Profound Psychological Perspectives and Prescriptions
for Trying Times
Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
January 1, 2010
The famous pamphleteer Thomas Paine
wrote, during a dark hour of the Revolutionary War in 1776: “These are the
times that try men’s souls.” In times
of trouble we need someone to speak words of wisdom to us, clearly, cogently,
truthfully and convincingly. When we
are absorbed in a bubble of fear and uncertainty, we can become paralyzed and
lose the ability to rationally gauge our best courses of action. In hard times we look to supposed experts, political
leaders, economists, ideologues, spiritual authorities, gurus, saviors, or philosophers
to provide us with guidance, assistance, reassurance and comforting direction
to help us overcome adversities and our fears and insecurities.
Modern industrial capitalism is
essentially driven by the goal of making profits through the stimulation of resource
exploitation and materialistic excesses of consumption. Today, seductive marketing and bubble
economics and deregulatory ideologies and the promotion of debt financing and speculative
greed have helped get us into an economic crisis which is more severe than any
since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
It is vitally important for us now to recover from this economic malaise,
and to do so in ways that are sustainable in the long run. We must re-orient ourselves, and restructure
our societies, and rethink our national trajectories, and boldly move forward.
When economic growth falters, many
social problems intensify and come into clearer focus. Economic hardship forces us to reconsider
our personal habits and goals and activities.
We need courage and perseverance and philosophic equanimity during such
times; and we need to avoid panic. We need to reconnect with healthy aspirations
and authentic goals.
Our economies are structured to be
highly dependent on increases in consumption and continuous population growth
to stoke economic expansion and wealth creation and to provide jobs for the
increasing number of people. Yet we are
beginning to see that there are distinct limits to the extent we can use up
nonrenewable resources and over-harvest renewable resources. There are limits to the damage we can do to natural
ecosystems and to the amount of garbage and toxic wastes we can produce without
causing significant adverse consequences.
There are also limiting factors associated with the burning of fossil
fuels and the amount of greenhouse gases we can spew into the atmosphere without
causing destabilizing climate change and other unintended adversities.
The purpose of this essay is to delve
into the psychological aspects of capitalism, consumerism and human nature, and
to seek better understanding of more sensible ways forward. Before this investigation, I turn to the
bigger context of these considerations.
The Über-Context: Materialism Evaluated
Obama gave the commencement speech to 2009 graduates of the catholic University
of Notre Dame on May 17, 2009. He
declared: “Too many of us view life
only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism. The strong too often dominate the weak, and
too many of those with wealth and with power find all manners of justification
for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustices.”
Modern man still has primitive instincts, and human nature has
its noble aspects and its ignoble aspects.
The spiritual sides of our character and selves are the domain of our
most noble motives, like aspirations for peace, fairness, compassion, kindness,
healthy community and virtuous behaviors such as acting with prudence, justice,
fortitude and temperance. Materialistic
impulses like greed, envy, jealousy, acquisitiveness, pride of possession, immoderate
selfishness and ruthless exploitation, on the other hand, lie on the ignoble
side of the scale. Even the quite
conservative Pope Benedict XVI occasionally rails against rampant
materialism. Like the philosophies of almost
all religious traditions, the Pope points out that worldly goods and money and
power are transitory, and that ultimately they are not deeply fulfilling.
Boethius, an influential Roman consul and
philosopher, long ago made a similar argument in his book Consolation of Philosophy.
This was the most widely copied work of secular literature in Europe for
many centuries. Treachery had reduced
Boethius from a position of power and wealth to that of a condemned prisoner in
524 A.D. Then, in prison, a vision of ‘Lady
Philosophy’ came to him that embodied true wisdom and compassion. She gave him consolation, and he realized
that happiness comes from within. He
“Understanding of the self only arises in relationship,
in watching yourself in relationship to people, ideas, and things; to trees, the earth, and the world around
you and within you. Relationship is the
mirror in which the self is revealed.
Without self-knowledge there is no basis for right thought and action.”
Materialism, self-understanding and
proper relationship can be seen from a perspective that sheds light on much of
human history. An age-old battle has
been waged from time immemorial between the flesh and the spirit. All concepts of virtue and vice, of sin, and
of heaven and hell originate in this basic conflict. People seek meaning and fulfillment through material things and pleasures,
as well as in spiritual practices like worship, meditation, and seeking enlightenment
and transcendence. Stoics and ascetics
embrace a sense of rigorous propriety and a puritanical denial of pleasures,
and they even sometimes mortify the flesh.
In contrast, Epicurean connoisseurs take a more humane and indulgent
approach, seeking out the pleasures of delicious food, pleasing beverages,
stimulating intercourse, swelling accomplishment, and the satisfaction of
yearnings. The ‘multitudes’, it seems, do
not live by any particular philosophy;
they carouse at every opportunity, eating and drinking and dancing and
flirting and gambling and laughing and loving and singing and striving and
struggling and arguing and fighting and hating and praying and such.
Buddhist philosophers say that ‘desire
is the source of all suffering’. Surely
there is some truth in that point of view, and there is a kind of merit in detachment
from obsessive concerns about outcomes.
Luminous forces have done battle with dark forces from time immemorial,
a struggle within us between virtue and vice, ascetic denial and Epicurean
excesses, the spirit and the flesh. In
thinking about this tension between the spirit and the flesh, a perplexing
vision comes to me of the alternating nobility and pathos of people who
sublimate their physical desires. As
John Fowles points out, “We are designed to want; with nothing to want, we are like windmills in a world without
I have a great deal of respect for
Buddhists like the Dalai Lama, whose spirituality is not confused with motives
for power and control like those of the leaders of established churches. Unlike some religious leaders, the Dalai
Lama does not espouse narrow and parochial and bigotry-prone doctrines that interfere
with the otherwise noble aspects of religious traditions.
in thought, I reflect on the fact that joys and sorrows affect every one of us,
and future joys and sorrows will be felt by each of us in an unknowable
measure. Pleasure and pain are our lot
between the moment of our first breath and that of our last. For some, the joys are sadly few; and for millions, the sorrows and profound anxieties
are many. Some people seek adventures,
new experiences, fresh perspectives, new paths, and the road less taken. Others prefer traditional activities, the
reassuring solace of the known, and the comfort of the same old path; these people tend to oppose change and close-mindedly
reject new ideas, and they strive to belong and to conform.
Fowles points out in The Aristos that
one reason that there is such a pronounced “great contemporary attraction” of
drugs and philosophies like Zen Buddhism which facilitate the discovery of
virgin beauty in familiar objects, is that our search for the new and the
virgin is difficult to satisfy. This
puts us in “the same situation as Midas”:
“Everything he touched turned to gold, and from then on became useless
to him. We crave the virgin beauty, but
as soon as we experience it, it turns to gold … or boredom. We have to move on. The satisfaction of the desire is the
creation of a new desire.”
tend to figuratively favor the god Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry,
ecstasy, inspiration, instinct, adventure, intoxication, song and music and
dance; OR, they favor the god Apollo,
the god of peace, leisure, serenity, beauty, and intellectual contemplation,
logic and philosophic calm. This is
another aspect of the conflict between the impulses of the body and flesh versus
those of the mind and spirit. This is a
contrast between intention and action that may be related to the dominance of
the left-brain over the right-brain;
it’s like the age-old contest for domination either by feelings,
emotions and intuitions OR by thoughts and rationality.
ultimate right and wrong exists between these alternate ways of being and these
differing visions of life. The best
that one can do is to assimilate the best of these contrasting ways of being by
living one’s life with moderation, appreciation, respectful awareness,
reasonable self-esteem, and a generosity of spirit.
omnivorous souls like the character Zorba in Zorba the Greek seek ultimate expression through the thorough
whetting of appetites in life. They
embrace and exhaust all things with passion, so that when death finally comes,
it will find a world-traveling spirit sufficiently spent that it will voice no
wild lament, and express no sad regrets, and will instead feel a sense of deep
satisfaction at a life well lived. One
could, in contrast, live the life of a saint and embrace visions of a life of
eternal glory in Heaven while others supposedly are burning in Hell for having
believed erroneously, or one could do good while alive for less reasons
unrelated to religious dogmas. ‘To do
no harm”, is not a bad motto.
“Money Makes the World
John Fowles also writes in The Aristos: “Each age has its mythical happy man; the one with wisdom, with genius, with saintliness, with beauty,
with whatever is rare and ‘the Many’ are not able to possess. The twentieth century’s happy man is the man
with money.” He also notes: “Much more than we let philosophies guide
our lives, we allow obsessions to drive them;
and there is no doubt which has been the great driving obsession of the
last one hundred and fifty years. It is
money.” … “Having, not being, governs
Money can, to a certain extent, buy
the variety and security that most people strongly desire. But we should not allow our societies to
become increasingly unjust because of the unfair influence of Big Money in our
political system. The significant
increases in disparities of wealth and inequalities that characterize our
current neo-Gilded Age are not socially desirable. Our public policies have stoked the envy of Have Nots, and given
greater power to the protective jealously of the Haves. These policies have powerfully motivated
people to indulge in conspicuous consumption.
This state of affairs is cynically unwise and ecologically dangerous.
In John Bunyan’s allegorical book The Pilgrim’s Progress from
This World to That Which Is To Come, the
allegorical characters Christian and Faithful are traveling through the
wilderness seeking salvation and entry into the Celestial City of Heaven. Christian had even abandoned his family for
this quixotic quest. They must pass
through the town of Vanity where there is a year-round fair, called Vanity
Fair. Bunyan notes that “… all that is
sold there, or that comes from there, is vanity.” … “This is no newly-begun business, but a thing of ancient standing.” At this fair, “there are at all times to be
seen” every kind of material thing, and lusts, pleasures and delights of all
sorts, as well as “jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and
rogues, and that of every kind”. The
religious travelers, striving to remain on the straight and narrow, took no
interest in the goods for sale, asserting that, “We buy the truth.” The truth?? -- Maybe yes, and maybe no, I
say! Myth and dogma and simplistic
understandings may be appealing in many ways, but the fullness of nuance and
complexity are needed for the best understanding of who we are, and what our
best courses of action should be.
See Inspiration, Imagination, and the Deep Well of Human Impulses in the
Earth Manifesto for more information about John Bunyan and the context of his
Foibles of a Societal Emphasis on Consuming Things
Industrial civilization relies on consumerism, but this
strategy is a shortsighted and spiritually bankrupt expediency that serves to disconnect
us from nature and the cycle of life and the wholesomeness of our communities. Compulsive consumerism is in some regards a form
of disconnectedness within our souls from our authentic well-being. It represents a materialistic way of living
that is arguably correlated to an oft-bemoaned decline in the standards of our society's
morals and ethics and the level of happiness and satisfaction. When people over-indulge in excesses of any
sort, they are like addicts who must undergo withdrawal treatments to wean
themselves from their addictions.
advertising tend to equate personal happiness with the purchasing of material
possessions. Consumerism creates a kind
of pathology that can produce angst and emptiness. Some of its primary symptoms are addictive behaviors. Shopping and buying things have figuratively
become preferred drugs of choice.
Addiction to buying things that we don’t need is one characteristic of
industrial society. Other similar
addictions in our modern world include dependence on alcohol, drugs,
anti-depressants, bodily pleasures, gambling, personal debt, video games, electronic
devices, and a domineering compulsion to try to control everything.
pattern of addictive behaviors strongly influences our economics and our
politics and our interpersonal relationships.
This pattern of excesses and out-of-control consumption results in
people in the United States consuming 70 times more per person on average than
a person in India. Such behaviors are not
qualitatively different from well-known behavior patterns of substance
named Sally Erickson, producer of the documentary, What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, once said:
most of us experience when it comes to addiction, is a pattern of continually
seeking more of what it is we don't really want and, therefore, never being
fully satisfied. And as long as we are
never satisfied, we continue to seek more, while our real needs are never being
is arguably a reflection of the fact that in our culture we do not promote
forms of authentic deeper meaning and purpose in our lives as much as we
promote the acquisition of possessions.
Evangelical religions are not honest, relevant and ecumenical enough to propitiously
provide for these needs. Many people
try to make up for this sense of hollowness by shopping and buying. There is overwhelming evidence that people
who have materialistic attitudes and values are less happy and more prone to
anger and depression and anxiety than those who are less materialistic. If a survey were done
on the Top Ten Most Wonderful things that contribute to well-being in people’s
lives, we would likely find that they are all non-material things.
main psychological determinants of happiness include good relationships, strong
friendships, meaningful work, a broad education, community connectedness, the positivity of affirmation and recognition, physical
health, leisure time undertakings, creative and artistic pursuits, simplicity of
living, participatory sports, intimacy, kindness, peaceful coexistence,
spiritual practices, and the appreciation of nature.
Leonard has produced a compelling video that one can watch online, called The Story of Stuff. This film talks about the crisis caused by
our addiction to the growth of consumption, and the dysfunctional and
detrimental aspects of consumerism that are involved in the extraction of
resources and the profligate production, distribution, consumption and disposal
of goods. The video provides a
fascinating perspective on such things as the pathos of a system designed for
planned obsolescence and fashion-related ‘perceived obsolescence’. It concludes with a strong argument for
better ways forward, and for the restructuring of our economy. It adduces many ideas on how we can achieve
economic justice and ecological sustainability. I highly recommend watching the film!
say that the purpose or function of an addiction is essentially to put a buffer
between ourselves and the experience or awareness of our emotions. Addictions serve to numb us so that we are
out of touch with what we know and what we feel. This numb buffer zone eventually becomes a habitual coping
mechanism. There are many socially
accepted surrogates for genuine well-being and healthy connectedness -- things like
alcohol, Prozac, obsessive work, or Jesus -- but these things do not truly heal.
according to psychologists, often arise as the result of some violation of the
self, like a deep wounding or trauma.
This wounding can come from any number of causes: economic hardship, broken relationships,
domestic abuse and violence, illness, the death of a loved one, prejudice,
racism, hateful feelings, warfare, and even insidiously mundane things like
shame, rejection, insecurity or feelings of inadequacy.
like Chellis Glendinning even assert that consumer culture drives a
"culture of empire" that is inherently abusive, because this system
is built on the exploitation of resources and the subjugation of peoples. People who live under such systems tend to
undergo a wounding or trauma that leaves society suffering from a collective form
of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Glendinning examines this disturbing relationship between addiction and
the ecological crisis in her book, My
Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization.
In an essay on
what she calls “techno-addiction”, Glendinning writes about our
"primary" and "secondary" sources of satisfaction. Primary needs are those needs intrinsic to
human beings and necessary for life:
nourishment, love, awareness, meaning, purpose and spiritual succor. When primary needs are not met, we turn to
the "secondary" sources, which include drugs, violence, pornography,
material possessions and gadgets.
Eventually we become obsessed with the secondary sources "as if our
lives depended on them."
is these secondary sources of satisfaction that our economic and political
systems are designed to sell. In doing
so, they reinforce addictive behaviors and help to drive the consumer
machine. Businesses stimulate demand with seductive advertising and sly sales
tactics that utilize slick demonstrations and persuasive testimonials and sexy
user imagery and even amusing parody. Product
advertising exploits people’s unconscious motivations and manipulates hidden
psychological desires. Television and radio ads often appeal to our
base instincts for dominance over others.
They titillate us, or urge us to conform. They do not generally appeal to our higher and more virtuous
instincts. Consumption is
promoted not only through persuasive corporate marketing, but also through wrong-headed
government subsidies and tax incentives and the encouragement of consumerism in
holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day.
Advertising and the media generally do not
contribute to wholesome values. They help condition people to envy and to
be envied. They use sex and celebrity to sell products; they
glamorize youth; and they divert
people’s attention from vitally important things by using sensationalism in the
news and shallow distractions like stories of scandal, intrigue and violence. We are entertained by sports spectacles and
vicarious experiences of the glory of victory and the agony of defeat. A sinister side-effect of these influences
is that they encourage winning at any cost.
Slick marketing makes us less aware of positive values such as integrity
of character, honesty, thoughtfulness, healthy moderation, genuine
connectedness, responsible thrift, generosity of spirit, positive forms of
communication, and real civic responsibility.
Clear the Road
and Consumer Psychology
consumer culture is driven by consumers who are never satisfied with what they
buy. People are conditioned to always
want to buy the newest and the biggest in order to feel like they are somebody. If more authentic needs were being met, it's
a good possibility that certain markets would contract or collapse. Knowing this, businesses have in a sense
engineered our identities to encourage disposable goods and accommodate forced
obsolescence. We are told that every
few years we need an upgrade. Tellingly,
we call it our "new look" or the "new you." Whole industries are based on this.
see where consumer psychology has led us," one observer notes. "It's a disaster. It's the kind of thing that has caused the
human organism and psyche to go so far out of balance. Marketing to our unconscious leads us down a
dangerous path that promises satisfaction and wholeness and a sense of
importance and worth, without us having to do anything but spend. But none of these things come in any real
sense unless we work hard at them."
It is foolishly shortsighted for us to let such pervasive
persuasion result in consumerism that threatens the future well-being of life
on Earth. This is especially true in light of mindless resource depletion
and stimulated population growth. Our
societies would be better off, in the long run, if we invested more money in
well-rounded critical-thinking education and in efficient uses of energy, conservation
efforts, national infrastructure, fair opportunity, social justice, honest family
planning and free contraception. Instead of doing this, our leaders
squander taxpayer funds and borrow money from the future to give generous tax
breaks to rich people, and to fund pork barrel projects, increase corporate and
citizen “entitlements”, ramp up spending on weapons and warfare and foreign
occupations and war reconstruction projects, and naively teach abstinence from
sexual activity. We must change these
priorities and alter this paradigm!
Times of crisis
provide our nation with greater opportunities to make significant positive
changes for the future. But in
desperate times, our leaders all too often embrace shortsighted expediencies. For instance, in the aftermath of the
terrorist attacks of 9/11, President Bush urged us to go shopping. He could have instituted a bold program after
9/11 that would have steered us toward energy independence by developing fossil
fuel alternatives; he could have helped
wean us from polluting non-renewable fossil fuels by encouraging us to use
energy more efficiently, and to consume less fuel. This would have lessened our dangerous dependence on the volatile
Middle East for our energy supplies. The
Bush Administration could also have implemented a modest tax increase to pay
for its “war on terror”. This would
have represented a small bit of ‘sacrifice’ that would have left our national economy
in much better shape. He could have; he should have; but he didn’t.
the face of the daunting obstacles we face, we must not despair. After all:
“Despair is the solace of fools.”
---Today’s Special, a humorous
Implications of Consumerism as a Gambit for Social Control
addictions seem natural through strategies that promote consumerism curiously had
its beginnings in early 20th century notions of psychology and social
control. The story of how hyper-consumerism
and the consumer self came into being is the subject of Adam Curtis’ BBC
documentary,The Century of the Self. One of the theories that emerged was the
brainchild of Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, who was a sloganeering
progenitor of ‘public relations’.
Bernays helped Woodrow Wilson sell the First World War to the American
public by inventing the tag line, "Making the World Safe for
Democracy." "Public Relations
is really just propaganda," Bernays says in the film, "but we
couldn't use the word because the Germans had."
American corporations how to encourage people to buy material goods they didn't
need. He did this by connecting those
products to people’s subliminal thoughts and unconscious desires and unmet
needs. This made Bernays quite powerful,
and he used this influence to propose that the same principles be used
politically to control the masses. This
social-control-through-indulgence model was later excoriated in Aldous Huxley's
Brave New World, a book that is a critique of consumerism and the
vapidity of a culture that is based in pleasure seeking. Brave
New World is a “futuristic dystopia” in which freethinking and human
attachment have either been outlawed or genetically modified out of most of
humanity. In its place is an oppressive
and dumbed-down hierarchical ‘Big Brother’ society that is pathetically
characterized by conformity, dependence, lots of high-tech entertainment,
sexual promiscuity and a powerful, all-purpose narcotic drug called Soma, which is used to dispel thoughts
and quell unpleasant feelings. Soma is similar, disturbingly, to the
most widespread drugs sold today in the United States --- anti-depressants.
We seem to be creating
a Cowardly New World through the
domination of our political process by amoral corporations and the concomitant
dysfunction of mindless diversions and manipulative propaganda. People’s feelings of ethnocentric
supremacism are used by our leaders to support aggressive militarism, and some
drugs like alcohol and coffee and nicotine are encouraged while others like
cannabis are harshly repressed. I
advocate more enlightened policies, and more progressive ones!
Epiphanies of Sigmund Freud and John Fowles
better understand the psychological underpinnings of this situation, it is
helpful to examine the insights of Sigmund Freud into the essential nature of
the human psyche. Freud analyzed the
mind/self as being governed by three principal aspects: (1) the ego,
which represents the province of conscious desires; (2) the id, which
represents the more obscure province of subconscious motivations; and (3) the superego, which governs the emotional intelligence that strives to
balance and control these other two powerful forces.
that each person internalizes the ego values that society regards as being
fulfilling. The nobler aspects of us as
individuals seek fulfillment through such things as our contribution to society
and our own sense of meaning, integrity, connection, love and vital accomplishment. Consumerism, on the other hand, teaches the
ego to let go of integrity, and to vainly inflate itself with material things,
and to associate and confuse self-worth with net worth and possessions and conspicuous
John Fowles realized that there is also a more subtle force that is growing
deep in the modern soul. This is the ‘nemo’, representing the psychic force
that motivates us to try to be somebody, to be remembered, and to thwart
our profound fear of being an insignificant nobody. The nemo is activated by
such haunting anxieties as feelings of psychological emptiness, futility, ephemerality
and insignificance. The nemo is agitated by the knowledge of unfairness
and inequalities in life. The idea of
the nemo is proposed in John Fowles’ thought-provoking book The Aristos.
Fowles recognized that people seek personal senses
of self-esteem and security by trying either (1) to conform, or (2) to conflict. People conform by striving to obtain the
status symbols that society defines as successful. For instance, many people obsess over money, or consume
conspicuously (Bling!), or seek identity by embracing uniforms of
belonging. Alternatively, to gain
attention or a sense of self-importance, people often choose to conflict. They find meaning in striving to be unique,
to embrace countercultural ideals, to oppose the conventional, to be cool or
‘bad’, to seek liberation, to escape through altering their consciousness, or to
indulge in the allures of the forbidden.
Everyone, deep down, wants to be regarded as “somebody”, or to create
some sort of lasting legacy.
Marketing propaganda exploits these conscious and
subconscious human impulses by taking advantage of natural drives that help
define our senses of meaning and self-importance, especially the drives for
security and belonging and sexual attraction.
These ideas are being explored because it seems
probable that once we more clearly understand the psychological motivations
that underlie our actions, we will have a better chance of changing our system
so that our societies become dedicated to healthier and nobler causes, and to those
things that really matter the most. The
restructuring of our societies to give people more wholesome purposes and positive
potentialities would be distinctly advantageous. It could help us create saner individuals and healthier communities,
and it would motivate us to give greater respect to the biotic health of Mother
opine in Comprehensive Global Perspective
– An Illuminating Worldview that the “nemo of neoconservatives” is driving
mankind headlong in the direction of potential calamity. Nationalistic neoconservative convictions of
God-appointed self-righteousness were particularly strong during the Presidency
of George W. Bush. These ideas impelled
us down an arrogant and ignominious and imperialistic path. The neoconservative worldview facilitates
unjust authoritarian domination and serves to advocate special privileges for
insider elites. As a result, our nation
indulged in prideful empire building and militaristic world dominion, as well
as white supremacy, misogynistic male authoritarianism, social repression, puritanical
domestic policies, brutal prisoner interrogation policies, and theocratic
Christian hegemony. Neoconservatism also
fervently embraces irresponsible profiteering and unfettered capitalism. In contrast, I advocate that we create
fairer societies and make more courageous attempts to coexist with others peacefully
and promote more far-sighted ecological understandings!
Fowles tellingly noted in The Aristos
that “we are all psychological dwarfs, and we have the complexes and
psychological traits that are characteristic of dwarfs: feelings of inferiority, with compensatory
cunning and malice.” Yikes! (Apologies to dwarfs for the
healthy and wholesome cheerfulness is not necessarily impossible to any
Insights … or Merely Psycho-Babble?
Many of the
above psychological insights have been plagiarized from an article by Charles
Shaw that was originally published on AlterNet. I recently found it copied into one of my
‘Germinating’ files. This essay borrows
extensively from Shaw’s valuable ideas.
He pointed out that an activist and performance artist named ‘Reverend
Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping’ says that consumerism has become our
great national addiction. The ‘Reverend’
was the star of the film What Would Jesus
Buy? He preaches a gospel of anti-consumerism,
saying that if we are ever going to move away from being consumers and back to
being good citizens, our society needs “to go into recovery”. "I recommend at least 60 to 90 days
away from shopping just to detox. If we
don't repent," he warns, "then the Shopocalypse is coming!" Hmmm …
A great dilemma presents itself. If we were all to do less shopping, the economy would undergo a
dramatic contraction. This has, in fact,
happened in the last year due to a credit crunch and the trend reversal of the
“wealth effect” that Alan Greenspan so diligently and rashly cultivated. Recently, the faltering economy has been affected
by another development: not only are average
Americans spending less money because tens of millions of people are unemployed
and almost everyone has lost some of their net worth, but even rich people are
beginning to show a greater sensitivity to ostentatious spending. What would happen if people stopped acting
on materialistic and egocentric impulses to attain higher social status? Wealthy people might even be becoming
mindful of the ecological folly of consuming extravagantly and wastefully. I mean, maybe a little, outside of Texas? Ha!
The decades-long American economic strategy of hyper-stimulating
the international economy is creating serious problems. The strategy suddenly looks like a
house-of-cards. By foolishly facilitating
consumerism and empowering multinational corporatism and stoking easy credit
and cultivating bubble economics and encouraging aggressive home equity
borrowing and incurring more and more debt, we create an unstable economy. At the same time that the home appreciation
bubble is bursting and the value of equities has fallen, we are approaching
levels of consumer and government debt that may be close to the maximum that is
prudent or sustainable. We must therefore
figure out how to structure our societies in new ways that are productive, ways
that create millions of jobs while also taking into account the overarching
importance of economic activities that are ecologically sound and sustainable. Human activities must become restorative of Earth’s
ecosystems, rather than being destructive of them. This is a grave predicament.
But we would be wise to come to grips with it.
We can do this. But we must be honest about all the
interrelated aspects of this quandary, including the adverse impacts of
uncontrolled population growth. When
our civilizations were agrarian, having many children meant lots of cheap labor
and a form of family security for people in their old age, so it made good
sense. As the industrial revolution
stoked urbanization and transformed societies by making it much more costly to
feed and educate children, large families became outmoded and “social security”
programs became more necessary. Progress toward more effective and more easily available
contraception in the past century has allowed people to better plan the number
and timing of their offspring, and this has led to remarkable demographic
changes and smaller families. The average woman of child-bearing age in
Mexico, for instance, had SEVEN children thirty years ago, and today they are
begetting an average of fewer than THREE children. This is stunning, really.
Leading indicators tell us that resource limitations
and conflicts over diminishing resources mean that people need to be flexible
in adapting to new conditions in which even smaller families make better sense. The quality of life must take
precedence over the quantity of children we have. Unfortunately, religious establishments have found that it is
extremely difficult to find gullible converts to their doctrines, and they know
from long experience that when believers have large families the Church automatically
has greater success in recruiting pliable potential adherents, so to assure
continued growth of their influence they staunchly oppose sensible sex
education, contraception and reproductive prerogatives for women. But Churches must evolve, and stop their
opposition to pragmatic and socially intelligent family planning. As
Mark Twain pointed out, “The church is always trying to get other people to
reform; it might not be a bad idea to
reform itself a little, by way of example.”
stabilization is just one facet of the changes we need in our societies. One of the most far-reaching and positive
ways of making this a better world would be to devise changes in societies in
every nation in the world that would effectively encourage girls and women to get
an education and to give them more power.
Our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and all female ‘significant
others’ in our lives deserve greater appreciation and respect. They also need more clearly articulated
rights and civil protections in our patriarchal societies. This is one of the most profound and
courageous undertakings we could commit to, and it would be a definite win/win
situation for men as well as for women.
It would reduce gender stresses, improve interpersonal relationships, and
help reduce the size of families. It
would improve the potential quality of life of all children, and limit the many
environmental pressures on our home planet caused by rapid population growth.
occurs to me that faith which does not admit of doubt is absurd. As Barack Obama said in his May 17, 2009
commencement address to Notre Dame graduates:
“This doubt should not push away our faith. But it should humble us.
It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much
people, as well as those who are not religious, should remember that we need to
have respectful dialogues rather than to demonize others. We need to be able to communicate with a
generous understanding to find common ground.
Barack Obama has called for open hearts and fair-minded words and open
minds in the search for common ground in debates over issues like abortion and
women’s rights and stem cell research.
Such sentiments strengthen moderate forces inside established churches,
and argue against the stoking of culture wars.
They harken back to the noble aspects of religious teachings which say
“Love thy neighbor”. They put the
spotlight on the fact that right wing and conservative elements have much too
stubbornly dominated religious debate in recent years. Moderate and liberal elements must take back
their churches from extremists who have had dominion for so many years.
reasons exist for humanity to be open-minded enough to consider going into a type
of ‘global recovery program’ from our growth-addicted consumerism. An addiction can be conquered, according to the
wise psychologist Carl Jung, only through a true spiritual awakening of some
sort. Likewise, ecologists believe that
only a global spiritual awakening will end the cultural consumer addiction that
is ravaging the planet and causing a planetary ecological crisis. This is a provocative perspective! For deeper ecological understandings, I
encourage readers to peruse the aforementioned Earth Manifesto ‘magnum opus’,
the Comprehensive Global
Perspective: An Illuminating Worldview. In this epistle, Chapter #98 – True Values expresses this observation:
Television, radio, newspaper, and magazine advertising tend to
indoctrinate us with false values. They effectively enshrine the gods of
materialism on the highest pedestal of our imaginations. Above all, the
message of advertising is that happiness is found in possessing things.
It subtly preaches that you should get all you can for yourself, and that you
should get it all as quickly as possible. It champions variety, pleasure
seeking, luxury, indulgence, and the avoidance of boredom. Shopping and
owning things have become central ways for us to make ourselves feel “cool” and
special and more worthy.
Our shopping-seduced consumer culture is causing us to fail to appreciate
truer values. We have supersized our meals, our houses and our
automobiles. But these “gains” have
come at a high social and environmental cost, and they are arguably diminishing
the true quality of our lives. I have
faith in the potentiality of people to develop richer lives without at
the same time impoverishing the planet and harming others.
aspect of the gross commercialization of our societies is the manipulation of
children for marketing purposes. Using
the “Nag Factor”, advertisers exploit the credulity and vulnerability of
children to manipulate them into nagging their parents to buy things. Especially harmful is the marketing of
unhealthy junk foods to children, including sugary cereals, candy, soda pop and
fast food. This contributes to obesity,
childhood diabetes and other health problems.
Saturation marketing by the toy industry even affects young minds by
diminishing the imagination of children through corporate tie-in toys that
narrow play activities. These trends
may effectively brainwash children into being good consumers rather than being
good citizens and virtuous human beings.
austerity can actually be a tonic for the character, whereas wild riches quite
often prove corrosive. (“There but for
the grace of God go I.” --- Ha!) The
economic hard times of World War II forced people to ride bikes, plant gardens,
mend clothes, recycle, reuse, spend more time in cooperative endeavors with
neighbors, and cultivate friendships. These
were good things. “Moderation in
Historical Perspective Is Valuable
It is widely recognized that capitalist
economic systems during the past century have out-competed and supplanted
centrally-planned ones in countries worldwide.
Ideological arguments have arisen which stubbornly insist that capitalism
should be allowed to flourish with a minimum of government interference. But every economic system is structured according
to laws and regulations that govern the prerogatives of producers and consumers
and capital and labor. Our economies
simply must be better structured and more fairly designed with powerful
incentives and disincentives to advance the common good and prevent socially
harmful activities like fraud, insider trading, worker exploitation,
conglomerate abuses, the wasting of resources, and the unacceptable
externalizing of costs upon society and the ecological commons.
Our economies also must be much better
managed. Unbridled competition leads to
risky excesses and many forms of unfairness and injustices and increased
inequalities. Such distortions and
excesses can create dangerous and highly detrimental economic hardship and
recession. On the other hand, too much
bureaucracy and bigger government can be wasteful, vulnerable to corruption,
inhibiting, inefficient and anti-competitive.
A better balance must be struck between laissez-faire capitalism and
Economic fundamentalists must relent
in their stubborn insistence on deregulation and regressive changes in taxation
and the dominance of politics by large corporations. All Americans should support policies that focus on a fairer
balance between the goals of consumers and investors, on the one hand, and differing
goals that are congruent with the common good, on the other. We must transcend hyper-partisanship, and begin
to cooperate together to ensure that our political system delivers prosperity
which is broadly shared. We must not
lose sight of the fact that we need to strive to make sure that economic and
social conditions are consistent with the greater good in both the short term
and the long term.
The ideology of Reaganomics largely
opposed public investment, other than ramped-up military spending. This latter kind of investment can be
detrimental and wasteful, so it can be of questionable merit. Ronald Reagan considered almost all spending
other than ‘defense spending’ to be wrong-headed government spending. This is why budgets were reduced, on an
inflation-adjusted basis, for education, job training, infrastructure, and
basic research and development during his Administration. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush pursued
similar tactics and goals. This may be
one reason that Republicans are reluctant to make health care a universal right. The Republican Party did champion a costly
new drug entitlement program in 2003, but this move can accurately be seen as ‘corporate
welfare’ for the pharmaceutical industry, not as a true concern for the
well-being of older citizens, and certainly not as a wise program from the
standpoint of younger people, whose interests are so poorly represented.
The policies of ‘Obamanomics’, in
contrast, are theoretically committed to forms of public investment in people
and productivity and innovation. There
is good reason for this, according to economist Robert Reich: “In a global economy, capital moves to wherever
it can get the best deal around the globe.
That means capital and jobs go to nations that can promise high returns
either because labor is cheap and taxes and regulations are low, OR because
labor is highly productive due to a well educated work force that is healthy
and supported by modern infrastructure.
Which type of nation do we want to be?
For the better part of the last quarter
century, our implicit economic strategy has tended toward the first. But that's a recipe for lower wages and
lower living standards for most Americans, together with widening
inequality. The only resource that is
rooted uniquely in a national economy is its people -- their skills and
insights and capacities to collaborate, and the transportation and
communication systems that link them together.
Everything else -- including capital, technology, designs, even plant
and equipment -- can move around the globe with increasing ease.” Let’s support more intelligent
We simply must embrace more farsighted planning, because
we are faced with a
"perfect storm" of problems, including food and water shortages and
insufficient energy resources. These
problems make it urgent that we deal boldly with the challenges that confront
us. These shortages will likely unleash
more unsettling and risk-laden public unrest and cross-border conflicts and
mass migrations as people flee from the worst-affected regions, according to
the United Kingdom's chief scientist, Professor John Beddington. The world is heading for major upheavals
which are due to come to a head by 2030, says Professor Beddington. “The growing population and success in
alleviating poverty in developing countries will trigger a surge in demand for
food, water and energy over the next two decades, at a time when governments
must also make major progress in combating climate change.” NOW is the time to begin coping with these
A Ditty About Thomas Paine
The pamphleteer Thomas Paine was a
common sense American hero who passionately stood for the freedom of
individuals and a fair modicum of social and legal equality for the colonists,
and for democratic representation in a federal government that would be independent
from the tyranny of the British Empire.
Paine inspired generations of Americans toward exceptional purpose and
In the Musical Pins and Needles in 1937, the lyrics
from the song Status Quo are
In 1776 Tom Paine was writing
books with a might and main
The Tory said "Now man alive
Stop giving out with this here liberty jive”
“Don't sing of people's rights
They might believe in what you say
So stop your song it's not polite
Pipe down before you start a fight”
-You don't say, Teacher, is
Aha, but Tom Paine looked ahead
And to those Tories, Thomas said no, no, no, no
When you got to go, you got to go
You can't stand still on freedom's track
If you don't go forward, you go back
You can't giddyup by saying Whoa
And sitting on your status quo.
The conservatives of today are like the Tories of Thomas Paine’s
have seriously harmed our nation in the past decade. This is astonishingly ironic.
The Party of so-called conservatives threw caution to the wind when they
controlled the federal government from 2001 to 2009. They gambled wildly and acted like irresponsible radicals. They undermined precautionary principles of
ecological sanity; they opposed
scientific consensus understandings;
they supported ideological fiscal policies that dismantled proven
safeguards against economic depression;
they sought regressive changes in the tax system to make it much less
fair for the majority of people, in favor of the wealthy; they promoted empire-building and U.S.
military aggression; they gave more
power to multi-national corporations and the ‘military/industrial complex’ and
business lobbyists; they struggled
against Golden Rule fairness principles and measures that would ensure more
social equality; they strongly opposed
change, even when it was smart and sensible, except when they wanted to do such
things as reduce regulations on banks and infringe on constitutional rights in
the name of national security; they
defended the rights of women to have unlimited numbers of children but opposed women’s
reproductive prerogatives; and they claimed
to support human life, but were eager to apply the death penalty and seemed to
care more about the quantity of life spawned than the overall quality for life
of the general populace.
As a result of these wrong-headed
policies, conservatives lost the national elections in November 2008, and progressives
won a great political victory. It is now
time for progressives to demonstrate the integrity of their beliefs by acting
in ways that are consistent with creative and humanistic and fair-minded thinking. Some say that it is our moral obligation to
do better as winners than either we, or our political opponents, have done in
the past few decades; that we need to
put aside our differences and decline to vilify those who have vilified
us. In any case, we need to build more effective
bridges and coalitions to solve the daunting challenges that face us. And we must not compromise our founding American
principles; instead, we must articulate
them more clearly, and work to find win/win solutions that help make our nation
a more productive place with more solid foundations.
My best prescriptions for healthier
societies are detailed in three compendiums that can be found in Part Four of
the Earth Manifesto: (1) Three Bills of Right: A Triumvirate of
Responsible Actions for the Greater Good;
(2) One Dozen Big Initiatives to
Positively Transform Our Societies, and (3) Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Society. Check them out!
We must boldly and open-mindedly go
forward, and create a better future.
One of my pet theories is that a commission of two dozen smart people
drawn from diverse backgrounds and independent of partisan political influences
could come up with far better plans for a prosperous and propitious way forward
than we are currently achieving through our vested-interest-dominated political
process. This commission would be like
the impartial panels of ordinary citizens that form the Civil Grand Juries in
every County in California. Such groups
of people could easily recommend wiser budgets and better plans and smarter
compromises that would be designed to make this a fairer world. A commitment should be made to listening to
their findings, and to acting upon them!
have traveled extensively around Europe, North Africa, Asia, the Pacific islands,
and Latin America, and I can assure you that there are good people
everywhere. Another of my pet theories
is that it is entirely reasonable to believe that the best strategy for us to
adopt would be one in which we collectively choose to make our societies more
just, so that inequities do not make stresses worse and cause increasing
poverty and violence and insurrections and wars.
Why Don’t We All Do More Good?
Twain regarded himself in his later years as an icon of common sense and public
virtue. He once said, “Always do
right. This will gratify some people
and astonish the rest.” Ha! -- A good
about the philosophic aspects of this humorous statement. Some say that we have no freedom of will,
and that all of our actions are determined by inherited propensities or social conditioning. Others say, in contrast, that we have
complete freedom of will. John Fowles
writes: “Most religions and codes of
justice have supposed complete freedom of will in order to make their ethical
and punitive systems effective; and
this is more forgivable, if no less undemonstrable than the determinist
reduction of all human behavior to mechanics.”
almost every person would say they believe people should do good, few do all
the good they could. This is one of the
deep contradictions of human nature.
John Fowles, in his philosophical treatise The Aristos, considers this issue, noting: “For the last two and a half millennia
almost every great thinker, every great saint, and every great artist has
advocated, personified and celebrated -- or at least implied -- the nobility
and excellence of the good act as the basis of the just society.”
Yet the bulk of mankind seems
to apprehend “a perverse but deeper truth:
it is better generally to do nothing than generally to do good.” Fowles adduces many reasons for this seeming
shortcoming. We are not only seekers of
spiritual nobility, we are also eternal seekers of reward for ourselves. We expect recompense for doing good, and
more than just a clear conscience or a feeling of self-righteousness. We seek the hope of benefits in return, or
approval, or recognition, or personal gratitude, or community esteem, or we
seek to assuage a sense of guilt. John
Fowles lists the principal causes that he sees for this failure to do
good: a perception that the action that
is contemplated is so small in relation to the final intention that it seems
pointless; an uncertainty of what the outcome
may be, or a conflict of intentions; a
fatalistic belief that it is only an illusion that we have freedom of choice in
willing an action; the complex nature of
understanding; a feeling that it is
futile to oppose an “evil”; or a belief
that our opposition will give ‘counter-support’ to what is opposed.
we were to structure our societies so that the incentives for doing good were
more attractive, more good would result.
We all face a multitude of anxieties in life, from fundamental universal
anxieties to special individual anxieties.
These anxieties should unite us rather than isolate us. When we let them divide us, as John Fowles
explains: it is “as if the citizens of
a country would defend it by each barricading himself in his own house.”
any case, positive attitudes are extremely important in our lives. Sylvia Boorstein, the prominent Buddhist who
also happens to be a Jewish grandmother, has written: “We don’t get a choice about what hand we are dealt in life. The only choice we have is our attitude
about the cards we hold and the finesse with which we play our hand.” I say, then: Let us collectively begin to play our hands with more fair-minded
and sensible and visionary finesse!
Mother Mary comes to me, Speaking words of wisdom: Let it be!
there are healthy and valuable aspects to maintaining a positive attitude, my
mind wanders to Bill Moyers’ keynote address on October 16, 2001 to the
Environmental Grantmakers Association.
He observed that he once asked a friend on Wall Street
what he thought about the stock market, and the friend replied, "I'm optimistic." He then asked, "Then why do you look so
worried?!" And his friend
answered: "Because I'm not sure my optimism is justified." An existential Ha!
perplexity may confront us in many things, transcendental changes are required
for our well-being, and for the well-being of our children and their
descendents. Let’s find the areas that
we share of common ground, and in this agreeable unity, let us strive to leave
a more sensible legacy to the future.
Let us “pay forward” some overarching social good!
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
January 1, 2010
P.S. Admittedly, when a person explores
psychological insights without being a professional, it makes them vulnerable
to a psychoanalytical assessment of all aspects of their character and persona
and motives. Well, I plunge ahead
audaciously. A popular 1995 ‘New Age’
book titled The Celestine Prophecy
asserts that a synchronicity of coincidences can be discovered in events that
transpire, and that these coincidences have deep meanings and mystical
connections. In attempting to
understand the significance of such contentions with my whole soul, I can see
the extraordinary import of the unfolding sequence of occurrences in my life,
as clearly as if I have been wandering in the desert for 40 days and 40
nights. Fate! For instance, I recently saw soulful rocker Joe Cocker crooning
from the stage at a live concert; he
was accompanied by a hot sexy female bass guitar player and other accomplished
members of the band. The songs, strung
together in a veritably rich profusion of lyrics are like a roadmap to the
soul, definitively full of significance.
They must be a propitious sign.
Joe Cocker sang:
Together, Right Now, Over Me
(‘One thing I can tell you is you got to
Get By with a Little Help from My Friends (“What would you do if I sang out of
“I want somebody to love’).
You Can Leave
Your Hat On (‘You give me reason to live’).
Heart (‘Please set me free’).
Came In Through the Bathroom Window (‘Sunday’s on the phone to Monday,
Tuesday’s on the phone to me’).
Love Lift Us
Up Where We Belong (“All we have is here and now’). Hmmm …
A Closed Mind in a Wonderful Thing To Lose
--- Bumper Sticker 2009
(I’m of two minds about this matter!)