Greed cannot be defined in conventional terms exclusively as a quest for more money or material possessions. It is simply a desire to have more and more. More than one needs. More than one can use. We know that billionaires don’t need and can’t use four yachts and a fleet of twenty antique cars but most North Americans have affluenza too. And our greed is manifested not just in our insatiable material appetites, but in our need for more activity. More hobbies, more “courses”, more “lessons”, more structured leisure events, and volunteering. All this in tandem with a double income work schedule.
Something must give. So what is deemed expendable? Small talk with friends. (Sorry, gotta go). Real talk with family. Time with pets. (North American dogs average a 20 minute nightly walk). Reading time. (remember novels?). Writing letters.(Emails mutilate the language ) Our sleep. (Canadians slept 9 ½ hours a night a century ago). Our health. (Indigenous people averaged 2 hours of work daily---the industrial revolution turned us into mindless robots.) In our contemporary society it is a sin to be seen not to be busy. I recall the words of Thoreau:
“If a man should walk in the woods for love of them of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer, but if spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”
Above all we must be “goal-oriented”. We must have “plans” and “objectives”. The impression must be left that my life is not something to be experienced but rather like a career in the Cub Scouts where I get various performance badges to mark my “progress”. Just like the people who plaster their cars with the decals of National Parks to prove they had a good time. Well, I am an not a Japanese tourist and I feel more like just experiencing the moment rather than ruining it by recording it. I don’t think life is like a carport that you have to fill up with junk ---activities---so much to the point that there is no room for your car, that is, for what is essential.
In the 1950s people found time for people. Because they were satisfied with less. Satisfied and happy for the most part. When people had problems, my recollection was, hey, come over for a cup of tea, dear, and let’s talk about it. Grandparents and their concerns were an integral part of the family. Mom was always home waiting for me to arrive from school with a cup of cocoa and a peanut butter sandwich, wanting to know how my day went. She could do that, because it took only one income to deliver what we wanted. A 950 square foot house, with three small bedrooms, one small bathroom, one icebox and one car for seven people. And no foreign vacations. A typical middle class lifestyle. Rich in time and quality of life.
But times have changed. 950sq feet is now a telephone booth for today’s Canadians. Bathrooms are that size it seems. Some kids today have their own ensuites. I had to share my bathwater with two brothers, third in line, and one bath a week sufficed for hygiene. Many people in my boyhood were of the belief, like my parents, that Canada’s wealth was not fairly shared, and that it was outrageous that there were poor among us who did not even have shelter or medical care. This situation is even worse today. But with one difference.
While folks like my parents, the socialists of the 1950s, believed that government services should assist the needy, they did not think, as apparently many people now do, that government should substitute for the care and assistance that friends, neighbours and relatives used to provide in the 1950s. The role of government in their view was to supplement what was already being done. Nothing is so debilitating as the notion that one has no individual responsibility, or community responsibility, to help people because we can just sit back and leave government to carry the ball. Or that we must await “funding” from government to proceed. In the post-carbon era we will have to return to the old Canadian pioneer ethic, get off our butts and help people ourselves. Barn-raising was not done by government employees. But by neighbours and friends who found time to help neighbours and friends. For nothing. No “funding” was available.
Presently, when an individual in obvious need of help or assistance is encountered the reflexive response is to offer the recommendation that he seek the help of some government agency or counseling service. That cup of tea that was offered in the 1950s is never proffered. There is a comfortable and convenient belief about that “these people” will be taken care of “if only” they will seek help. The fact is that if we spent 50% of our GDP on psychologists and counselors it would not take the place that stay-at-home moms, live-in-grandmas, and kindly neighbours did 5 decades ago. And given the choice between the fashionable trauma counselor of this century and my grandmother’s apron, I’ll take my grandmother any day of the week. The people who survived the London blitz didn’t need psychologists---maybe if they had had them , they would have surrendered to Hitler. As it was, they just spent the time to help each other.
But the 50s will never return, you say. Just wait until the oil economy is done. You’re going to get a crash course in Amish living and I am going back to the future.. You’ll have lots of time to slow down then and get re-connected with the people around you. But hey, you can do that now. You have time for me. Your day is 24 hours long just like mine. The point is, you will not MAKE time for me because you have put too much on your plate and I am not a priority.
Now, I most probably should not be a priority. You have your family after all. But realize that is not external forces that are making you run so quickly on a treadmill. It is the force of your own greed to have it all. The bigger more expensive house, the higher paying more stressful job, the two cars, your yoga classes, the two kids, their music lessons, their soccer practices, your Mexican vacations that have to be financed by working over-time. etc. I didn’t twist your arm to make those choices.
You “gotta go” because you are as “Type A” and wired into the system as is any Vancouverite, who at least doesn’t have the hypocritical trappings of Island culture.
Have another expresso.
But one day, please read Leo Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”
Fri, 2008-08-08 09:51
So we're all just naturally greedy?
"But realize that [it] is not external forces that are making you run so quickly on a treadmill."
Wouldn't it be nice if..., but if whatever you're dreaming of, like taking a trip to Pluto, isn't a possibility, are you still going to get worked up over not having it? You can only really desire what is realistically within your grasp.
"There she stood in the doorway, I heard the mission bells,
I was thinking to myself, 'This could be heaven or this could be hell.'
Then she lit up a candle, and she showed me the way,
There were voices down the corridor, I thought I heard them say..."
I think people are led to consumerism and greediness. They have a choice, but only just about. Most people are not aware they have that choice.
Like Pahom in Tolstoy's story, most people want to live a little more comfortably, "conveniently" as we say in Japan, and so they work hard to improve their lives. Some people, unlike Pahom, unlike most people who live in the advanced industrial nations today, do know when they have enough - that just enough when life is fairly comfortable, and your possessions are not much of a burden on you.
But I think what we have today, and it is very clear in many young Japanese people, is a sheer, crass consumerism that blinds people to the realities of life and living. This, one can say, is the result of the energy revolution of the past 250 years or so. But did it really have to be like this?
How DID it get like this? Why do we have this culture of greed that validates addiction to all this stuff? Did it just happen because everyone is naturally greedy?
I don't think so.
"Just wait until the oil economy is done. You’re going to get a crash course in Amish living and I am going back to the future.. You’ll have lots of time to slow down then and get re-connected with the people around you."
That would be nice. I think a lot of people are hoping that this will be the end result of "Peak Oil". If it were true. Tim, please spare me about 20 minutes to read my G8 biofuelling biofeudalism, because I think it's much scarier than that. Enjoy a cup of (Japanese green) tea while you read it, if you like.
Sun, 2008-08-10 01:53
You're not the only one