Posted by: chrismaser | March 19, 2012

POVERTY IS INCREASINGLY HUMAN-MADE

Unfortunately, corporate violence to people and the environment pervades every corner of society and is growing like a malignant tumor, fueled by greed and the lust for power. As noted by Satish Kumar, editor of the magazine, Resurgence, poverty is literally human-made because the stubbornly defended interests of the majority—but NOT ALL—of the economically rich prevent the creation of a “fair” global society. In this sense, poverty is “manufactured” by those who are more devoted to economic/material acquisition in the name of “progress” than to the real well-being of people. Kumar goes on to say:

The people with wealth and power have diverted our attention from . . . [the] real issues. It is a clever ploy on behalf of the rich nations and multinational corporations to change the agenda. They have successfully removed the subject of community, equity, justice, sustainability, and sharing from public discourse. If they were to discuss these matters, then they themselves would have to live simply, use the resources of the Earth more frugally and share food, land, and housing equitably. They don’t want to do this. It suits them to talk about poverty. They use the excuse of poverty in order to increase their profits.1

And how do corporations justify their actions? It’s really quite simple, according to British author George Monbiot, who says that all successful conquests progress through three stages: (1) the defeated are dispossessed; (2) the defeated adopt both the habits and outlook of their conquerors, and (3) the defeated thank their new masters for both defeating them and for dispossessing them. In this sense, the defeated actually participate in their own defeat by thanking those who dispossessed them.

THE THIRD COPORATE STAGE

Corporations have now entered this third stage, and seemingly everywhere we humans look, we are told how grateful we should be for the corporate takeover of the commons. By thanking those corporations that are defeating us through corporate globalization, we are helping them to “privatize” our minds—and those of our children and our children’s children.2

To combat such forces seems a daunting challenge indeed. And where are the leaders to accept this challenge? Make no mistake, there are people around the world who not only see and understand what is going on but also have the courage to speak out. The following quote from the 1999 United Nations Human Development Report is not, therefore, surprising:

The new rules of globalization [free trade; deregulation; privatization; and structural adjustment, which has many socially, environmentally, and economically impoverishing conditions attached]—and the players writing them—focus on integrating global markets, neglecting the needs of people that markets cannot meet. The process is concentrating power and marginalizing the poor, both countries and people.  . . . The current debate [about globalization] is . . . too narrow, limited to the concerns of economic growth and financial stability and neglecting broader human concerns, such as persistent global poverty, growing inequality between the within countries, exclusion of poor people and countries and persistent human rights abuses.3

The surprise is that even the United State Central Intelligence Agency (the “CIA”) saw clearly the proverbial hand writing on the wall:

The rising tide of the global economy will create many economic winners, but it will not lift all boats.  . . . [It will] spawn conflicts at home and abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers than exists today.  . . . [The] evolution [of globalization] will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide.  . . . Regions, countries, and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. They will foster political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism, along with the violence that often accompanies it.4

These people, who see clearly and have the courage to speak out, are not enough to change the current corporate trajectory by themselves because the corporate hold on global politics is like a great ship with a huge rudder; it takes miles to turn it. To turn such a gargantuan ship requires a small propeller on the side of the rudder that, when engaged, begins to shift the rudder’s position, thus turning the ship. The people who today dare to speak out represent that small propeller, but they need help; from whence comes that help?

LESSONS FROM THE PAST

Could some of that help come from the lessons of the past—lessons lost to the fear of not having enough? Yes, it could. After all, the traditional peasant economy was local by nature, yet was simultaneously linked with other local economies through the ancient network of trade—and the diverse necessities of life that were amply provided for by the local economy. The exchange of work and energy, born of necessity, was the glue that made true communities out of groups of people brought together through circumstance. Further, all human values must be taught, nurtured, and lived because our behavior is based on what we learn, which makes education paramount if we are to replace the reign of fear and its grizzly gang (greed and its sidekick, competition; violence; selfishness; distrust; and shame) with that of Love and cooperation.

Why, you might wonder, do common-sense, human values need to be emphasized so emphatically in today’s society. The answer is simple. Those people in higher social classes are more apt to behave unethically than those who have less money, according to a 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although unethical behavior among the rich was found to be the norm, there are notable exceptions, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who are among the richest people in the world and also the most generous.

Nevertheless, scientists at the University of California at Berkeley found that the higher a person’s social rank, as measured by monetary wealth, occupational prestige, education—and thus social power—the more likely they are to cheat, lie, and break the law than those who have less of a monetary advantage. According to Paul Piff, lead author of the study, “We found that it is much more prevalent for people in the higher ranks of society to see greed and self-interest . . . as good pursuits. This resonates with a lot of current events these days.  . . . What it comes down to, really, is that money creates more of a self-focus, which may account for larger feelings of entitlement.”

In short, it was found that—when compared to people in the middle class of American society—upper-class individuals are: (1) more likely to break the law while driving; (2) more likely to make unethical decisions; (3) more likely to steal valued goods from others; (4) more likely to lie in a negotiation; (5) more likely to cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize; and (6) more likely to endorse unethical behavior at work. As well, data show that the unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are accounted for, in part, by their acceptance of greed as a favorable attitude. In essence, large sums of money tend to cause upper-class individuals to be the most averse to an equitable distribution of monetary wealth and the power it creates.5

On the other hand, communal self-interest, instead of today’s personal self-interest, all but guarantees that a community remains consciously obedient to Nature’s biophysical blueprint for social-environmental sustainability. In the past, such time-honored traditions as crop rotation, recycling, saving seeds for next the year’s crop, protecting the sanctity of the commons for everyone to enjoy free of charge, and so on, were followed simply because the wisdom of such traditions was self-evident. When people care for and take care of one another, community thrives.

The hope of the future rests today in relearning the lessons lost because freedom of choice, self-asserted social-environmental responsibility, and real community lie therein. The bedrock of such community is the well-being and dignity of humanity and planet Earth for all generations. It is crucial, therefore, that we struggle within ourselves to become psychologically mature adults who can help encourage and model the notion of true community through social-environmental trusteeship for all the world’s children—some of whom will be the leaders of tomorrow. They, after all, are the only ones who have a real chance of elevating the current violence of the corporate-political culture into a higher level of consciousness, one worthy of humankind. This is a critical concept because the only way fear, violence, and terrorism will be in anyway subdued is for the industrialized nations to: (1) practice conscious, material simplicity, (2) freely share their wealth, (3) learn, practice, and teach transformative conflict resolution,6 and (4) let every person, community, and culture know the ecological and cultural cost of western technology—before passing it on—so the recipient can make the most informed choice possible with respect to all generations of their particular culture.

HUMANITY’S TASK

We do not destroy ecosystems with our thoughts and actions, but we do alter them, which makes systemic thinking a critical exercise because everything we do has within it the seed of its opposite. This is but saying that symptomatic thinking, which is linear, often creates a problem within a dynamic, interactive, cyclical system by trying to generate an independent variable—a physical impossibility. Systemic thinking, on the other hand, is cyclical and can both understand the system and usually figure out how to fix what is broken. Systemic thinking accepts the notion that all things are the same while being different and different while being the same—the outcome of which is the open-ended complementarity of all things, including life itself.

Systemic thinking is also important because everything we do sets into motion a stream of causes and effects that become self-reinforcing feedback loops that in one way or another alter the trajectory of an ecosystem—to our benefit or our detriment. It is to society’s advantage, therefore, to understand how systems work and how we can fit ourselves into them without hindering their ability to function in a way that is beneficial to our well-being and that of future generations.

Humanity’s main task in the years ahead will be to apply our ecological knowledge, imagination, and systemic thinking to the fundamental redesign of our technologies and social institutions in accord with Nature’s biophysical principals in order to create a cultural foundation that both honors and protects social-environmental sustainability. In a sense, I am restating what economist Fritz Schumacher said in 1973, namely that, “it is possible to give a new direction to technological development . . . back to the real needs of man, and . . . to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.”

The current obstacles to social-environmental sustainability are, nevertheless, perceptual, not technological. They lie in the dominant values of our society, particularly the dominant corporate values of—more, ever more. These values are based primarily on the flow of information through the ever-expanding system of communications.

The purpose of this information and its dissemination, from the corporate point of view, is to garner as much monetary wealth as possible and translate it into as much political power as possible in order to garner ever more monetary wealth, and so on, in an endless, self-reinforcing feedback loop. Thus the union of knowledge and communications is forming an interconnected, lightening-speed, electronic information network that is increasingly shaping modern societies.

Whereas global capitalism is focusing on the electronic network to control the flow of information, money, and political power, the challenge of the 21st century is to so dramatically alter our social values and therefore capitalism and the politics it spawns that they become compatible with and supportive of the necessities of social-environmental sustainability.

Consider the following story. A man in simple, comfortable clothes is dozing in a fishing boat that has been pulled out of the waves rolling up a sandy beach. As the gentle breeze caresses his face, a camera clicks. The man awakens to see a tourist standing over him.

“The weather is great,” begins the tourist, “and there are plenty of fish left in the ocean, why are you lying about instead of going out again and catching more?”

“Because,” replies the fisherman, “I caught enough this morning.”

“But what about fish for later?” asks the tourist.

“When I need more, I’ll catch more,” answers the fisherman.

“But just imagine,” says the tourist unabashedly, “if you went out there three or four times a day, you could bring home three or four times as many fish! You know what could happen then, don’t you?”

“No,” responds the fisherman shaking his head.

“After about a year, you could buy yourself a motor-boat” says the tourist with obvious excitement. “After two years, you could buy a second one, and after three years, you could have a cutter or two. And just think, one day you might be able to build a freezing plant or a smoke house! Why, you might eventually be able to get a helicopter for tracking shoals of fish and guiding your fleet of cutters so you could catch even more. Then you could get your own fleet of trucks to transport your fish to the capital, and then . . . ”

“And then, what?” interrupts the fisherman.

“And then,” continues the tourist triumphantly, “you could sit calmly at the beach, dozing in the sun, while looking out over the beautiful ocean.”

“That,” chuckles the fisherman, “is exactly what I was doing when you came along.”

This story, told by writer Heinrich Böll, points out that a truly wealthy person is one who knows when enough is enough and anything more is just clutter.7

“Enoughness” is having what we truly want and truly wanting what we have. As long as we understand the meaning of “enoughness,” we own the things we have. But the instant we lose sight of “enoughness,” the things we have begin to own us, and there is neither health nor happiness, neither prosperity nor security when inanimate objects own us.

Beyond a certain threshold, possessions become the thieves of time, energy, freedom, and above all of the quality of human relationships—which require time, energy, and freedom. Beyond a certain threshold, possessions become the instruments of a kind of modernized poverty that—more often than not—withers the generosity of one’s spirit and the peace of one’s soul.

As more people are born than die, as human longevity increases, the area of land and the resources required to fulfill the life necessities of individual people shrinks on a per capita basis, not only because more people are vying for a finite amount of a given resource but also because the quantity of that resource is continually shrinking while the population seeking it is continually growing. This scenario leads to increasingly destructive corporate competition for the control of those very resources that are the foundation of human life—the kind of competition that fear thrives on because the sole purpose of such competition is to garner personal wealth and the power it promises. The inhumanity of global economic competition for the basic necessities of life, food in particular, is brought to the fore because such competition is destroying cultures the world over and endangering locally adapted agricultural species.

With that in mind, there arises a question: What must we do today to allow Nature’s biophysical capacity to nurture us, the human species through all generations—present and future?


Related Posts:

• Current Crises: The Trilogy of Extinction

• Current Crises: Our Inner Vs Outer Landscapes

• Current Crises: The Choice Is Ours

• Giving Children Their Rightful Voice—A Democratic Revolution

• The Link Between Nature’s Commons And Our Cultural Commons


ENDNOTES

1. Satish Kumar. Poverty and Progress. Resurgence 196 (1999):6.

2. The preceding two paragraphs are based on: George Monbiot. Privatising our Minds. Resurgence 209 (2001):61.

3. International Forum on Globalization. 2001. Globalization: The Facts and Figures of Poverty and Inequality. IFG Bulletin 1(3):6-7.

4. Jerry Mander, Debi Barker, and David Korten. 2001. Does Globalization Help the Poor? IFG Bulletin 1(3):2-5

5. The preceding three paragraphs are based on: (1) Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, and others. Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences February 27, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1118373109 and (2) Mikaela Conley. Are Rich People Unethical? http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/02/27/are-rich-people-unethical/

6. Chris Maser and Carol Pollio. Resolving Environmental Conflicts. Second Edition. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. (2011) 241 pp.

7. Wolfgang Sachs. Rich in Things, Poor in Time. Resurgence 196 (1999):14-16.


Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.

Protected by Copyscape Web Copyright Protection


If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.



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