Globalization, global warming, Toqueville, and democracy as we know it, part 2

I’m going to try to take these topics one at a time now and elaborate on them a bit. Jeff M. taught me with his wonderful “Lord of the Reorg” posts that you can address complex and difficult topics in a blog if you break them into something resembling bite-sized pieces. I’d link his series, but they’re behind a firewall I can no longer access the door to.

I’ll start with globalization, but I have to bring in a bit of Toqueville, too.

One of Toqueville’s conclusions after keenly observing U. S. culture for ten months was that financial well-being was an integral part of the American philosophy. I doubt that anyone would argue with that. We talk repeatedly of “the American dream,” that fantasy of a house for every family, two cars (or sometimes many more) in every garage, Roosevelt’s “chicken in every pot,” and so on.

For more than 200 years this has been a staple of the American way of life. If you asked a parent what he wanted for his children, his reply would likely be, “For them to have an even better life than I do.” And that “better” was most likely measured in financial terms.

For a very long time, this approach has succeeded. But the cost to the planet has been tremendous.

It’s common to hear this self-aggrandizing statement: “The U.S. has never been a colonial country.” Politically, that may be for the most part true. But the particular form of economic colonialism that the U.S. has practiced for most of its history is in some ways far worse than the more traditional colonization practiced by other “developed” countries.

With a small (and getting smaller every year) percentage of the world’s population, citizens of the U.S. manage to consume approximately 25% of the natural resources used in the world each year. This is necessary because of our philosophy of consumerism. Our spending, yours and mine, is what keeps our economy rolling and our economic welfare improving. Sort of.

We could get away with this sort of behavior as long as the rest of the world couldn’t see what we were doing. But with instant global communications a reality, people around the world can see the way we live and the excesses with which we indulge ourselves. Naturally, they all want a piece of the action. And perhaps just as naturally, many of them hate us for what they envy.

Here is sad fact number 1: The planet will not support the lifestyle currently enjoyed in the U.S. for the number of people living on the earth.

Here is sad fact number 2: As long as someone somewhere is willing to do the work for less money per hour to improve his life, American companies will continue off-shoring jobs. They do this not to screw their workers but to keep their products competitive in a consumer economy.

Globalization of the workforce is a reality. The people who will suffer the most from this are the people who have become accustomed to a fairly fat way of life, one supported by debt, by working longer and longer hours to have more and more things and to maintain the payments on that debt. In short, dear American worker, you may be chasing a pot of gold at the end of a truly ephemeral rainbow.

Your unions can’t protect you, your government can’t protect you, and your companies can’t protect you, because if they do, some other company will simply eat them alive.

I can’t tell you how to fix this, because the truth of the matter is that I think there is no fix. Our world is changing, and we had each better be prepared for it. What does that mean?

To me it means learning to understand the difference between wants and needs. It means learning to insist on the things that are important to you. In my case, important things include, among other things, products that can be fixed rather than sent to the landfill, sensible packaging, and a good laugh each day. There are, of course, many others. You can make your own list. It will probably be different from mine.

You’ll probably notice that physical safety wasn’t listed there. I don’t think anyone or any entity can guarantee that. But the more I understand about my environment and my society, the better able I will be to help ensure my own safety and the safety of those I care about.

If my world collapsed tomorrow, I wouldn’t be very happy about it. But I think I am better prepared than most to survive it. I’d encourage you to think about what it might take to help you feel the same way.

And now, this post seems to be going somewhere I’m not prepared to deal with tonight and that you probably don’t need to read about. So I’m going to shut up. But let me just say this: The world is changing. You can’t stop it. I’m not even sure you can do much to mitigate it.

So I would ask that sometime soon, you have this conversation with yourself. See if you can answer these questions:

  • What is REALLY important to me?
  • What does it take to sustain this (these) thing(s)?
  • How can I make this happen?
  • If I can’t make it happen, then what?

Financial wellbeing is not a human right, no matter what we have been raised to believe. My parents and your parents or grandparents understood this. Think about it now.

Have a great day.

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