of meeting fundamental needs. We cannot just ignore those needs at tell people to behave differently. We have to show them better (sustainable and life-affirming) ways to meet these needs. Community is a key for that.

  14. I agree with this entirely.
    I stumbled across an economic theory in a work of fiction, then found (internet) that it is real, and being newly discussed. I’ve written about it and included links here:
    Some call it Social Credit; some refer to it as BIG (Basic Income Guarantee).

    Also agree with population control, though how anyone would convince certain leaders that it was necessary, I have no idea.

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