Shifting from my usual discussion to something that came up in conversation with another. The COVID-19 paranoia that is all we hear about today has affected travel to and from many places, including if not especially China. I happened to remark to a friend that this might end trade with that country, thereby achieving a worthy goal albeit by the wrong means.
This is when the discussion got interesting, as I explained (once again) why we should not be doing business with China. The virus isn’t even on the ‘top ten’ list, to be honest. You can start with the fact the government is totalitarian and corrupt, move on to the utter lack of safety and environmental concerns of their industries, continue with the fact people there are considered a disposable commodity, and end up with the proposition that if we’re trying to be ecologically sound (as Canada alleges it wants to be) the pollution cost of hauling goods halfway around the world are pretty enormous.
From that point we jumped ship and got on to the issue of how much of the world would change if it actually were possible to get our collective act together and try to minimize the damage we’re doing to our planet and indeed to ourselves. It would require a pretty sobering plan of action.
Never mind what type of government or economy you think is best: the fact is any of them will work, up until the point they become corrupted. A benevolent king looks out for all his people and sees to it everyone has the necessities of life. Rarely has a monarchy actually managed to do this, and in many cases they haven’t even tried. Our so-called social democracy is supposed to be so much better a system for doing this, yet it still fails to achieve the goal. This monograph isn’t about that, though.
Never mind that we have billionaires who claim they “earned” their money. The math doesn’t support that. You’d have to work for 50 years at an average wage of $10,000 an hour to get a billion dollars gross, never mind net. No one’s skill-set is worth that kind of money. (The Approximate Math: 40 hours per week * 52 weeks per year * 50 years = 104,000 work-hours. $1,000,000,000 divided by 104,000 = $9,615.38 per hour.)
Never mind that politicians continually tout increasing the population as though that’s a good thing instead of the sure-fire recipe for devaluing humans and lowering their standard of living. It affects low-end workers the worst, of course. Can’t make it on minimum wage? It’s not because that wage is too low, it’s because the cost of living is too high; ever greater numbers of workers in your income bracket puts pressure on the value of everything you need to live, driving those prices up. We have known for the past fifty years that overpopulation is the cause of every problem we face, and yet we continue to go forth with the “breed for the Fatherland!” ideology. China has this in spades with a population of 1.4 billion, which is why they don’t really care how many die or what from. It only becomes an issue when it either affects leaders (as it has in Iran) or more usually interferes with wealth. Then it’s a problem. Ten million peasants could die and so what? Unless there suddenly was no one to serve their tea or the sales of products dropped off enough to affect their profits.
Enough background information. Argue about it if you like, but it won’t change anything. Neither will what I’m about to impart. Why? The answer to that comes at the end.
Now to bring about this sustainable world society, what needs to be done? First and foremost, everyone must contribute to the society they take from. Marx said “each producing according to his ability and consuming according to his need” which is correct. Except Marx knew nada about human nature. We are by our DNA greedy, selfish little users who will consumer whatever we can get while doing as little as necessary to get it. Since you can’t change human nature, you have to deal with it instead. That, unfortunately, is the first step in everything getting ugly. It’s why the communist revolutions inevitably fail, and why innocent people die in the name of “the cause”.
But we do have a segment of society that we know consumes without contributing: the convicted criminals. They sit in their cells, possibly for life, costing $50,000 (a pretty good wage) a year while doing nothing in return. Obviously some better way of dealing with them is necessary, such as executing the hopelessly violent sociopaths and possibly gainfully employing the others. They used to do this, prison work it was called, until the non-criminal labourers objected as it took away jobs from people who hadn’t actually broken the law first. You can see their point, but still there should be some better way of handling the situation.
There are other segments of society who don’t pull their weight as well. The aforementioned billionaires for example. Or other over-paid people who work in certain businesses which aren’t really essential to society.
Now let’s stop and discuss what is “essential”. When I was a lad we learned there were three basic necessities to life: food, clothing, and shelter. Arguably clothing and shelter might be considered the same thing as they both protect us from the elements. We could arguably add “health” on to the list of necessities, because no one is going to get much from food or clothing or shelter if they’re sick – although it’s easy to get sick without the food, clothing, and shelter. We’re after sustainable life here, not just barely existing until a premature demise.
That said, how much of our society’s actual needs are fulfilled by ‘fringe industries’? It doesn’t take an expert in economics to realize a large part of the economy revolves around things which we in fact do not really need. It is a curious paradox, then, that these inessentials are often the richer part of the personal budget as well as the social one whereas the essentials are on the other end of the scale. To put it simply, we spend more money proportionally on things we don’t need than on things we do. At the same time, people working in unimportant industries get paid more than those doing the truly vital tasks. Let me reduce that last one some more: celebrities get more money than farmhands. You can’t eat movies, people.
At this point someone is going to start arguing about “what is the value of life without art?” and someone else will come in with “well okay, but should we be paying that much?” and then another person will say “yeah I’m an artist and I’m starving” after which the dullard of the group will come up with “free market economy!” or something of the sort which ‘justifies’ the status quo using faulty economic models. It’s all so much marsh gas when you’re looking at the hard numbers and not the philosophy.
Now let’s imagine some of the changes made to improve life in general across the board. You understand that in order to improve life for one person someone else is going to have to share. Oh dear, that sounds like communism again doesn’t it? Let’s try it this way: the only reason some people are very, very rich is because a lot more people are very, very poor. No, don’t argue; I already proved it is impossible to earn that kind of wealth and I already pointed out how burgeoning populations devalue human beings with the lowest-paid getting the worst of it (as usual).
The first thing that would need changing is education. What we have now is indoctrination: learning by rote to follow the norms of society, even though we know those norms are wrong. Education needs to be practical and teach critical thought so that people can recognize a lie when it’s dressed up as a campaign promise. This would mean no more school systems designed to turn out obedient soldiers who blindly pledge allegiance to the State while practicing war games in the guise of sports under the subterfuge that it is ‘physical education’. No more school sports, no more pro sports. Teaching violence is not good for society.
While we’re on the subject of sacred cows, there are a number of other industries that don’t really contribute. Multi-million dollar movies? Cosmetics? Fashion? All these superfluous adjuncts that pander to the rich or the wannabe-rich do nothing for improving the human condition. Many aspects of them are leftovers from the olden days and have just clung on refusing to die for no reason other than stubbornness. Perfume came from the days when bathing was an irregular thing at best and soap largely unknown. It has lingered not only in its original form, but by infiltrating the practices meant to supplant it (i.e. perfumed soap, shampoo, detergent, et cetera). Certainly cruise ships, which developed out of the need to make ocean voyages less tedious and became a destination substitution when air travel began to supersede boats for travel, have no real purpose in the world today. As for the aforesaid air travel, I’m reminded of that haunting phrase from the World War II era: is this trip necessary? And at the other end a host of tourist industry only businesses would also be looking at termination.
At this point you are probably screaming about all the people being put out of work, and well you should be since one of the underlying premises of this posting is that everyone needs to work and contribute to justify their consumption. But so many of the occupations are superfluous, and really only relate to the richer classes who have an excess of money anyway. In that sense you could say they are businesses meant to redistribute wealth by taking it from those who have too much (in exchange for something of dubious value) and spending it back on necessities. Or you could call them parasites *wink*. In any case we have to question their value as it only exists as a result of the initial wealth inequity.
All right, hammer out your own details for the sustainable society. Argue among yourselves as to what is truly necessary and what isn’t. Adjust the parameters as many times as you like. See what you come up with, and write your own piece – which will be just as ignored as mine. If you think there’s no truth at all in this premise, have a look: https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/satellite-images-show-dramatic-drop-in-pollution-over-china-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-1.4833713 There you have evidence that reduction in certain industries such as travel and manufacturing has a positive environmental effect. Wrong reasons to do it, right results from it. And of course the economic fallout is still there since this is an unplanned change. No matter how you look at it, our current consumerism economy driven by the desire for ever-greater profits, more economic “growth” (a fallacy in itself) and increasing population is unsustainable in the extreme. In fact we passed the point of no return about 5 billion people ago.
Where I got depressed was when I did this logistical experiment and examined what we had left. It looked terrifyingly like an old feudal system, with the displaced workers taking the place of mechanized farming. Imagine everyone having the chance at a PhD on the one hand, but having to till the soil on the other. Not slaves, which are owned, but workers whose education does not necessarily match their employment because all jobs need be filled. You’d have the guarantee of needs met creating a paradox with having to work. Any way you try it, you find flaws – just as with any system that’s been tried before or is in place now.
Now here’s the real killer: even if it could be worked out, it won’t matter. Physics rears its ugly head and tells us no closed system is infinitely sustainable, and this applies to a society as well. We’ve seen microcosms of this throughout history, if only we’d bothered to pay attention. The U.S. Social Security system was built on the basis of those paying in ‘now’ would finance those drawing out ‘now’, balanced by the notion that the population would ever-increase in the working age range while inevitably decreasing in the retirement range. A few things went wrong with that, such as ignoring inflation (according to economist Lester Thurow, this would be self-correcting given an educated consumer – good luck with that) and that the working demographic would not always increase nor the retired one always decrease – or at least not by so much thanks to improved healthcare. Never mind too many people thinking it’s an IRA that they’re “entitled” to take money out of because they put money in (it’s not, they’re not, and we’re talking about rich people who don’t need it anyway). Whole civilizations have risen and fallen due to their failure to understand the inevitable need to adapt to changes, or the impossibility of them doing so at the time. Nothing new has happened to social sensibilities since then so the dictum stands. And at this point it is coming down to inevitable entropy no matter what we do. Sorry, Greta, but your generation would have been in trouble even if the previous ones had got it all right.
In the end we have – the end. Nihilism is an accurate stance, and there’s only about 3 generations left before the world becomes unlivable. Yet is it not said life is delaying the inevitable (death), so why are we not at least trying? Surely there’s something we could do to slow it down?
Yes there is, but no one will do it. Too many people are getting and remaining too wealthy off the status quo (see previous comments about human nature) or enjoying their current power or blindly trying to force their nonsensical ideology on everyone else. The larger the number of people involved in an endeavor the more difficult it is to get them all to agree on anything. Just imagine how many would need to agree to make any progress on a world-wide effort for a population of seven billion and climbing.
The last thing I’m going to annoy you with (if anyone is still reading this) is a salute to the brainless complainers who like to pretend that the Baby Boomer Generation is responsible for everything currently wrong with the world. No, we’re not. We invented not only all the wonderful devices you like to use to display your stupidity to the world, but also environmental awareness – which subsequent generations decided not to be aware of. More so than any other generation we made it possible for people to be so willfully ignorant of how good they have it that they can deny this is the case. We didn’t elect Trump either; you did. There aren’t enough of us left to give him his 26% or take any significant amount away from the Democrats, and we aren’t all Americans either. Stop being so self-centered. Learn something. It’s too late to make a difference, but better to die smart and right than dumb and wrong.
Well I guess that ought to offend just about everybody on the planet. My work is done.