Sunday, March 1, 2009

Don't Panic!

Have been reading around the net and finding a great deal of dissatisfaction with one of the recurrent threads in the finance and energy blogs (no doubt repeated in the eco-climate blogs as well). It is the great fear of a Mad Max future that will befall us if the wealthy part of the world falls into economic depression. This fear is built out of a belief that humanity is, at its natural core, a violent, rapacious species. That if it were not for the "thin veneer of culture" we would all turn into psychopathic predators literally tearing each other limb from limb. In the current form, the modern consumerist lifestyle is equated with the thin veneer of civilization. The idea being that if people can no longer be placated with regular shopping binges or new kitchen appliances, their inner animal instincts will be unleashed upon the world, and the world of humanity will sink into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

This general idea has a long history in modern European thought, and no wonder, Europe had been an incredibly violent place for much of the past millenium. Something about Feudalism and the competition of premodern land-owning groups over the power inherent in controlling productive land and those who labored on it for survival encouraged those in power to wage war with one another in a more of less continual fashion. The underlying logic of continual wars of expansion among land-owning elites seem to dominate right up to the end of the second world war.

But violence of this sort is not really the human norm, no matter the degree of supposed 'civilization.' Indeed, if one considers that humans are now approaching perhaps about 6 or 7 billion in number of souls present on this earth, and in spite of this incredible number, the relative numbers of brutal senseless attrocities committed on a monthly basis may number in the 10,000's world wide, we may be looking at a level of senseless, psychopathic violence of about 10 in 7 million, or a whopping 120 in 7 million annually globally. I am sorry folks, but that rate does not portend a species wide predilection for depravity. Quite the opposite, we as a species are paragons of peace and tranquility. Of course, for a city the size of Los Angeles to lose even 1 soul to the predations of the aberrant few is intolerable, much less 120! But, this is an issue for law enforcement, not for the total condemnation of our species!

So, this leads to another concern. Perhaps we need to let the oracles of senseless destruction go. Prior to the present economic crisis they served a valuable role as voices in the wilderness that helped to bring out attention to the mounting problems in the way we finance a consumption based society. But, they really don't have much to offer now that the crisis is here. With the economic horizon shifting so dramatically to a future of lower cost lifestyles, it is perhaps better to begin to really think about and work on what life on this new horizon might be like. It seems to me that this is a much more productive way forward than that proposed by the profits of senseless doom and destruction.

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