October 11, 2010

Children want everything, now. It is the adult's job to tell them "no". It may be a "no" driven by lack of money, or it may even be an arbitrary "no". One hopes it is driven most often by the child's best interest.

Who tells the adult "no"? Society tells us that if we have the money to buy a thing and it is not explicitly illegal: if we want it, we ought to be able to have it. Oh, the fights over whether a specific thing we want ought to be illegal or no! Who dares deny us the right to smoke ourselves into lung cancer, drink ourselves into liver failure, eat ourselves into an early death from heart disease, stroke, or colon cancer?

Whether it is in our best interest to have the thing is completely immaterial.

Perhaps we delude ourselves a little, and assume that those who earn enough to afford the thing have the judgement when/whether to buy it. We may even base our understanding of what the law ought to be on the actions of those we admire.

Alternately, we may choose deliberately to oppose a law we don't obey anyway. Perhaps we assume that the law is clearly meant for others who lack our own clear judgement, not us. Or perhaps, like the many marijuana growers who sell through Venice Beach but oppose the legalisation of marijuana, we might see the legalisation of our activities as being against our financial self-interest. Not only does this approach lead to strange bedfellows in politics, but it reinforces the reduction of the yes/no debate solely to law and money.

Or perhaps we don't care even so far, so long as the law and the money are aligned, more or less. The two motivations need not even be in the same camp. After all, hard-core law-abiding types and illicit growers unite in their opposition to marijuana legalisation, as Baptists and bootleggers once had to Prohibition. Even the devil can quote Scripture: and that Scripture is no less valid if it happens to be the devil quoting it.

Yet imagine, just for a moment, how things might be different if all our decisions were to be based primarily on what is in our best interest, for us as individuals and for our long-term survival as a society. On the surface of it, it might even sound idealistic ... right up until it costs you your job.

Tobacco adds hundreds of billions of dollars of employment, investment, and let's not forget tax income. From grower to end-of-life doctor, tobacco feeds on the individual right of individual misery to make us all monetarily richer.

Our addiction to cheap, convenient transportation drives subsidised airlines and bailed-out automobile manufacturers alike: which in turn drive city structures which can no longer be easily navigated without a dependency on fossil fuels and distractions with which to pass the commute time. We demand the right to urban sprawl, longer commute times, high accident death rates, road rage, increased urban heat, loss of tree cover, economically segregated inner cities, faster spread of disease, and being jammed into airline cabins like sardines. Suburbs are subdivided into increasingly small plots which are no longer large enough to support spreading shade trees: and the urban lawn business, ecological clean-up industry, and carbon credit market joins the oil, car, and entertainment industries as essential engines of the economy.

(Plant a tree and offset the carbon cost of your trip: in about fifty years, after the tree has had a chance to grow and breathe out oxygen for at least that long. Are you willing to wait those fifty years to take your next trip?)

Even a broad embrace of the locovore movement, where all consumed food is to come from within 100 miles, would destroy most of the jobs in the food industry and many in the transportation industry. Those jobs simply would no longer be necessary. On the other hand, farmers might finally make enough from their produce that we might even escape the vicious cycle of farm subsidies.

Through the cold eye of rational objectivity: how many jobs in this world are truly necessary? Is yours? Could the unemployment rate fluctuate as much as it does, were not the vast majority of jobs little more than an oil slick on the sea?

Yet without a job, what becomes of our monetary ability to meet our needs, let alone our wants?

Our current societal structure absolutely depends on our making choices based on desire, not our own best interest. If meaningful change is sought and not simply a panacaea, ask first what price you are willing to pay for that change.

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