Economist Tim Jackson, in a Ted Talk, offered the following “koan” of sorts:
We are people being persuaded to spend money we don’t have
on things we don’t need
to create impressions that won’t last
on people we don’t care about.
This is one version of the modern story of consumption that helps explain how we got in our current mess. Like all bold statements it is not entirely true. And yet, it is true enough.
The challenges we face are enormous, and the questions they raise equally so:
1) How do we resist the seduction of the marketplace, of allowing “want” to morph into “need”?
2) What is the difference between appetite and hunger? That is, how do we know when “want” becomes “need”, and when not? When is “too much”?
3) Yet, if we stop buying, what happens to the economy? How do we build a robust economy, a dynamic R&D sector, and fulfillment (“enoughness”) all at the same time?
4) How do we live within the planet’s bounds and still set our sights on the far reaches of the universe?
5) How do we learn to read beyond impressions?
6) How do we build real community?
7) How do we, in other words, re-center ourselves and our society?
It is fine, indeed essential, to focus on resolving the particular issues that are pulling us down: the bay, peak oil, soil erosion and degradation, and more.
But the only way we will heal all these retail problems is to look wholesale, upstream, at the root cause, which, as so much in life, lies in the human spirit.
The question to ultimately ask, then, is:
How shall we choose to live so that all of us may thrive, materially and spiritually, on this glorious but finite world we share?