Ecology and Economics and Politics and Social Issues22 Apr 2009 02:06 pm

In the last few posts I’ve pointed out how incredible man’s progress has been over the last few centuries. Yet, I also mentioned that despite these accomplishments we are missing many opportunities for making human life more rewarding, happy and safe.

In this post we’ll some of the issues which surround earth day to demonstrate how our current economic and political structures are retarding and in some cases harming the quuality of human life. Many of these ideas have been dealt with in a more in-depth fashion in previous posts over the last couple of years.

I’m using the image of the Trojan Horse to conjure the image of something offered as a gift, which in reality if meant for harm. This image does fit with some of the less wholesome aspects of modern capitalism.

Consumption is a major aspect of capitalism, and sales is a major component of consumption. A salesman’s job is to make his product appealing to the customer. Successful sales are often dependent on convincing the customer of the need or benefit of the product. Sales techniques often involve the following strategies:

1) Deception
2) Misrepresentation
3) Propaganda
4) Distortion

These techniques are used to help cast the product in the best light while omitting or under-stating its weaknesses. These techniques are also used to induce a potential consumer into making a purchase that they have no need for at that time.

The modern drug commercial is a perfect example of the above sales techniques. In which the supposed benefits of the drug are depicted in the most alluring terms while the potential drawbacks to the drug are rattled off breathlessly beyond the realm of cognition. This feeble attempt at providing balanced information is only done because of legal pressures on the industry. In most industries and businesses there is no requirement to present any case but the one which makes your product or service look as attractive as possible.

This lack of truth and skillful misrepresentation even dominates our legal system. Instead of justice, the goal of lawyers is to win cases and make money. In a justice oriented system the focus would not be on guilt or innocence, but rather on a total exploration of the facts to best understand motives, conditions and extenuating circumstances. In a system of justice the goal would not be to deceive or influence the jury and judge, but to present an honest exploration of the harm done (prosecution) and the reasons for the offense (defense), and how to best accomplish both restitution and rehabilitation.

In our legal system even though a witness is supposed to “tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, the sad reality is that both lawyers are trying to get the witness to tell only the part of the truth that benefits their client or purpose.  One would not have to look very deep to see how the need to make money and procure clients leads to this logical outcome of guilt vs innocence over justice. Yet. most defend this immoral legal system, because they take capitalism for granted and can’t even imagine a system of justice which is not capitalistic in nature. Justice should not be a service and product offered clients but rather a system which promotes the safety and quality of life of its citizens.

Let’s take a moment to review some of the ways in which modern capitalism limits or runs counter to our efforts to create a healthy, safe and sustainable environment composed of healthy and happy individuals.

A healthy and safe environment would have products and infrastructure which was:

Efficient
Durable
Enduring
Self-replenishing
Safe

Yet, we live in a system which promotes:

Over-consumption
Fads and fashions
Planned Obsolescence
Products which need repair
Unnecessary packaging and waste

Many studies over the past few decades have documented the role over-consumption plays in various psychological disorders.  Spiritualists and psychologists alike have pointed to high consumption of food, products and services as an ineffective means of an individual attempting to fill their emotional and psychological needs.

Many addictions and compulsions are routinely exploited by our capitalistic system. Which has many motives to keep the consumer unsatisfied and unhappy. A happy and sated person will have less reason to consume and will more often consume according to need.

How to get people to consume as much as possible has long been a science in our culture. Research scientists for many companies played with their products recipe and delivery system to maximize sales and consumer loyalty to the product. Researchers at coffee companies soon realized that the amount of caffeine on their product directly correlated to the amount of coffee consumed by the public. Too high a level of caffeine and the drinker could stop at one cup, too low a level and the drinker could lose interest in the beverage. Yet, a happy medium and the consumer would drink many cups of the beverage in search of the lift they sought from coffee.

The same balance of too potent and not strong enough was found by researchers of beer and cigarettes.  They could maximize their products consumption and the loyalty of their consumers by finding the right mix of addictive high and watered down delivery.

Likewise in many aspects of the food industry this science of how to maximize consumption has been quite fruitful. Diet soda recipes often induce one to feel more thirsty after drinking than before, inciting its consumers to drink can after can in a fruitless attempt to quench their thirsts. High amounts of sodium are used in many restaurants to heighten beverage sales at their establishments (beverages have some of the highest profit margins at food establishments). The list of cravings one can elicit through careful manipulation of recipes is quite extensive, and it is safe to say that most food companies and eateries use these techniques to maximize sales and profits.

Fostering over consumption is neither healthy nor good for the environment.

Capitalism’s dependency on profit makes if prone to encouraging over-consumption. From a capitalistic perspective neither the ecological movement’s disappearance nor its re-appearance in the form of the recycling industry is surprising.  The ecological movements concerns were harmful to the bottom lines of many corporations and industries.Yer, recycling has been designed and implemented in a way which benefits most businesses bottom lines.

First, it is great niche marketing. The recycling industry appeals to the good conscience of people and to the earth lover’s who have a tendency to consume less than the norm. A combination the recycling and organic food industries got the ecological crowd excited about consumption. A crowd which formerly avoided many forms of consumption based on morality could now be seduced to consume according to the same morality. In fact, this earth loving crowd, would be willing to purchase goods and foods at higher prices in their effort to be healthy and kind to the earth.

I know that I myself by products and recycle due to my desire to do the right and healthy thing. I do this, even though, I see through the Trojan Horse aspect of the recycling industry.

Our current recycling industry is a far cry from anything resembling a movement with ecological integrity. It is, after all, a recycling industry whose existence is dependent on making money. The recycling industry only returned because it adapted to capitalism and became a very profitable business. The recycling industry is not a charity, nor a humanitarian service, it is a profit hawking free market survivor.

While purporting to get rid of waste and inefficiency it is in fact dependent on ever escalating levels of waste to support its growth and expansion. If we were to become truly efficient, the recycling companies would be the first to go out of business.

In addition, the harms caused to the environment are often stronger than the benefits gained trough recycling. The recycling processes involved in newspapers and plastics are only two examples of the ethical dilemma the industry poses. Though trees are saved when we recycle paper the amount of toxins and hazardous chemicals put into our water supply in the process of stripping newsprint off of paper is greatly increased. Likewise, the amount of energy used and chemical damage incurred through recycling many plastics call into question it’s ecological benefits.

Could we make recycling more ecologically friendly. Yes, of course we could. But any movement adapting to our capitalistic system will have to make great concession to become profitable. In a previous post I talked of how we could replace most plastic container uses with glass. The two objections given to the use of glass by industry spokesmen are that reused glass would be  unhealthy and unsafe. Unhealthy because of germs and unsafe because glass breaks.

Well, it would be easy to create reusable glass bottles that were shatter proof or break resistant or make reusable skins made of materials which were effective and environmentally friendly.  One could also easily create sterilization stations at grocery stores, etc. which would tend to the germ problem in a safe and cost effective manner.

Yer, the reason we won’t do this is because it isn’t profitable. The reason we’ve refused to make cars more efficient is because it hurts proit margins. If we created true cures to diseases and medical conditions rather than pills which mask symptoms or depend on your constant use, then phamaceutical companies would not be profitable. Therefore, why would any research go into discoveries which would kill the business.

Capitalism depends on waste and inefficiency, for profit is dependent on waste and inefficiency.

In a system of competition each company produces more than they sell out of hopes of increased market share and their fears of running out of the product to meet consumer demand. Some estimates are that as little of one tenth of food that is raised and harvested is actually consumed.

Once again I will print the following logic chain and hope you ponder its validity.

PROFIT = Surplus = Excess = Waste

Capitalism is a system which we’ve outgrown. We need a system that thrives on efficiency, that rewards mutually beneficial solutions and actions rather than win/lose competition, and that encourages self-actualization rather than view individual contentment as a threat to consumption.

We need a structure which rewards people for being kind and compassionate rather than one that rewards artifice and views people as consumers.

As human beings, we have come along way, and our political and economic systems have contributed to this growth. Yet, we now are at a juncture where optimal growth and satisfaction require new structures. If not, our current path will further erode the quality of life of an increasing percentage of people all across the globe.

Jim Guido

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