Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Investing In An Empire of Illusion

Are Americans -- and increasingly the world -- living in a virtual fantasyland when it comes to the reality of the earth's ability to sustain civilization as we know it?

In this blisteringly inspired, get down to reality GetRealList post, Nelder bemoans the sad state of not just the media, but peoples' sense of responsibility to maintain awareness of what is really going on around them:

Our appetite for illusion has made us, as Aldous Huxley feared, a nation of passive, self-centered consumer idiots, endlessly distracted by trivia and irrelevance, embedded in an alternate reality matrix, saturated with information we don’t comprehend, easily confused, and easily led down paths we would never choose if we were informed and thinking clearly.

It's a powerful piece, and really gets into something that bothers me almost every day -- that so many of our leaders seem literally unqualified to be dealing with the challenges the world is facing today.  The fact that Sarah Palin is getting as much coverage as she is today just underscores Nelder's point.

What are the solutions that Nelder recommends?

In the absence of rational leadership, neutral journalism for the public good, or a free and informed citizenry, the task of meeting the challenges ahead falls to each of us, individually. There is no “they” who are going to sort all this out. There is only “us.”

We have to own the problems of energy, food, water, climate change, population, and investments that don’t go sour. They’re ours.

So will be the solutions. Fortunately, there is much we can do.

Concentrate on efficiency first: Insulate your house. Get a more efficient vehicle and more efficient appliances. When an opportunity like Cash for Clunkers/Caulkers comes around, jump on it. Try to limit your driving and use public transit. Move closer to work, or vice versa.

Then do something on the supply side: Add solar PV and solar hot water to your house. Tear up your lawn and plant a vegetable garden, even if it means paying a fine to your HOA.

Rebalance your investment portfolio, with a view toward long-term sustainability. Limit your exposure to dollar-denominated assets and invest in hard assets. Do your own due diligence.

Eliminate your debt as quickly as possible. Instead of hoping that your fantasies of wealth will be restored when the economy recovers, think about how you can live within your means if it never does.

Put down the crack pipe. Turn off the TV and read a book—preferably a history, or a how-to book on sustainable practices. Listen critically to the news and do your own research.

And finally, don’t wait for leadership in Washington. Be a leader, wherever you are. Work toward sustainable solutions, not at town hall meetings, but with your family, neighbors, friends and local governments.

Amen -- fantastic post.

I just got this Matrix-like image the other day of America as a sort of corporate playground -- a societal system with rules designed to get people to buy and consume the products and services of corporations, and work so they can buy and consume more, and then have to work more, which increasingly doesn't allow most people the time to learn about why consuming more isn't actually very good for them.

It was a surreal image.

Nelder's post reminded me of that thought, which like his post, was rooted in frustration with humanity's current inability to deal effectively with our most urgent, and possibly even existential, crises.

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