Friday, December 9, 2011

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Upton Sinclar, The Jungle

The parts of the blogosphere given to intellectual doominess, have been talking a fair amount about the inevitable End of (Economic) Growth.  The Peak Oil folks see their pet hard constraints finally raising their oft-prophesied heads.  The Climate Change cognoscenti are noticing that economic growth and climate stability may have become mutually exclusive in these late days of procrastination.  Iconoclast economists have pointed out that most of our "wealth" is nothing more than an ornamental patina spread upon concatenations of debt -- (and just because an end to growth brings the system crashing down -- doesn't mean growth can't stall).  And everyone remarks how the topic itself is taboo in politics and mass media.

The best environmentalists have always known that infinite growth on a finite planet was only happening in the fevered imaginations of economists and the politicians who loved them.  And the spiritually minded have insisted that some level of material enough-ness was wise and an endless pursuit of more plus more was not.

Of course, the environmentalists and the seers have been right all along, being -- ironically enough -- more in touch with reality than the delusional realists who've tried to build our global society into a vast juggernaut with no steering and no brakes; a machine powered by everything and everyone that can give it a moment's extra impetus, even if it meant devouring the generative foundations that life depends on - the soil, waters, climate, cultures, and the webwork of living things.

The optimists of doom -- and I guess I would count myself among them -- hope that the globalized economic system proves fragile enough to crash apart before it can finish destroying these foundations entirely.  This is a hope hobbled by ambivalence, naturally, since the machine builders have made certain we are not only well-paid to avert our eyes, but are also strapped in and bound, willing or not, to its fate.  And so I find myself angry that I'm required to play a role as tiny gear-tooth in an idiot machine of destruction; embarrassed that I haven't extricated myself with incautious and inconvenient courage; oppressed by uncertainties and visions of futures I don't want; and wearied by the dissonance of rooting against a system that supplies me with so many of the things that I value and rely upon.

For 200,000 years humans survived and even thrived on a planet that was profoundly indifferent, if not hostile, to their fate, and presumably humans will do so again -- once this clumsy effort to re-make the world on our own terms has more thoroughly unraveled.