The other day, the local TV news told the story of Lucky, a dog whose life started out badly, but turned out just fine. Lucky (so named by the Humane Society when they rescued him) was left behind when the family of an alcoholic and abusive man fled to a social services shelter, a ‘half-way house’ that didn’t allow dogs. Neighbours say Lucky was beaten several times by this man, and left outside in all weather, but steadfastly refused to run away, and even came back to more abuse after the man told neighbours that he’d driven the dog a mile away and abandoned him. What earned Lucky his name was his discovery, a month later, flailing weakly in a country ditch fifty miles away, by a caring couple who found him, bruised, emaciated, feet tied together and nearly dead. Nursed back to health by the Humane Society with the help of an outpouring of local donations from citizens, Lucky had over a hundred adoption offers.

The reporter covering the story raised the issue of why Lucky didn’t run away, and kept coming back for more abuse from this man. They used the words ‘brave’ and ‘loyal’ to describe this behaviour. It obviously didn’t occur to the reporter that Lucky came back for more abuse because that’s the only life he knew. He couldn’t have survived in the wild, and couldn’t have known that another, better life could be had in just about any other house, as part of any other family.

We are all, in a real sense, like Lucky. Most of us, all over the world, struggle every day, and put up with a huge amount of stress and unhappiness in our lives. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who lived for millions of years before modern civilization, we work much harder and longer to make a living, we face much more physical and psychological violence (in our neighbourhoods, in our workplaces, in our war-torn world, and sometimes even in our homes), we suffer from many more physical and psychological diseases and illnesses, we live in crowded, polluted, mostly run-down communities, in constant fear (of an infinite number of things, most notably not having enough), and we are oppressed with hierarchies, laws, rules and restrictions that would have driven our ancient ancestors quite mad.

Why do we put up with it? Because it’s the only life we know. We are not told that, even with today’s massive human population, everything that would be needed to provide very comfortably for the basic needs of everyone on the planet could be produced by having everyone work just one hour a day or one day a week. Instead, we live in a world of unfathomable manufactured scarcity, staggering inequality and waste, and ghastly imaginative poverty.

I can hear the choruses of objection:

  • “But economies don’t work that way — we can never achieve anything close to perfect distribution of wealth”. Well, we could if we wanted to. Inequality is built into the capitalist, corporatist system. It is terribly inefficient, but it is not the only system. All we need to do is replace it with a better system. Not an old, failed system. A completely new one.
  • “But that’s not human nature — if people weren’t motivated to work hard, they would become lazy, criminal, depressed”. Well it’s interesting that all the other creatures of this world, none of which work as hard as we do, seem to live very happy, healthy lives, as did we before we decided to introduce this ‘motivation to work hard’.
  • “But that model won’t scale — there are too many of us now to go back to a pre-civilization, pre-capitalist, pre-political lifestyle”. Who said anything about going back? The answer is to move forward to a fairer, more equitable, healthier, more sustainable and ecologically responsible culture. And even if there were too many of us now to effect change (which there aren’t), part of the answer is perhaps to reduce our numbers voluntarily, to make the task easier.
  • “But that speed and degree of change is impossible — the world’s too big, and people are inherently selfish and change too slowly”. Well, that’s what those with a vested interest in the status quo — the politicians, the capitalist elite, the preachers and the kings and the ‘leaders’ who have most of the world’s wealth and power — would have you believe. But it strikes me odd that every creature of other species on this planet looks after the needs of its community before its individual needs — are humans really uniquely selfish on this whole planet? And all species, including man (e.g. after the last ice age, and in the years leading to the Industrial Revolution) show a remarkable ability to change very quickly when there is an obvious need to do so. It’s really just the brainwashing we get in the education system, in the workplace (the economic system), and through the media (the handmaidens of the political system) that has prevented us from realizing that ‘there is an obvious need to do so’ now. And that there is a better way to live.

So we have two options. We can go on being like Lucky, putting up with the abuse, violence, fear, poverty, sickness, pollution, inequality, waste, and oppression, and leave a legacy of much more of the same for our children and grandchildren. Or we can walk away, and insist on and help create a better life, a better world, a better way to live. If enough of us understand that we need to do something, and believe it is in our power to do it, we can do it. We can, for the first time in thirty thousand years, do anything we want to do.

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17 Responses to THE COST OF NOT KNOWING (II)

  1. Dan Howard says:

    The ideas you present here remind me a lot of the book I am currently re-reading: “Ishmael”, by Daniel Quinn. In it, Quinn succinctly points to the root causes of the problems of our society, and points to an alternative. Dave, I saw you refer to another of Quinn’s books, “The Story of B”, in your “A Sacred Earth Culture” article. I highly recommend either of these books to anyone searching to understand why it is that we do what we do as a society, why we can’t seem to stop from destroying ourselves. (But don’t read *both* books, as they are basically the same message packaged in two different stories– Ishmael is a discussion between a teacher and his student, while The Story of B is more of an adventure story.)

  2. Jon Husband says:

    IMO you are right, dave. Our working all the time, and being helped to be dissatisfied with what we have, and indeed withthe way the (not) free capital markets are structuresda nd operated are IMO psychological control mechanisms by the “owners” of this system – the hierarchs and the bought-and-paid-for politicos who rig the game in that way.It’s disgusting, and I am actively 1) trying not to play on that playing field, and 2) trying in my measly way, using a word and concepts, to help all of us who have some awareness of what you have written about, to begin to see that there may be other possibilities.And thanks you – so much – for your clarity, articulateness and willingness to go there, again and again.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Dan:Great advice. I actually preferred ‘Story of B’ because the lessons are resummarized in the back. I’m also a member of the Quinn discussion group ‘IshCon’, listed in my right sidebar — you might want to check it out too.Jon: Thanks. How is the British trip going?

  4. shari says:

    Dave, I know that you’re not a fan of psychological stuff but here I go again. Without deep introspection, probably spurred by pain, we invariably choose comfort by choosing the familiar. Leaving the familiar, even if it’s abusive, requires walking past our comfort zones. Maybe this is what Joseph Campbell encouraged: the journey of the hero. This is not easy. This is extremely difficult. This is one of the reasons why psychotherapy is so hard. One of my premises is that it’s vital to look at our dark side, the hidden side in order to be whole. Within our dark side are the painful emotions we really don’t want to deal with. This avoidance drives a lot of behaviors. But in the end lies the healing.

  5. dustin says:

    I agree with your overall point, however I think your analogies using animals are a little off base. Many animals work very hard every day just to acquire food to sustain themselves for another day. Also, there are many species that do not ‘look after the needs of their community’. There may be some that do, but many only deal with their immediate needs (or immediate family in some cases).I guess that they were inspired by the opening story of Lucky, which was both touching and insightful. Yeah.

  6. Jon Husband says:

    1st leg of Britain over – will return for several days before returning to Canada. I met Euan Semple, and what he has accomplished at the BBc is remarkable, exemplary IMO.Also met and had dinner with Arie de Geus (and others) one evening, and George Por another. Gratifying for me that they found the concept of “wirearchy” valuable.

  7. Jon Husband says:

    Oh … and now in Paris.

  8. Frank Csorba says:

    It is an argument which I have many times with people who don’t seem to be sensitive to the issue. My closest friend argues that 1. capitalism and greed is good;it provides jobs to the less fortunate. And 2. all of us should either be self sufficient or you deserve your social-economic status. But my argument for social change is this: Just as society from early times made laws to foster cohesiveness in their civilizations, so must we evolve to a higher standard of caring for the less fortunate, and for being more equitable with the earth’s bounty. Much of the inequity and hardship people suffer, is forced on us by those who overharvest the earth’s bounty, destroy a natural resource that at one time supported many people, leaving huge population sectors consequently suffering a diminished recourse to survive. Salmon runs in the 1800’s US would have had the capacity to feed and provide good incomes for millions of people. The buffalo provided for the Indians, not only food, but clothing, shelter, and other materials as well. Lobster was at one time so plentiful that it was considered food fit only for slaves. Whales, the Dodo, the Kiwi… the list goes on, but the point is that each of these food animals where hunted into the point of extinction and many others indirectly by the destruction of habitats which provided food and shelter for the creatures that lived there. Then those who had relied on these resources were forced into an existence where they were no longer self sufficient. Worse, there is no real legal or social contract that prevents the rape of resources by the few (and wealthy). Every day removes one more resource from the ability of the poor to survive, every day this makes them more dependent on our social-economic system to survive, every day imposes more restrictions on harvesting resources by the poor (now you need a hunting and fishing license, are limited in catch in both number and time of year, so now it can no longer be a consistant year round mode of providing for your family) Yet even though we are forcing the poor to become more dependent on our social-economic system, on the other hand we tell them they have no rights to their mode of survival, nor will they be given any real help to find alternative methods of survival. Governments and Industries are under no compulsion to provide jobs, in fact they are busily finding methods which eliminate or reduce dependance on human labor. Those who are left behind … well, its their sad lot.

  9. Pat says:

    It amazes me that no one has linked this to overpopulation.People breed like lemmings. Countries such as Egypt (and a number of others) have doubled their populations in the last 50 years. They couldn’t feed them in 1950 . . . imagine the situation now.And yet, one way to shock and horrify people is to suggest disincentives to reproduce. “Two and two make 3 . . . or is it 7?”

  10. Rob Paterson says:

    Hi DaveLucky’s story reminds me of a moment in Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl where the Camp guards have left and the gates are open but the concentration camp inmates are frightened to leave – the camp is all they know now!So is our life in the industrial world

  11. Michael says:

    Fascinating post, Dave. The comments are exceptional also. Thanks.

  12. Dave Pollard says:

    Dustin: You may be right, though the authors I read — Jeff Masson in particular — suggest animals’ lives are mostly leisurely and community-altruistic. Jon: I’m envious. Hope we can talk when you return.Frank: It really is amazing that the poor and hungry largely blame themselves and feel ashamed of their lot in life, despite evidence that the deck is stacked. Maybe that’s part of the indoctrination, to prevent uprising.Pat: Exactly right. Without overpopulation and continued growth in demand, it’s unlikely that any of the problems we face today would be of anywhere near the scale they are.Rob: Yes, Frankl’s analogy is just as appropriate as Lucky’s story. BTW- Did you ever see the wonderful comedy King of Hearts with Alan Bates about the lunatic asylum left open when the French town was evacuated before the Nazis arrived?

  13. dN says:

    very nicely put! it’s always a pleasure to stop by & be amazed at the quanity & quality of your posts.

  14. aadclemens says:

    I’m really ashtonished.although I’m dutch, I understand quite well what you are writing here.It is exactly what I keep telling everyone who ever wants to hear me.How did you come to this conclusion?

  15. Zang says:

    “Why do we put up with it? Because it’s the only life we know. We are not told that, even with today’s massive human population, everything that would be needed to provide very comfortably for the basic needs of everyone on the planet could be produced by having everyone work just one hour a day or one day a week.” Thank you for reminding everyone of us. However, this is not the only life we know. We can live a life with a right understanding of what we want to strive in this life. Letting go of how people look at us, we can live up a life that we want. In addition, this is not hiding ourselves from the society. This is embracing the community with a some what different perspective and livelihood.

  16. savage says:

    very well put. people are letting the media and whatever is put on television raise their kids by keeping them occupied; while the parents are spending all of their time working, trying to live a sucessful and happy life. With the parents gone, important morals and lessons are not taught to children. keep on spreading the truth. the word of mouth is truely the strongest way of communicating to everyone.

  17. Paris says:

    Thinking the way you do Dave, is described as mental trouble in teenagers. All girls in my family who have this ability to instinctivly see the world as it could and should be are sent to psychologist in order to cure them to become normal consuming adults.People are not supposed to think and change the world, they’re supposed to consume and reproduce! It’s sooooo negatively seen to say as a woman that ‘I don’t want a child’. People really think we’re mad. But people don’t emulate those they think are mad.

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