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In the last post, I touched on the notion of being addicted to growth and how that affects how we live, but this drive for growth—more, more, more rather than better—should also be recognized as something that’s perhaps even darker than addiction.

Here’s the way the system generally works for much of the U.S.

  • Our neighborhoods are homogeneous and many Home Owners’ Associations require a certain degree of conformity to maintain a sense of order.  In such an environment, and as we travel anonymously in our cars throughout our lives, our sense of self is suppressed and lost.
  • Big money organizations, like Oil and Wall Street, influence our representatives with expensive and powerful lobbyists, and effectively market dysfunctional lifestyles as “The American Way of Life.”
  • As we move from one place to another we do so alone in cars, without interaction with others, which prevents us from interacting socially with people who have different life experiences than our own.
  • To a large degree, we are unable to alter our daily activity because the dislocated nature of the environments in which we operate dictates how we live our life.

OK, now look at the four key factors of coercive persuasion:

  • The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual’s sense of self to promote compliance
  • The use of an organized peer group
  • Applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity
  • The manipulation of the totality of the person’s social environment to stabilize behavior once modified

You may be more familiar with “coercive persuasion” as “brainwashing.”  Yes, this is an extreme statement.  Perhaps too extreme. There is not a conscious and subversive effort to brainwash the American people, but the result has been the same.

Some people whose mission it was to make a lot of money, put a system in place that forced an enormous population to depend on their products (oil and cars) for survival, and then not only convinced them that their products were part of our nationalistic dream, but if we didn’t continually use more of those products, we were in grave danger.

Now, economic growth can generally bring about good things.  It can mean better health care, improved education, and longer lives.  But as Edward Abbey famously said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.”

We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by growth as the means and the end.  Nor can we assume that growth is necessarily good.  We need to evaluate our objectives first—better places to live, safer streets, effective schools, equitable healthcare, happiness—and carefully consider the best way to get there.  The seduction of growth—an obsession with making numbers go up—as the end-all and be-all must stop or we will end up consuming ourselves.

Our towns, cities, and neighborhoods must truly consider what is best for the people in the community, and not just for today, but for the future.  We need to shift the paradigm so that it’s not about growth, but rather about making things better.  We cannot assume that the accumulation of wealth is the highest good.  Life is not that simple.  Nor is it that insipid.  It is intricate, complex, and infinitely more interesting than growth.