"Civilization has been organized on the premise that the world is a vast, essentially limitless storehouse of natural wealth; and on the related premise that those who are ruthless enough to defeat their rivals in accumulating the greatest pile of wealth are heroes and role models.
A system which functions solely in the quest for unending growth to produce greater material wealth -- for a fortunate few -- in the shortest possible time, is not designed to allow for any questions of morality. That has been 'designated out.' Our core values placed wealth and comfort above all else."
These are the opening paragraphs of chapter seven of Dr. Michael P. Byron's book, Infinity's Rainbow, examining the state of human society titled.
The foundation of our society, as Dr. Byron points out, is an amoral one based on greed. Understanding this is fundamental to understanding what drives our politics and what has been the root cause of the social and environmental problems that are threatening to overwhelm us. What makes these values particularly destructive is that the premise of limitless wealth is false. Those who accumulate vast amounts of wealth, rather than heroes, are the worst villains of society since their wealth comes not from some cornucopia, but from others who may need it to survive.
In an article for Scitizen dated December 22, 2008, Kurt Cobb wrote ".... money is nothing more than the ability to command energy to do what we want it to do." That could be rephrased to say that the only real wealth that counts is energy. Without energy there would be no life. Everything that we do requires some amount of energy. The whole reason for existence of any life form is to get enough energy to survive and reproduce. Beyond that reason we wander off into the realms of conjecture and fantasies.
Given the state of the world today one can argue that human society is not fit enough to survive, at least not in the form in which we have built it. The belief in endless growth fuelled by endless wealth has put us on a dead-end path, and our predominate value system, which esteems accumulation, hastens our journey to the end of that path.
We are living on borrowed time. We have been squandering our wealth, using up vast amounts of energy thinking that there will always be more, but what hasn't been sufficiently considered is that the bulk of our energy is coming from fossil fuels, energy resources that have taken tens of millions of years to accumulate. These fuels are being exhausted rapidly, and much to the detriment of our environment, both by the direct effect of pollution from burning them, and the indirect damage from the ability they give us to over exploit other resources including food production. As a whole human society is progressively getting poorer.
We face a difficult future, increasing populations which require more energy, decreasing energy supplies and environmental destruction caused by our demand for energy. It may well be that if we don't repair the destruction society will collapse. Of course repair will require energy, so it is imperative that we begin diverting more energy to society for repair rather than to individuals for exploitation.
We have no choice if we wish to solve the problems that now face us, other than to abandon the idea of growth and reduce our demands on the environment until we reach a point that can be sustainably maintained. It is a choice that will require major adjustments in lifestyle for many, and a power shift away from those who place a high value on the personal accumulation of wealth.
Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada's West Coast.
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