The title of this post is a quote from Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai Buddhist, social activist, and cultural critic. It comes from a wonderful little book called Seeds of Peace, in which Sivaraksa deeply reflects of the politics of capitalism, especially in his native Thailand, and then offers a new vision of society based on Buddhist teachings. I’m not here to advocate for or against such a vision, but I find his question very provocative, especially for those of us living in the wealthy “West.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve either been in conversations or overheard conversations where people essentially said the same things. First, that the economy is going to turn around soon, maybe in six months, maybe in a few years. These folks have pointed to various gains already being made, such as increases in jobs, decreases in unemployment, or a general feeling of being less financially crunched this year than they felt last year.
Along with this talk has been utter disgust and despair when the topic of the Gulf oil spill comes up. Almost everyone seems to be saying, “I want alternative energy. We have to end our dependence on oil.” And then they get into their cars and drive off to their next destinations.
I have asked, and continue to ask, the following questions: Do we really want the economy to “turn around,” to go back to something resembling what it has been? In other words, do we really wish to continue to support, participate, and drive an economy that thrives only when there is over-production, over-consumption, and excessive amounts of greed? Is this really what we want, or are we just too comfortable with a way of life that will someday probably destroy us?
I look around at my own life. It’s fairly minimalistic as far as lives here in the U.S. go. No TV, no car, few appliances, some home-grown food, mostly organic purchased food, mostly used clothing, lots of recycling and giving to others the things I don’t use.
And yet, I’m still light years ahead in negative environmental impact compared to most of the rest of the individuals in the world. Is even my lifestyle unsustainable? I’d argue, to some degree, yes. And in doing so, I’m not interested in creating a wild guilt complex in myself, or within anyone else reading this.
We have to go deeper than simply talking about what we use or don’t use, or how much money we are going to invest in green jobs and new technologies. In my opinion, it’s really time to question the morality of our economic systems as a whole because they have gone global, for better or worse.
I know people are already beginning to do this, and it’s inspiring to see even evangelical Christians who are strongly questioning the impact people are having on the planet. But there are not enough of us doing this yet to overturn the tide of current economic paradigm. I’m convinced that it won’t really change until enough of us shift our entire thinking patterns around money, material goods, comfort, economic privilege, and development, towards something more sustainable, and more compassionate for all beings.
“OFF THE LOUISIANA COAST — A controlled burn of oil from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill sends towers of fire hundreds of feet into the air over the Gulf of Mexico, June 9, 2010.”
Photo by Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer First Class John Masson / Deepwater Horizon Response @ Flickr. com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Sulak Sivaraksa” Photo by John Woudstra