6/15/2012

Progress as Consumption

"Why's it got to be built? It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses . . ." And with that Douglas Adams describes all of human intelligence on the subject of "progress" and consumption. Growth and consumption and progress are all linked together in the corporate social model. You have to build, population has to grow, and all of this bulding and growing is somehow linked to the progress of humanity as a species. Nevermind the mountains of trash, the acres of abandoned buildings, or the mass of the population who can't keep up with progress and end up on welfare or homeless or living on the margins of society. That's the price of progress.

In a country where less than 1% of the population owns more of the nation's wealth than the bottom 95%, progress seems to be defined by pushing that statistic further apart. Anytime a politician questions the human and social cost of marginalizing the overwhelming majority of the population that politician will be accused of "social engineering."

Of course, social engineering is what every tax system, economic system, and government does. It is social engineering when you tax one set of activities and don't tax another. There is even more social engineering happening when you reward a set of activities with government handouts (think "oil"). In short, social engineering in a socialist society (like ours) increases taxes to restrict the activities it wants to discourage and reduces or eliminates taxes on the activites it wants to encourage. The dramatic difference between a theoretical capitalist society and a theoretical communist society (two imaginary social systems that have never been and will never be practically applied) is that Adam Smith's magical "invisible hand" or Marx's equally unlikely wisdom of the "worker state" corrects the steering of the social system. A short experience with big business will destroy any faith an intelligent person has in the brilliance of the invisible hand and any experinence in or with government employees will do equal damage to the hope that big government can do anything efficiently or intelligently.

So, we keep building bypasses, bigger and more expensive freeways, trinkets and useless gadgets, and (worst of all) adding to human population with the speed and intelligence of termites. The closest thing we have to a philosophy of population is that the population needs to increase because there need to be more young people in order to support the growing population of old people. Of course, this argument means that as the population increases and old people become more demanding and expensive even more babies have to be made to provide support. Obviously, this is an insanely selfish social system, but it's also stupid. When it comes to human reproduction, the smart multiply cautiously and the foolish reproduce like rats in a sinking ship. 

Only radical conservatives are dumb enough to believe that resources are endless. You have to be completely math-deficient to imagine that a finite planet can provide infinite resources. Fortunately for our economic system, there is no shortage of radical conseratives or math-phobes. (They are usually the same characters.) We are well-stocked with people who believe that they can possess "family values" and greedily use up all of the world's energy resources in a single generation. This is the basis of an idiocracy. 

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