Writing recently about the bigger picture of how we do things, I was trying to get a sense for the value of what tends to get side-lined as a result of looking mainly to our financial concerns (see Note One). If we were to see modern society as a balance sheet, what are those hidden costs we’re rarely taking into account that might be storing up fairly considerable problems down the line?
Clearly there are environmental costs there, as it’s been quite well documented and reasoned that our ways of living don’t really pay much regard to the natural world in terms of resources or wastefulness (Notes Two).
It’s strange in many ways, how we seem to chipping away at the land beneath our feet. Maybe telling ourselves it’s not our problem; we’ll cross those bridges when we come to them; that it’s very remote and we’re technically doing nothing wrong so we’re not liable. As if we’re counting on future humanity to design a solution for what we’ve created; a sort of ingenuity debt we’re saddling onto our future.
Maybe that comes down to burden of proof: that it’s hard to definitively make a case that what we’re doing isn’t okay, that any one idea or action can be held responsible. Even if common sense might see it’s out of balance and seems unlikely to be the wisest path.
And then, looking to the human side, all that seems to become even murkier: how can we assess the social or personal cost of the ideas at play in how we’re living? What does is mean in a human sense if we view life as a marketplace, a competition, a fight for survival? If we look on others as rivals, objects of comparison, people we have every right to casually judge (Notes Three)?
We might be encouraged into all these ways of behaving and consuming that feed off our social inclinations to belong, be seen as unique, or feel worthwhile; but what does all that bring into our relationships as a society? Surely we’re allowing, even reinforcing, these cultural ideas that basically say we’re never enough, need more, and must set ourselves apart from others.
The human psyche may well be an almost bottomless source of needs, desires, insecurities, and whatever else marketing is designed to appeal to; but does that mean it should be drawn into the marketplace of modern economics? Does that serve us well as a society or as individuals?
It’s something that concerns me greatly, as these other areas of life seem to be struggling to find a voice capable of challenging the economic realities currently holding such sway within modern society. Because while what we’re doing to the natural world and to other people (both within our own societies and those hidden within our economic systems) may appear invisible, it’s still a reality.
These things may happen out of sight, seemingly always the responsibility of others, but ultimately they’re all part of the same system.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Does it all balance out?
Note 2: Waste and consumer choices
Note 2: Is sustainable design an impossibility?
Note 2: “Small is Beautiful”
Note 2: Living the dream
Note 3: Culture selling us meaning
Note 3: People, rules & social cohesion
Note 3: Morality and modern thought
Note 3: “The Spirit of Community”