A talk at Yarra Valley Expo
18th and 19th May, 2002
Dr Bob Rich
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How to change the world, an essay at my blog
My friends, I expect you're here because you have less money than you could use, and worry about what we are doing to our world. These are the issues I'll address -- and along the way give you a byproduct: share with you the secret of happiness.
Hands up all those who would like to win ten million dollars... Go on, be honest...
Now let me tell you what that can do to people. In 1967 a researcher followed up the winners of the Sydney Opera House Lottery. The prize was one million dollars, but 35 years ago, that was worth maybe ten times as much as now. She compared various signs of stress and unhappiness with the general population, matched for factors such as age, gender, education, marital status and so on, using Census data.
What she found was that the instant millionaires:
CRAZY! Isn't it crazy? Now, YOU wouldn't react like that! YOU'D be HAPPY!
Anyway it's better to be rich and miserable than poor and miserable, isn't it?
Is it really? Read the women's magazines.
Their staple is the troubles of the rich and famous: Royalty, Hollywood stars, high flying business men. They never run out of ammunition: the lovely pictures of a society wedding are often followed, all too soon, by crying faces and a divorce. Stars are photographed emerging from drug rehab, they lose breasts to cancer, suffer in exactly the ways we ordinary mortals do.
Only, more so.
I bet many of you are thinking 'YES BUT...' Why is this evidence so hard to believe? Because it is COMPLETELY contrary to the myths of society. You may have never met these myths in words. They go something like this:
We are in this life in order to be happy.
The more happiness the better, without limit.
Happiness is a thing or substance.
Happiness can be bought.
These myths are so well established that they seem to be givens, the TRUTH.
Of course they're true. What else could life be about?
Everybody knows that happiness is what we live for, right?
And how could you be unhappy if all your dreams have come true?
Well, other societies have different myths, as did ours in the past.
Let me tell you. In the right circumstances, YOU will forget about comfort and luxuries, and put YOUR life on the line.
What would YOU personally choose: a million-dollar holiday, or a desperate dash into a burning house to save your beloved child?
All right, let me bring this back to my title.
My handout will give you many hints for saving money through environmental action, but by itself, such a list is useless.
If all you do is follow a recipe without understanding, you'll soon fall out of the habit and go back to the old ways.
You don't really NEED recipes if you change the way you see our culture.
You'll automatically tread lightly on the planet if you no longer fall for the myths of the consumer society.
So, let's go back to them.
I like the Buddhist conception of the meaning of life. We are here to learn lessons, and strive for progress towards perfection. The implication for living is the same as that of the other great religions, such as Christianity.
If my purpose in life is to be happy, I become selfish. WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME? This is a childish aim, and has resulted in a childish, selfish society.
And actually, the aim for happiness is MORE elusive then the aim for perfection.
This is because happiness and unhappiness are not 'things' or even states of being. They are departures from the average, and therefore transient.
I've had a minor operation two days ago, and feel some annoying pain. This is below par for me, so I'm not happy about it.
In contrast, a friend of mine had a stroke. Happiness for him is that some movement has returned to his leg, and now he can say 'yes' and 'no'.
If I haven't eaten all day, happiness can be stale bread with vegemite. After a feast, I might be bored by the best creations of a chef.
So, I am happy when things are better than what I am used to. I am unhappy when things are worse. And the key is 'WHAT I AM USED TO'. Back to the instant millionaires. If I was poor and suddenly have a lot of money, I'll be happy... for a while. But give it a year or two, and I have a new norm. What used to be heaven can now be misery.
Nor is happiness something you can buy, or find, or earn.
Rather, it's a byproduct. If I enjoy reading a good book and so am happy, I am engaged in one activity: reading. If I worry about whether I am happy or not, this gets in the way of my enjoyment.
Some people spoil their sexual experiences this way.
This is a rule:
HAPPINESS WILL ELUDE YOU IF YOU SEEK IT.
THE PATH TO HAPPINESS IS CONTENTMENT.
THE PATH TO CONTENTMENT IS A MEANINGFUL LIFE.
I've demonstrated the first one. The second says that if you are content with what you have, you need no more. Obvious?
The third one is the key to happiness. It's the message of a wonderful book by Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning. It's expressed by sayings like:
'A good marriage makes hell into heaven. A bad marriage makes heaven into hell.'
'God deals the cards. You have to play them as best you can.'
'Life is a journey, not a destination.'
'You get out of life what you put into it.'
One more fact about consumer society will pull it all together:
CONSUMER SOCIETY DEPENDS ON DISCONTENT
Suppose I have a radio that's made to last, without built-in 'planned obsolescence'. I am not interested in fashion, so its dated appearance doesn't bother me. I don't need new ways of playing music, but am happy with what I've got.
I won't buy another music machine, will I?
This is BAD for the economy. Therefore, it's important that the radio I buy should break down in a few years. It's important that new models will have new features, and it's important that the advertising industry convinces me that I need these improvements.
I must become dissatisfied with the old one, or I won't buy.
If I don't keep buying things, the economy will suffer. People may lose their jobs, and even more important, investors may ONLY make 7% profit.
Also, if I don't need money for buying everything I am told to buy, I'll be less motivated to spend the major part of my life engaged in an activity I dislike.
OK, there are some lucky people who love their jobs. Hands up if YOU love your work... congratulations.
But most people don't. So, if most people stopped buying, there'd be many unfilled jobs: the ones no-one would do for love.
If people were happy with what they have, we'd have to reorganise society on SANE lines. That would be VERY bad for the multinationals.
It would hurt profits, so cannot be allowed.
In summary, then, you can save heaps of money
That's it for saving money. But what's this got to do with the environment?
TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY IS A DEVICE FOR TURNING RESOURCES INTO POLLUTION.
Almost everything we do chews up irreplaceable raw materials, uses energy, produces waste and pollution.
So, simply by living a LOW-COST, VARIED, MEANINGFUL and SATISFYING life, you automatically reduce your impact.
As I've said, my handout has lots of practical suggestions, which can be a guide for you to invent your own.
But now, in the second half of my talk, I'll introduce a few COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS ones for you to think about. I've left plenty of time for discussion. Let me present them, then feel free to challenge me on any of my crazy ideas.
1. Throw Away your TV sets
Television is the most powerful tool for brainwashing us into cultural conformity.
If you don't want to conform, and be a BUSY, DISCONTENTED LITTLE WAGE SLAVE AND CONSUMER, then don't expose yourself to the brainwashing.
Even more important, don't expose your CHILDREN to the brainwashing.
This will save you an occasional capital expense, and a considerable amount of electricity. It will save you a LOT more in hidden benefits.
Trouble is, most people have forgotten how to fill their time otherwise.
Well, how did people fill their time before 1950?
All of these activities have multiple benefits, to yourself and to others. I'll leave you to think about them. The friends you make, the sense of belongingness and community is one of the major ones.
2. Choose to have fewer children. After all, they're the most expensive pets you can have.
An American professor named Watson has said that if ants were to disappear, almost every ecosystem would suffer, and there'd be mass extinctions of other species.
If humans were to disappear, everything except our domesticated plants and animals would be BETTER OFF. Sobering thought: we are the only noxious species on the planet.
And there are far too many of us.
Specifically, there are far too many of us here in Australia. This land is grossly overpopulated NOW.
The right population size is one that can live on our resources, indefinitely. But our farming practices cause salinity and soil erosion, cities are blotting out productive land, we have problems of water supply, pollution of waterways, and so on. I could spend an hour just in outlining the way we are stealing from our future.
One extra Australian is as much load on the planet as 50 to 100 Africans or Pakistanis.
3. Become self-reliant in every way possible.
This means, for example:
Many modern articles are DESIGNED not to be fixable. Ask that question when you buy, and refuse the throw-away junk. If necessary, buy second hand stuff that was built without this unattractive feature.
Cloth nappies for the baby. At least 10,000 years of humans managed with them.
If you read Earth Garden or Grass Roots magazines, you'll know that you can buy reusable devices for women's monthly needs. You can make your own cloth pads. These can be handled and washed with perfect hygiene and safety. What do you think people used before the invention of sanitary pads?
Paper serviettes, paper facial tissues, for heaven's sake paper underpants... Grr.
Newspapers come into this category. They are VERY hungry for forests. You can get all the information off the web.
What about those horrible little plastic or foam cups, paper plates, plastic cutlery that couldn't cut a spider web? If it's not reusable, refuse to use it.
4. Be natural.
I haven't shaved in many years. This has saved literally thousands of hours of pulling faces into a mirror, and a huge number of razors I didn't have to buy.
Now don't lynch me, but ladies have the equivalent: cosmetics.
I recently read an article showing that some of the stuff you put on your face, such as moisturisers, can actually harm certain kinds of skin. Often I look at a girl and think, 'Hey, she'd be pretty if she didn't have all that muck on her face.' And if cosmetics helped your skin to stay young, old ladies would have nicer skin than old men. They don't. A 60-year-old with 25-year-old hair doesn't look like a 25-year-old.
Custom and peer pressure has convinced women to wear makeup. It does nothing to improve appearance. If you want nice skin on your face, keep the sun off. A wide brimmed hat costs a lot less than a lifetime of cosmetics. Compare the skin on your face with the skin on your chest, and you'll see what I mean.
5. Ban motor sports. And I know this is picking a fight too.
Petroleum is running out. World production has peaked and is now falling. We are accessing increasingly expensive and challenging sources. Petroleum products should be saved for essential uses.
Speedboat use, including water skiing, is a frivolous usage. Also, the bow waves do terrible environmental damage.
Motor racing is even worse. Million-dollar marvels hoon around and around, burning up my grandchildren's future. They wear out tyres and brakes at a thousand times the rate of a road car. And watch the audience leaving. Young petrol heads imitate their heroes - on the road they share with us. Is that good?
There are more subtle examples too. Hot air ballooning is beautiful - but one trip uses as much gas as my house does in three months.
6. Thank the dole bludger. This may be a new thought for you.
20 years ago, I was forced onto unemployment benefits for a while, and was treated as a second class person, a LAZY, STUPID PARASITE.
Since that time, a lot of people have lost their jobs, and perhaps the attitude has eased. But we should actually THANK a person who is willing to live on the low income provided by the taxpayer's bounty.
In olden days, human labour was a resource. It is now in glut.
Nobel Prize Laureate Denis Gabor has written a book titled Inventing the Future. In it, he has demonstrated that if we went for maximum efficiency, 5 to 10 % of Americans could to produce all the goods and services of the American economy. By organising for maximum efficiency, you could have 90% unemployment, without loss of overall production.
This means, for example, that all that worry about the aging population is nonsense. With judicious use of technology, us oldies would be no load, regardless of how many of us there may be.
7. Live without dogs and cats.
This is perhaps the one that'll get me in the most trouble. Dogs and cats are wonderful pets, but bad for the environment, and eat huge amounts of resources. There ARE alternatives.
All right, I hope I have given you enough to think about. I hope a few of you are incensed enough by my provocative, stupid claims to try and set me right. I think I've talked enough. Now let's have a discussion.
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