Who got it right?

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Cartoon of the Devo Energy Dome, own work.

The science fiction genre does great work in trying to predict “what if” scenarios and situations, from Nineteen Eighty-Four, Blade Runner, Brave New World, to Black Mirror.    Even The Simpsons predicted President Trump.

Nobody gets things perfectly, of course.  We don’t have the ubiquitous flying cars, but most of us have supercomputers in our pockets, and incredible amounts of entertainment (distraction) and information at the touch of a button.  To decide what technologies are to be ascendant is a bit tricky.  Who gets the overall vibe, though?

This recent article by a member of Devo, a band formed in 1973, is an interesting commentary on someone who saw what our society might become.  “House band on the Titanic” is a neat self-description on who they are.

Who predicted our current mess of a “culture”?   What other films, music, or literature came closest to predicting where we’d be?

Devo hit the nail on the head with this bit of a lyric (Working In a Coal Mine):

Lord I am so tired
How long can this go on?

 

 

 

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The greatest gift

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthrise#/media/File:NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg; Public Domain

The missive from last week contained a quote from the Dhammapada:

Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth, a trusted friend is the best relative, Nibbana is the greatest bliss.

After experiencing a few days of sickness, hearing of a friend’s parent passing after a long illness, and running into someone taking care of a parent who had been seriously injured, that quote certainly took on renewed meaning.

This quote doesn’t just apply to a single person.  We might wish to expand it to include our neighborhoods, town, province, country, and world.  In the largest case, the health of the world translates into a healthy environment.  Only when the air is unbreathable (Paradise, CA), the water undrinkable (Flint, MI), and the soil unfit for growing (1930’s Dust Bowl), does one really realize how important health and vitality of an ecosystem is to your own personal life.

When we get sick, either through environmental factors, or by poor judgement (as many a young adult has said, the morning after an eventful night of carousing and indulging, “I’ll never drink again!”), we do seem to forget.  Why is this?  When you get sick, or when your air no longer becomes breathable, your generally react strongly – “This?  This?!  This is unacceptable!  This is intolerable!  Never again! Never again!”  But next week, next month… people are at it again, repeating their behaviors.

When you are young,  you heal more easily, and perhaps, forget more quickly.   But as you get older, you remember that healing takes a long time, and that those accumulated scars bring some wisdom.  But another question rises up – some older people care more as they get older, and some less.  For some, they realize that what they are leaving to the younger generations isn’t fair, and act accordingly.  For others, they say, “I won’t be here when it happens,” and blithely move along.  How do these worldviews arise?  Some children of rich parents are spoiled; some are hard workers – how does this discrepancy arise?  What sort of ecological upbringing could we do to make people more aware of our greatest gift (a healthy environment)?

As always, more questions than answers.

 

 

 

True wealth

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Dhammapada#/media/File:010_Dhammapada_Page_1,_Kuthodaw_(8919103030).jpg – CCBY Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand

In listening to some friends talk about the difficulties in their lives, it brings me back to some of the core teachings of many who see the long view.  When you mention wealth or capital, the first thing that jumps into many people’s mind is that of financial wealth; money.    Many, from Tony Robbins to Chris Martenson have commented on this, and a search for the ‘N types of wealth’ will give you plenty to sift through. It is a relief that at least some in our electronic world still see these truths.

In the financial world of stocks and bonds, advisors will tell you to ‘diversify’ your portfolio, so your financial wealth isn’t in one spot.  It may be that one’s true wealth should also be diversified.  Yes, it is nice to have cash about, but without health, neighbors, family, that financial wealth won’t mean much.   Likewise, if you have solid family, you still might need a bit of financial wealth to pay for things like medicine, food, transportation and so on.

Of all the types of wealth, perhaps only a few of them are immune from outside influence.  Money can be stolen or taxed; your family can pass away; even your good name and health can be gone in an instant.  Is there one that is most immune to being swept away?   Perhaps a bit of the Buddha (from the Dhammapada; verse 204) can clue us in:

Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth, a trusted friend is the best relative, Nibbana is the greatest bliss.

Yes, it isn’t fun when the rent is due, your car needs new tires, and your job is a bit shaky.  Even the Buddhists know ‘talk doesn’t cook the rice.’ But if you are content and are at peace, that is a great wealth that can’t be taken from you.

On why things are the way they are

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commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Martin_Luther_King,_Jr_-_NARA_-_559202.jpg (Public Domain)

Saw this on the ‘net today, and it hit a nerve:

After four little girls were murdered in an Alabama church, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had this critical, and very insightful comment:

“…we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.”

This was originally about some kids getting murdered, and it encompasses the crazy situations we seem to have with people shooting up synagogues and the like.  But it can also be applied to the larger world, and that of the the three E’s (Energy, Environment, Economy).

We can lament the fact that we are running out of cheap energy, our environment is being trashed, and our economy is built on quicksand and easy money.   But without asking why, without asking about the philosophy that got us here in the first place, it won’t be possible to change things.   You may not agree with Guy McPherson on his timeline of how things will go, but he hits the nail on the head when he says (paraphrasing here) that the essence of our (especially American) culture is ‘Go faster!’, without any thought of the consequences.   Our culture’s philosophy, as Edward Abbey put it, is absurd; “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”  This is madness.  A philosophy that says, “Grow forever!” is unsustainable, and can’t be sustained.   Even ‘smart growth’ is impossible, because eventually, you outgrow a particular set of conditions, no matter how you slice things.

It is a shame to see things go so predictably bad in our world.   Telling people about peak oil, arctic ice melt rates, financial scams, and environmental issues points out the problems, but without addressing the core philosophy of our culture, these things (after a helluva cultural hangover) will continue to repeat, destroying ecosystems and possibly (probably?) our own species.

Perhaps, instead of calling out the facts, it is time to start asking the harder and more philosophical questions – why are we doing what we are doing?  

Questions:

  • Can this world view be changed? (Over at Decline of Empire, Dave Cohen says no…)
  • Might bringing this more ‘meta’ issue up do better in trying to ameliorate climate change, etc.?    Or should we concentrate on the actual technical issues (rising sea levels, declining wildlife habitats)?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B-school for reality

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Back in the day, B-school was a way to get your MBA, join a consulting firm, work on Wall Street, and work your way up the financial food chain.   Everything was dollars and cents, and not much attention was paid to the physical reality surrounding all of our modern economy.  Some business wonks even declared that it wouldn’t matter if we ran out of cheap oil, because the “market” would find a way to replace it.

Some folks have seen through this, most notably Nate Hagens, in 2013, who wrote a two part article (which doesn’t seem to have a part 2!), “Twenty (Important) Concepts I Wasn’t Taught in Business School“.   For anyone with a science background, this is all pretty basic stuff, but for B-schoolers, this should be required reading.

Take a look at “The Hidden Secrets of Money”, by Mike Maloney; the latest episodes (9 and 10) have just been published.  Chris Martenson (of PeakProsperity) makes an appearance, and talks about exponential growth, so it is in the same vein as Nate Hagen’s commentary.

The world is a lot different than you may have originally been taught.

 

Fire

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fire#/media/File:Firetora.jpg; Public Domain.

No, alas, not that fire.

FIRE is an acronym you’ll see bandied about the Internet in financial circles.  It generally stands for “Financially independent, retire(d) early.”  The idea is that you can get out of the rat race, and do something else than work for someone or something you hate.

While the goal of not doing something you hate is laudable, there are a few reactions to being ‘financially independent’.  For one – how do you get to financial independence?  Sell drugs, legal or illegal?  Bilk people by creating Ponzi schemes, or fictitious technologies?   Invest in companies with questionable morals (the tech world is filled with this)?  Work for such companies?   In general, there’s the “spending less and prudently,” plus investing your money in things that provide real returns.   How you get or increase that money does seem relevant.

The next point is about “independence” itself.  While it is something many folks want, it isn’t the only thing to think about in this world, and financial independence can be quite dependent on things like a working financial sector, monetary system, courts, and rule of law.  This isn’t to say we aren’t going to go Mad Max anytime soon, or that having passive streams of income is a particularly bad thing.  Being too dependent on people, of course, isn’t great, but extensive financial independence may make you think that you are invulnerable, or make you think that you don’t have to care about interacting with others.  And when a crash comes, that “independence” may fade quickly.

There’s an expression that you might have heard, “They’ve got ‘F*** You’ money.”  The essence is that someone has enough money (financial independence) to not care about many situations.   Nor is having financial independence all that there is in life; Jim Carrey, the actor, had a great quote, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

If there’s a middle ground between FIRE and destitution, perhaps it is to have “Thank you very much, have a nice day,” money – not so rich that you are above it all, and not so poor that you are miserable.  Some place where you can weather the storms of life, but still remain grounded, and still realize that ‘independence’ is an illusion.

Questions:

  • What do you think about the FIRE philosophy?  What would you give up to have it?
  • Have you met folks who have achieved FIRE?   If you’ve achieved it, what do you think?