Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Dawning

We read on Stoneleigh and Ilargi’s blog that:
“Americans are in a collective state of financial depression as many admit they could only cover their bills for two months at most if they found themselves suddenly jobless, a nightmare more and more worry may come true. The results of a bevy of surveys found a growing number of consumers are only a couple paychecks away from a household collapse even as many scramble to shore up savings. Rainy-day funds appear to be a distant memory as households burn cash to cover food and energy bills as well as mortgage and car payments. A large number of households say that even one missed paycheck would spell financial ruin. And even in households that remain well off, the surveys show a festering fear that financial problems are lurking.

“‘This is flashing so bright red,’ said Paul Ballew, senior vice president of Nationwide Insurance Co. ‘Roughly 60% of the population was ill-prepared (financially) before the meltdown.’ ... Twenty-nine percent of those making $100,000 or more a year said they would have trouble paying the bills after more than a month of unemployment.”

Elsewhere in the blog we are told that California's unemployment rate rose to 10.5% in February from 10.1% in January. For the Golden State that’s the highest since Ronald Reagan’s social network (based in Houston) tanked Jimmy Carter’s War on Energy in order to help move their guy from Sacramento to Washington in 1981. Ten percent out of work in a state where $100,000 is thought a fair wage is a big deal, although probably still only an early return, given the Long Emergency stretching out in front of us.

What strikes us as odd, looking at this from our solar-powered laptop on a rough-cut wooden table in a Belizian jungle pagoda at the midpoint of a permaculture course, is how absurdly large that $100,000 per year was, and how easily and quickly that amount of money passed through the hands of those receiving it, year after year.

Seen through the eyes of a 2/3-worlder, being handed such a huge amount of money for banging nails or typing memos would be like winning the lottery, and — is it true? — those people in the North get paid that every year!

What on earth did they do with all that money, a Mayan corn farmer might ask — a million dollars every decade, four or five million in a typical working life? Did they lose it in Las Vegas? Build a marble palace for themselves? Buy the presidency of a small country?

A more forlorn line of inquiry, and the fodder of many a competing blog, tries to imagine what USAnians could have been doing with all that money if they had not been teetering about in Iraq and other places, inebriated in the delusion that foreign adventure was indefinitely sustainable.

Perhaps they could have been socking away permacultural wealth – in fruitfully abundant and constantly improving landscapes, arrays of solar cookers and durable wind machines, super-insulated zero-energy houses with rainwater catchment, carbon-sequestering Victory Gardens and bamboo groves, fish ponds and chicken coops, tidy repair shops full of useful tools, and fully-featured ecovillages and ecocities, instead of fluffernutter in the form of college degrees in Economics, MacMansion ARMs, and SUV loans from GM’s Quixotic credit division.

So who let these poor schmucks down? Was it their teachers, preachers and televised role models who filled children’s heads with dreams of lollypop consumer utopias, even while the Club of Rome, Worldwatch, and plenty of wise sages were cautioning their parents with warnings of immutable limits?

Was it the short-horizoned political-business-media cycle? Was it a steady diet of plastics and GM-high fructose corn syrup that turned their brains to mush and guts to flab? Well, it was probably all of the above, and many more things, if we wanted to take the time to enumerate them.

A better question is what is keeping them from waking up now? Hello? Do you hear us yet? We are talking about you. Yes, you.

Even if The Magic President shows that he can make a dead cat bounce a few times, it still doesn’t mean he can dribble with it. So, if the economy mends for a little while (a stairstep pattern called catabolic collapse), USAnians, and everyone else, should seize that moment to change their wasting ways, at least long enough to salt away some of the things they will need for the longer haul.


littlem said...

Pretty sad really.

crs said...

Okay I'll bite. Perhaps because you live in a place where you can truly live cheaply you feel you can talk down to the people in the 'first' world.

I live in Canada. My family and I live a modest lifestyle, grow as much food as we can and raise chickens and soon we'll have sheep. However, for us (a family of 4) the grocery bills, are at least $1600/month during winter when the stores have all been used up. To clarify, we do all of our shopping with nearby farmers and the local organic food market, to keep our dollars local. I have a good job (not $100k, but certainly more than most) and yet I seem to spend most of my pay check each month. On top of food there is the nasty cost of house insurance, car insurance (which we are considering getting rid of), property tax, mortgage (I pay less for this than I could rent a place), power bills so suddenly I'm up to $4000/month in expenses. We don't buy much other than food, the wife spins wool and makes most of our clothes from fabric gleaned from bartering and thrift stores. Things that we do buy go towards living closer to the land. We live in a strawbale house, have part of our power coming from solar panels, have water storage and are developing our property with permaculture principles.

I guess I find the tone of your article a little condescending. Not all of us first worlder's are living high on the hog. A lot of us are trying our best to live more sustainably in real and important ways, yet without my job, there would be no solar panels, no money for the fence we needed last year, no money for getting started with the animals etc....

The fact is, the cost of living in the first world requires that we make more than your fellow neighbors in Belize...Sure, in terms of money we are infinetely richer than him, but who is truly richer?

Howard Switzer said...

I am sorry that CRS felt Albert was being condescending in his comments and critique of the warhead of western culture. I did not fell that despite my efforts being similar though considerably less successful than CRS. Mayan farmers too have problems as the part about vanilla prices indicated for instance. What were once successful cultures who developed a niche over time that supported their community were devastated by the 10,000 year old forest fire of civilization which is what we/they are trying to recover from. Native cultures took time to evolve as will ours and I expect will require community beyond ones family to be sustainable. I thank Albert for his perspective and honor his efforts to share the knowledge and experience.

Howard Switzer said...

What I meant to include is that I regard you CRS as one of the awakened. That does not mean that life is suddenly easy. We have a lot to recreate, to co-create.

CRS said...

I suppose I took the post a little personally having re-read it. There is definetly a failing in teaching and culture that fails to point us in the right direction. The signposts are there, it's just that most people in the West aren't looking for them, yet.

There are definitely those that are listening and trying to make a difference. Writing about those that aren't enlightened on a blog like this may be a little like preaching to the choir. I would think that people coming here are more apt to be looking for solutions than musing about the problems that got us here.




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