The United States is the wealthiest nation on Earth, perhaps even in the history of the world. Yet if we go to the nearest grocery store we can see an endless flow of haggard, overworked people trying to make ends meet. The culture of the US is one of lonely “individualism” with most people locked in desperate competition with each other, to the extent they interact with their fellow man at all in any meaningful way. Despite all the new clothes, cars, and houses, fewer people have children or see a worthwhile future every year.
The US is the ultimate example of how the way a society uses and stores wealth is more important than how much wealth it has.
The cause of America’s contradictions is its holy ideology of consumer capitalism, the ideas of the 18th century enlightenment with its worship of the rational individual, of Bentham, Marx, Smith taken down a slippery slope to their ultimate absurdity.
What we end up with is an entire society based around the principle that more is always better.
There are no questions of mission or purpose. There are only hundreds of millions of rational interchangeable agents making decisions of pleasure and pain every day. Whether the outcome is optimal or even desirable at all, is a question that cannot even be framed.
We are told relentlessly that it is the best of all possible systems and that the invisible hand always knows what’s really best for us.
If we read about 15 minutes of history common sense makes it clear that societies are organisms that compete and cooperate in complex ecosystems. Individual humans are rather like cells in these social bodies. What one person does affects everyone else. A society made of purely self-interested people is a body riddled with cancer cells. Rapacious enlightened individuals, like cancer cells hungrily guzzle all the glucose they desire for a time, until the host expires, or in its weakened state is killed by an opportunistic rival. Then the rational cancer that thought itself God unceremoniously dies along with the body.
Enduring societies have to consider the good of the body first. For if it dies, all the concerns of the cells are rendered moot.
The insistence of consumerism on everlasting growth is to prescribe cancer as the remedy.
Nothing grows forever and ultimately lives within its finite bounds. Working within these limits is the mandate of living things.
Resilient natural systems make the most of scarce resources while our system is devoted to getting as little benefit as possible from even the most unimaginable abundance.
A wasteful system like this one assumes the good times never end. It has no goals and simply burns up what it gets.
A resilient system has set goals that it tries to achieve as effectively as possible with as little energy as possible. Then it shores itself up against times of scarcity and disaster. What energy isn’t spent supports rest and leisure, the reward for a job well done.
Living in a consumerist society is to live on a treadmill. Since there is no purpose there are no tasks to be done, only endless work that can never be complete. Worse, the work must be endless or else the entire system collapses overnight. Millions of people live lives of desperate dependance on jobs they hate stuck most of the time with people they despise so they do not starve, become involuntary celibates, and become disowned by their fair-weather friends and family. It’s a special kind of hell that favors the insane and this is what we think is normal. It is a comfort that this sort of depraved system cannot last.