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Civilization: a Second Look

Get a job, make some money, work till you're sixty,
             then move to Florida and die. Have you ever had that
             uneasy feeling that there must be something more
             to life than this? Most of us have at one time or
             another. Yet, each morning we trudge wearily
             through ever-growing traffic to take part in the daily          
             grind. Then one day we wake up to the realization
             that our time here is almost up.
                                                                             Daniel Quinn

While civilization brings some benefits it also has many unspoken costs. Indeed it's almost taboo to speak of them in many circles.  But things have begun to shift. In the January 18th, 2006 issue of the Financial Times,
professor Andrew Oswald wrote an article about how we have gotten it all wrong about what really matters in life:

Politicians mistakenly believe that economic growth makes a nation happier. “Britain is today experiencing the longest period of sustained economic growth since the year 1701 – and we are determined to maintain it,” began Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, in his 2005 Budget speech. Western politicians think this way because they were taught to do so. But today there is much statistical and laboratory ­evidence in favour of a heresy: once a country has filled its larders there is no point in that nation becoming richer.

The hippies, the Greens, the road protesters, the downshifters, the slow-food movement – all are having their quiet revenge. Routinely derided, the ideas of these down-to-earth philosophers are being confirmed by new statistical work by psychologists and economists.

First, surveys show that the indus­trialised nations have not become happier over time. Random samples of UK citizens today report the same degree of psychological well-being and satisfaction with their lives as did their (poorer) parents and grandparents. In the US, happiness has fallen over time. White American females are markedly less happy than were their mothers.

Second, using more formal measures of mental health, rates of depression in countries such as the UK have increased. Third, measured levels of stress at work have gone up.

Fourth, suicide statistics paint a picture that is often consistent with such patterns. In the US, even though real income levels have risen six­fold, the per-capita ­suicide rate is the same as in the year 1900. In the UK, more encouragingly, the suicide rate has fallen in the last century, although among young men it is far greater than decades ago.

Fifth, global warming means that growth has long-term consequences few could have imagined in their undergraduate ­tutorials.

None of these points is immune from counter-argument. But most commentators who argue against such evidence appear to do so out of intellectual habit or an unshakeable faith in conventional thinking.

Some of the world’s most innovative academics have come up with strong evidence about why growth does not work. One reason is that humans are creatures of comparison. Research last year showed that happiness levels depend inversely on the earnings levels of a person’s neighbours. Prosperity next door makes you dissatisfied. It is relative income that matters: when everyone in a society gets wealthier, average well-being stays the same.

A further reason is habituation. Experiences wear off. ...Those who become disabled recover 80 per cent of their happiness by three years after an accident. Yet economics textbooks still ignore adaptation.

A final reason is that human beings are bad at forecasting what will make them happy. In laboratory settings, people systematically choose the wrong things for themselves.

Yet surely, it might be argued, what about power showers, televised football, titanium wristwatches, car travel for all – are these not compelling evidence for the long arm of growth? Yes they are, but we need these because Mr and Mrs Jones have them, not because they make an intrinsic difference.

Economists’ faith in the value of growth is diminishing. That is a good thing and will slowly make its way into the minds of tomorrow’s politicians. Led by the distinguished psychologist Edward Diener of the University of Illinois, a practical intellectual manifesto signed by many of the world’s researchers, entitled Guidelines for National Indicators of Subjective Well-Being and Ill-Being, has just begun to circulate on the internet. That document calls for national measures of ­separate facets of well-being and ill-being, including moods and emotions, perceived mental and physical health, satisfaction with particular activities and domains, and the subjective ­experience of time allocation and ­pressure.

Happiness, not economic growth, ought to be the next and more sensible target for the next and more sensible generation.

When a conservative financial publication, such as the FT,  publishes such an article, it's safe to assume that there's sea change taking place in public thinking about what really matters for a fulfilling life.

Navigating the Collapse of Civilization: a Spiritual Map

Civilization is a mental/material world of culturally transmitted illusion.
                                                                              - William Kötke

The essay by Carolyb Baker, Ph.D covers the spiritual positives that will come from a collapse.

Civilization's Downside

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember it.
                                                - Galadriel from Lord of the Rings

The following essays provide a fresh perspective on what we find ourselves in today. If you have ever had a gnawing feeling that modern life is little more than a steadily accelerating treadmill, you are not alone.  The following essays provide insights into the reasons more and more of us are having those uncomfortable thoughts. If you can understand what is happening and why, you then gain the ability to decide if you wish to continue playing or move "off-the-grid".

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse.

Anthropik's Thirty Theses of Collapse expand on the points made by Diamond.

Hierarchy is an Unnecessary Evil

Civilization Makes Us Sick

Civilization Must Always Grow

Civilization Always Pursues Complexity

Complexity Ensures Collapse

Daniel Quinn's novels Ishmael and The Story of B deal with the costs of civilization.

More articles and essays to come.

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