Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Living in the biggest ponzi scheme of them all

Tim O'Reilly wrote this today:

I grew up on the idea that humanity would grow out into space, and that resources were for all practical purposes infinite. It may well be that in some possible worlds, that could still be true, but it's increasingly looking like we're going to be stuck here with only one world's resources to draw on. And while most reasonable people are aware that we're using up much of our children's inheritance, and handing them debt in exchange, I don't think as a society we've really come to grips with the consequence of that knowledge.

We're rather like the investors who were complicit in Madoff's scheme, playing along while the getting is good. At least some of us know that the game is rigged, but we're not going to be the first to blow the whistle...

Tim then expands into considering something called steady state-economics, but for my intents and purposes, I'm just stopping at the quote about because, to me, it captures something not often expressed when we think about "the environment" : we know a horrific crash is coming but we shut ourselves against it and what minute conscious part of our brains does remember can only hold on to the hope that the reckoning doesn't come when we're around.

I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's contribution to the Massey Lectures series, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Its lightly written literary criticism that informs how mythology, religion, and literature have informed us about the notion of debt. I enjoyed it except the last chapter which I could only skim over. I've since I learned from a profile on Atwood in the latest issue of Toronto Life that I'm not the only one; critics hated her modern retelling of the Scrooge story to fit an environmental parable.

I attribute that bad chapter to the small matter that Atwood wrote the lectures in a little less than 3 months instead of the original year that she had first committed to. Ironically, it was marketing pressures that forced her to release her next novel in a non-election year that rushed Payback. Its too bad that even Atwood was forced to submit to Mammon because her message -- that the only debt that we should be worrying about is the one to the living Earth that sustains us -- cannot be told enough.

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