A few days ago I made a post containing a pretty brash statement:
In the off chance that you are not paying attention to what is happening in the US right now, and increasingly around the world, the party is over folks. For those of you who have little adjustment to make when living standards and life styles see a reversion to the mean similar to what is likely to happen in the US housing market, I commend you. For those of you who face a much larger delta, I’d get started on making some adjustments right now.
I do not feel any differently now, but I do think some additional thoughts are called for.
First, I think it is important that people do their best to take a look at the various inputs in their lives and determine what biases those inputs may hold. For instance, if you get all of your news from a handful of television stations and/or cable channels, you might want to consider how those entities make their money.
Second, I think it is nearly impossible to find an individual, myself certainly included, that is not in some way perpetuating the problem.
While I’d like to think that the world is entirely made up unflinchingly aware and selfless people, I think most would agree that the opposite is true. We all, to varying degrees, have our “hooks.” For some, a fat salary, expense account, and prestigious job title are motivation enough to get them to do pretty much anything. For others, the very real need to simply put food on the table in front of their children each evening is essentially unavoidable. Moreover, and with a deep nod to my good friend Alan, I mention, yet again, Mr. Stanley Milgram. And then there is invariably another group comprised of individuals completely unaware of what is going on and the distinct role they play. In short, we’re all culprits, and we’re all victims.
So what is a society to do? How about its citizens? What’s the value in pointing out faults if you fail to offer any solutions?
In a post for another time, I’ll explain the irony of how I stumbled across the following excellent, though hardly complete, list of things we can all do on a daily basis. But for now, I simply provide reference (John Perkins, The Secret History of the American Empire, Plume Printing 2008, pp.323-325) and strongly encourage everyone to check out the other ~350+ pages of the book. Here’s the list:
- When tempted to engage in “retail therapy” instead jog, meditate, read, or find some other solution.
- Shop consciously if there is something you must have; purchase items whose packaging, ingredients, and methods of production are sustainable and support life.
- Make everything you own last as long as possible.
- Purchase at consignment and thrift stores where everything is recycled.
- Protest against “free” trade agreements and sweatshops.
- Write letters telling Monsanto, De Beers, ExxonMobil, Adidas, Ford, GE, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and other labor exploiters and environment destroyers why you refuse to purchase from them.
- Write letters praising Home Depot, Kinko’s, Citicorp, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and other companies that cooperate with RAN [Rainforest Action Network], Amnesty International, and other NGOs. [My note: I'm not sure I would include most of the organizations listed here in my list of companies to praise, but perhaps more recent research into their intentions and actions is warranted.]
- Cut back on oil and gas consumption.
- Downsize your car, home, wardrobe, everything in your life.
- Send money to nonprofits, radio stations, and other organizations that promote just causes.
- Volunteer your time and energy to such organizations.
- Support local merchants.
- Encourage stores to buy from local growers, producers, and suppliers.
- Shop at your local farmers’ market.
- Drink tap water (get the water company to do a better job if necessary, but avoid buying bottled water).
- Vote for enlightened school boards, commissions, ordinances, and politicians.
- Run for office.
- Insist that those who use your money–banks, pensions, mutual funds, companies–make socially and environmentally responsible investments.
- Speak out whenever forums present themselves.
- Volunteer to talk at your local school about your favorite subject (beekeeping, weaving, tennis, anything) and use it to challenge students, to wake them up.
- Discuss externalities, the costs of pollution, poor working conditions, public subsidies, corporate exemptions, and other environmental, social, and political factors that should be included in the prices we pay for goods and services but are not (discussed in Chapter 54); let people know that when we do not pay for these very real expenses we rob future generations.
- Encourage “taxes” on externalities–higher prices for gas, clothes, electricity, etc., as long as the difference pays to right social and environmental wrongs.
- Offer study groups at local libraries, bookstores, churches, and clubs.
- Expand this list and share it with everyone you know.
I agree with nearly all of the above. That said, I have a few quick additions to suggest:
- Turn off the television and pick up a book, go outside, talk to strangers, wonder at nature’s beauty, plant a tree, cook… anything you can, but don’t turn it on again! If you keep it up, you’ll probably go through TV withdrawal for a few weeks or months (depending on your prior dependency), but you’ll find that you have more energy, are less susceptible to manipulation (er…advertising), and are using your brain more.
- Learn a second language.
- Learn a third. A fourth. Keep going…
- Take up a creative pursuit–painting, photography, drawing–anything to get the creative juices flowing.
- If you are in a leadership position (dig deep and you’ll find that we are all leaders: parents, managers, teachers, peers, etc.) commit to teaching empathy, compassion, and the value of life-long learning to everyone who looks to you for guidance.
- Eat. Less. Meat. (Note that I did not say, “abandon meat.”) The energy you gain from eating one serving of meat (via calories) requires enormous inputs (energy) and with very real externalities (toxic waste in the form of festering feces in vast industrial farms, displaced land that could have been used to raise more efficient crops, etc.). The same equivalent in caloric content from vegetarian fare is far more energy efficient, and quite frankly, a heck of a lot healthier anyway (assumes that the meat option and the vegetarian option were both sourced locally).
- Look into what your employer is doing to positively benefit society, the environment, and the rights of all individuals. Find the negatives as well. Support what they are doing well, and create and suggest solutions to eliminate or mitigate the negatives.
- Have integrity. Do the right thing. Stand for something. Believe in yourself.