Thursday, October 8, 2009

Time to look forward instead of to the Left or Right

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Canada's economy is a many-splendoured thing. It produces huge amounts of wealth, employs millions, feeds, clothes and houses us, while providing energy, materials, and services to customers all over the world.

Yet our system has some failings, too.

There is a widening gap between rich and poor. In a nation which grows and exports wonderful food, some go to bed hungry, while others pollute their bodies with unhealthy foods or chemicals. Our soil, air and water must constantly be defended from toxic effluent, and our natural species disappear at an alarming rate. We work longer hours and spend less time with family, while buying more cheaply-made junk that finds its way to the landfill sooner and sooner.

The burning concern of governments seems to be to "get the economy running again," ignoring that all of these problems existed even when the economy was running fine. Surely, instead of just re-starting the old car, we can come up with something that better meets our needs, and does less ecological harm in the process?

The traditional solutions of the Left (higher taxes for bigger government) and Right (shrink government and solve our own problems individually) have been tried and found lacking, and both still involve eating up the planet just as fast as we can. It's time to look forward, beyond left or right.

One person who has spent decades looking is Canadian author Mike Nickerson. As a director for the Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution in the 1970s, he helped produce the Guideposts for a Sustainable Future and the book, Change the World I Want to Stay On. In 1993, he followed this up with the paperback Planning for Seven Generations, and, in 2006, released his most comprehensive work, Life, Money & Illusion: Living on Earth as if we want to stay.

Nickerson notes that as children we want to grow bigger, but when we reach adult size, we stop growing and our focus shifts to maintaining ourselves in good health and happiness. Yet our economic structure is not the same. It seeks only perpetual growth. If it pauses, it crashes, like a child riding a bicycle.

Our economy has no concept of "big enough" or what is a healthy, happy size. Instead, our goal seems merely to be bigger than last year, last quarter, last month. Is this a healthy direction on a finite planet? Surely not.

Nickerson has studied all aspects of the human question of direction -- biology, physics, money, religion, and capitalism. He writes about problems with our markets, but also ways we might solve them.

There are indeed many different paths to satisfying our needs and achieving prosperity through meaningful work and exchange. Instead of debt-based money created by private banks, we could have local currencies drawing upon (and returning) community value. Instead of trade goals based solely on maximizing our own benefit, we can have systems which are fair and beneficial to all. Instead of an endless rat race taking more time to make more money to buy more stuff, we can find time for our families, our hobbies, ourselves. We can learn to take pride in the value we create in our communities instead of just higher numbers in a bank account. Most of all, we can live lightly on the Earth, enjoy living, and preserve the planet for generations to come.

Nickerson's work is not prescriptive; it shows that there are diverse ways of dealing with today's tough issues and building something that works better for our community, nation, or world.

Nickerson is returning to Barrie to discuss Life, Money & Illusion, and share ideas about better ways of organizing society. He will be at the Barrie Free Methodist Church (284 Cundles Rd. E.) tomorrow night from 7 p. m. to 9 p. m. to present and discuss some of the ideas he's compiled and sign copies of his book's new second edition.

The public are invited to attend this free event, share refreshments, and ask questions or give feedback. He'd love to meet you, and, I'm sure, you'll enrich each other through the experience. I hope to see you there.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a local teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

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