The Price of Boom and Bust Success: It’s a Heart Thing
I was prompted by a post on my Facebook page by We are Wildness to think about our perceptions of success. The post stated:
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
It’s a heart thing. We Humans have lost touch with the heart of our own humanity, that which makes us human. Being a community, showing respect for all creatures, being empathetic and compassionate, and being in touch with and learning from the world around us. This is often characterized as weakness but to me weakness is the need to always be on top, always be ahead of the rest, always be profiting from your interaction with the world. It’s a weakness of the spirit. It infects a lot of the so called movers and shakers in our societies.
I’m not talking about the visionaries who dream and create and push us forward as a species, but the people who come after them and figure out how best to personally profit from their genius. They tend to garner most of the attention, as if the genius is unremarkable without the profiteering.
Of course, in order to be known as a mover and a shaker you have to do a lot of personal horn tooting. We all know the type. They aren’t hard to recognize. They tend to be fairly visible if you’re paying attention. Some have pretty slick PR people who dress up the truth of their industry in patriotic images and inspirational sounding tag lines. Some are quite shadowy, and let super pacs and political puppets parade their values around for them, convincing us of the righteousness of their cause. They also tend to have really good lawyers and legal departments who make sure that any and all legal claims for harm are handled quickly and quietly squelched with the power of the almighty dollar. It’s just a cost of doing business. It’s the price of their success.
And if they happen to employ a lot of people, regardless of how destructive the success of their various endeavors may be, it’s difficult to get people to stop drinking the Kool aid of increasing profits and economic growth and job stability–although often this kind of profiteering is basically boom and bust, boom and bust, for the communities that lie in the path of their “progress.” So much for stability over the long run.
And what they leave in their wake haunts the children and grand children of the people they promised the world to and then left behind when the going got rough, or the supply ran out, or the damage was so severe they were forced out of business by regulatory officials who finally stopped looking the other way, usually because somebody with a still fully functioning conscience blew the whistle on them.
They leave behind a world the locals no longer recognize, no longer profit from, and no longer trust as a healthy, wholesome place to live and raise their families.
I’ve traveled around the country enough to have seen the result. The stripped down mountain tops, the rivers lined with sludge, the deforested hill sides, the fields of wasted machinery corroding in puddles of petroleum fowled mud and the chemical settling ponds in vivid crayon box colors, shimmering in the sun. Often the country side on the outskirts of the devastated ruins is quite lovely–in the rugged landscapes of Wyoming, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, and the lush green mountains of West Virginia. But the surface beauty doesn’t negate the damage done. That takes many years and many dollars of environmental restoration efforts, a whole super fund of federal money. And even then the fix is often simply cosmetic. You still wouldn’t want your babies playing in those fields or your husband bringing home a few trout to fry from that river. It’s the price we all pay for the success of the successful among us.
Some of us are waking up to the true costs of this success. Some of us are quite alarmed at the toll it’s taken on our planet and our resources. Some of us recognize the human cost–the wars, displacement of populations and the dangerous political instability it’s produced in places like Syria and North Africa.
I don’t believe it’s an accident that some of the most unstable places on the planet are also those which have been exploited the most ruthlessly by wildly “successful” industries. The extraction of petroleum, precious metals and jewels takes place in some of the poorest countries on earth. The success is rarely shared with the indigenous populations in meaningful ways, which understandably creates tensions and unrest. Nobody likes to be exploited. Exploitation should not be considered acceptable because of the “success” of the enterprise that results in it.
I’d like to see us take a much more holistic view of things. Reassess our definition of success. Re-establish human connections to each other and to the world around us. Re-think our strategy and begin to implement an inclusive, healthy, viable and sustainable success. One that we all benefit from.
I’m afraid it may get harder to do as we move further into an uncertain future. The problems will be bigger. The solutions requiring more sacrifice than first world peoples are comfortable with. But I believe at some point we will have no choice, so we might as well start making changes now, scary as it might seem.
But it can also be an exciting challenge. A positive change from a strictly growth and profit driven world economy to a more interactive, creative and humane one. It’s a pretty scary thought for most capitalists. A less competitive world. A more inclusive economy. A society based on sharing the worlds resources instead of empire building with them. Whoa!
Yet, it’s already beginning. People are trading traditional corporate models of raising capitol for small scale community lending circles. There are intentional communities forming all over America with goals of sharing and supporting their residents and acting as good stewards of their property holdings. There are community shared agriculture programs and farmers markets and farm to table movements everywhere.
There are communities in South America, California and Africa committed to powering themselves with renewable forms of energy, feeding themselves with locally sourced foods, and paving the way for all of us to move into a more sustainable way of life.
It’s exciting change. It gives me hope. It’s a new way of doing business, a new movement gaining momentum in the shadows of the outdated societal and economic models that we have been entrenched in but have not served the majority of us well over the long run. And isn’t that what we all want? Stability over the long run. A stable future for our kids and grand kids. A world with less tension and less violence and less waste. A world with more peace, more fairness and more abundance. It’s there. But it doesn’t just happen. And it won’t happen if resistance is too great. At this point we don’t know precisely what the alternative to change will be, but climate scientists, sociologists and forward thinking economists have some pretty grim predictions about the kind of world we might leave behind us. And that would be a shame. For our kids and grand kids. Because it could be different. It could be better. It’s up to us.