Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Berlin Wall, Capitalism and Greed


The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the failure of communism. It was a great theory – equality, sharing, brotherhood – but it went sour in practice. When walls, barbed wire and machine-guns are necessary to pen in fellow comrades, the system is morally bankrupt.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis that is devastating the stock markets and plunging America into a deep recession/depression marks – like the Berlin Wall – the failure of capitalism. Again, a great theory – free enterprise with a competitive marketplace providing built-in checks and balances – ran aground in practice.

The common factor in the unravelling of these two great theories is human greed. Something in the human psyche, a basic drive, makes us – some more than others – lust for power, wealth and all their trappings. Too many CEOs and managers believe the ends justify any means. Who cares about ethics, regulations, share holders or our grandchildren. It's all about getting obscene salaries, perks and huge severance packages. Conrad Black – now languishing in jail – and Dick Grasso – who somehow "arranged" a $187 million severance package from the New York Stock Exchange – are poster boys for unfettered capitalism.

What a dilemma: two vastly different systems of governance have both been skewered by a simple, basic human trait. So what is the answer?

We must change our mindset. Somehow we need to become more caring of our neighbours and considerate of the future we bequeath our grandchildren. We must diminish our greed. But how? Perhaps topics like happiness, caring and volunteerism should become important parts of school curricula. Instead of obsessing about technology perhaps research should be directed towards these social topics. Perhaps cities can be redesigned around centres that function like villages, offering "communities" where people care and help each other.

Desperately needed is a campaign to conquer greed. Let's talk about this, it's important.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hans, I believe that greed -- if it is indeed a "human" trait and not a EuroAmerican trait -- is mitigated through tribal or societal taboos. The Northwest First Nations potlatch ceremony seems to have been a way to ensure that no one family hoarded all the wealth. And an acquaintance, through living with a tribe in Papua/New Guinea, learned that all food is distributed equally amongst all members of the tribe, including the babies. Older, bigger (hungrier) people then ask the baby for some of its share (which, of course, its parents dole out). And isn't there a Jewish tradition of jubilee, in which all debts are cancelled?

The point is that we as a society have elevated (or allowed the elevation of) greed to a virtue! It is no longer a sin in our culture. Check out our bumper stickers for proof. "He who dies with the most toys, wins." "We're spending our children's inheritance."

If we considered greed taboo, and had rituals to redistribute the wealth, or to proscribe usury to begin with, then we wouldn't be in this fix.

The saddest part is that everyone thinks money is real! Everyone is panicking about the economy. If only some of that angst and energy were directed toward ensuring a healthy and habitable planet for our children and grandchildren!

Let's bring back sin -- and especially the sins of gluttony and usury. And let's start explaining to people that when the global climate change $#@! hits the fan, they won't be able to eat, drink or take shelter in their bank accounts, investments or pensions.

Julie at www.greenhearted.org

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

How could one generation go so wrong? Evidently, the leaders in my generation of elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, increasing per capita consumption, and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are insatiable. We choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; our way of life is not negotiable. We dare anyone to question our values or behaviors. We religiously promote our widely shared and consensually-validated fantasies of 'real' endless economic growth and soon to become unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, and in so doing deny that Earth has limited resources and frangible ecosystems upon which the survival of life as we know it and the success of any manmade economy depend. My not-so-great generation appears to be doing a disservice to everything and everyone but ourselves.

Never in the course of human events have so few members of a single generation stolen, consumed and hoarded so much wealth at the expense of so many other people. We have mortgaged the future of our own children. We are the "what's in it for me generation". We demonstrate precious little regard for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth; shallow willingness to actually protect the environment from crippling degradation; lack of serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the vital understanding that humans are no more or less than magnificent living beings with "feet of clay".

Perhaps my not-so-great does live in unsustainable ways in our planetary home; but we are proud of it nonetheless. Certainly, we will "have our cake and eat it, too." We own fleets of cars, fly around in thousands of private jets, live in McMansions, exchange secret handshakes, frequent exclusive clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value to us. We will live long, large and free. Please do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear, see or speak of them. Remember, silence is golden. We are the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the many minions in the mass media. We hold the much of the world's wealth and the extraordinary power great wealth purchases. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our 'inalienable rights' to outrageously consume Earth's limited resources; to recklessly expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; and to carelessly consent to the unbridled global growth of human numbers so that where there are now 6+ billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more in the distant future, if that is what we desire. We never lie but also never tell the truth as we see it. The "thing" that matters most of all to us is "the only game in town". We are the reigning, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. We enjoy freedom and living without limits; of course, we adamantly eschew any talk of the personal responsibilities that come with the exercise of personal freedoms and any discussion of the existence of biophysical limitations a finite planet naturally imposes.

We deny the existence of human limits and Earth's limitations. Please understand that we do not want anyone presenting us with scientific evidence that we could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world of our own making....a manmade world filling up with gigantic enterprises, virtual mountains of material possessions, and boundless amounts of filthy lucre. Most of our top rank experts appear not to have found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the rapacious dissipation of Earth's limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet's environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding at breakneck speed toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world's colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global political economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic 'wall' called "unsustainability" at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth's ecology is collapsed. Who knows, perhaps we can realistically and hopefully hold onto the expectation that behavioral changes in the direction of sustainable production, per human consumption, and propagation are in the offing.....changes that save the global economy, life as we know it and Earth's body.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/index.php

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

How could one generation go so wrong? Let us count the ways.


Evidently, the leaders in my generation of elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, increasing per capita consumption, and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are insatiable. We choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; our way of life is not negotiable. We dare anyone to question our values or behaviors. We religiously promote our widely shared and consensually-validated fantasies of 'real' endless economic growth and soon to become unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, and in so doing deny that Earth has limited resources and frangible ecosystems upon which the survival of life as we know it and the success of any manmade economy depend. Many too many leaders of not-so-great generation are marked by unparalleled greed; we extol the virtues of selfishness and behold no larger purpose to humanity.

Never in the course of human events have so few members of a single generation stolen, consumed and hoarded so much wealth at the expense of so many unfortunate people. We have mortgaged the future of our own children. We are the "what's in it for me generation". We demonstrate precious little regard for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth; shallow willingness to actually protect the environment from crippling degradation; a lack of serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the vital understanding that humans are no more or less than magnificent living beings with "feet of clay".

Perhaps my not-so-great generation does live in unsustainable ways in our planetary home; but we are proud of it nonetheless. Certainly, we will "have our cake and eat it, too." We own fleets of cars, fly around in thousands of private jets, live in McMansions, exchange secret handshakes, frequent exclusive clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value to us. We will live long, large and free.

Please, do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear, see or speak of them. Remember, our silence, and yours, make us golden. We are the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the many minions in the mass media. We hold the much of the world's wealth and the extraordinary power great wealth purchases. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our 'inalienable rights' to outrageously consume Earth's limited resources; to recklessly expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; and to carelessly consent to the unbridled global growth of human numbers so that where there are now 6+ billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more in the distant future, if that is what we desire. We do not lie but also never tell the truth as we see it. The "thing" that matters most of all to us is "the only game in town". We are the reigning, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. We enjoy freedom and living without limits; of course, we adamantly eschew any talk of the personal responsibilities that come with the exercise of personal freedoms and any discussion of the existence of biophysical limitations a finite planet naturally imposes.

We deny the existence of human limits and Earth's limitations. Please understand that we do not want anyone presenting us with scientific evidence that we could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world....a manmade world filling up with gigantic enterprises, virtual mountains of material possessions, and boundless amounts of filthy lucre. Most of our top rank experts appear not to have found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the rapacious dissipation of Earth's limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet's environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding at breakneck speed toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world's colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global political economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic 'wall' called "unsustainability" at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth's ecology is collapsed. Who knows, perhaps we can realistically and hopefully hold onto the expectation that behavioral changes in the direction of sustainable production, per human consumption, and propagation are in the offing.....changes that save the global economy, life as we know it and Earth's body.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/index.php

Anonymous said...

What it all comes down to is how one decides to make use of his/her active time. As a human global society we all should be working towards improving the enjoyment of our active time. These humans that are constantly focussed on having more and more are obviously never satisfied. Why are they not satisfied? Because there is too much time spent on ownership of materialistic gadgets and widgets.

All we are really here for is to reproduce. Somehow over human evolution we have lost the ability to be satisfied with our only purpose to mate and raise our offspring.

One needs to just think about what is really important to him/her. My guess is most people would say family. Or for those who never had or had partial family/care givers/close friends would be the most important.

In a capitalistic society most capitalists are in it for their friends and family. The others are looked upon as resources for self improvement.

Until, humans unify as one species. Which we are all biologically. Then, perhaps we can focus on the things we must change in order for all of us to survive. What it really comes down to is this human trait of ownership. The "I was here first" mentality.

Just think back if we all had utilize the land and earths resources equally. We would never of developed the ideology of ownership. Everything would be shared.
This philosophy of everyone sharing the earths resources equally. Imagine that? Its all about possessions. Who has this. Look who has that. OH LOOK I bought this. IT DOESN"T MATTER! If we all had it no one would care about who has what.

Why have we allowed people to have ownership of earths natural resources. ie.
DIAMONDS, OIL, FORESTS, NICKLE, GOLD, ect

No one should own these resources. Some are essential for many 21st century necessities.

My thoughts are any resource that is essential for our continued survival should be available for everyone's consumption if used properly.

Anonymous said...

What it all comes down to is how one decides to make use of his/her active time. As a human global society we all should be working towards improving the enjoyment of our active time. These humans that are constantly focussed on having more and more are obviously never satisfied. Why are they not satisfied? Because there is too much time spent on ownership of materialistic gadgets and widgets.

All we are really here for is to reproduce. Somehow over human evolution we have lost the ability to be satisfied with our only purpose to mate and raise our offspring.

One needs to just think about what is really important to him/her. My guess is most people would say family. Or for those who never had or had partial family/care givers/close friends would be the most important.

In a capitalistic society most capitalists are in it for their friends and family. The others are looked upon as resources for self improvement.

Until, humans unify as one species. Which we are all biologically. Then, perhaps we can focus on the things we must change in order for all of us to survive. What it really comes down to is this human trait of ownership. The "I was here first" mentality.

Just think back if we all had utilize the land and earths resources equally. We would never of developed the ideology of ownership. Everything would be shared.
This philosophy of everyone sharing the earths resources equally. Imagine that? Its all about possessions. Who has this. Look who has that. OH LOOK I bought this. IT DOESN"T MATTER! If we all had it no one would care about who has what.

Why have we allowed people to have ownership of earths natural resources. ie.
DIAMONDS, OIL, FORESTS, NICKLE, GOLD, ect

No one should own these resources. Some are essential for many 21st century necessities.

My thoughts are any resource that is essential for our continued survival should be available for everyone's consumption if used properly.