Why do we aspire?
To understand climate change, and our general impact on the environment, once has to understand our lifestyle. And more importantly why do we aspire to the lifestyle we do. I've been thinking about this a lot as I put together my personal goals for 2008. In formulating my own goals, I've been talking to other people. It's a great conversation to have in the new year. What are your resolutions and goals?
As an aside, I prefer goals over resolutions in that if you have an off day you have a chance to recover, where if you have a resolution, once it's broken it's broken. One of the interesting things that come out is that a lot of people have goals such as buy a house, or buy a bigger one. I was at a party talking to a friend and she is a real estate maven tracking the local market. She would like a nicer place, and she has a nice one already, but we all would like nicer. The other thing is that people aspire to be better, either with a raise or a new job (that often makes more money) presumably so they can buy more.
So why do we aspire to stuff? Though I have no data to back it up, I think we aspire for more stuff because mass media has normalized our aspirations. At one time I think people aspired to what their emotions wanted, but I think our emotions are shaped now by external forces. For instance, the American Dream is usually summarized as a home and that our kids are better off than we are. Implied is that our kids have better and or more stuff than we do. It's interesting that the American dream is described in terms of stuff, as opposed to in terms of freedom or liberty. When did that happen? How did it happen? I'm not sure, but I wonder. WIkipedia has an interesting overview of conceptions of the American dream. It's formal entry was actually in 1931, but there are precedents prior to that.
So getting back to the question at hand, as I look at my aspirations I realize that I probably don't resonate with the stuff economy for the reason that my aspirations tend toward mastery, and more stuff does not facilitate achieving those aspirations. For instance, I'd like to be a better writer, I'd like to be a better guitar player, I'd like to be a better athlete and a better friend and partner. I can fool myself that buying a better guitar will make me a better guitar player, or a newer bike will make me a better cyclist. But that's deception. I still have a long way to master those disciplines that the hardware will make nominal improvements. It will make me better, I am somewhat faster on my new bike, and I may ride a little more. But it's the time and effort, not the stuff that makes me better. Somehow, competency became my aspiration.
So what does that have to do with a carbon free society, everything. A shift from aspiring for materials to mastery will necessarily improve our world. I think it'll improve our society as well. In a future post I'll explore the impact of the aspiration for a larger home and the consequences it has on our carbon economy. It's surprising what a simple maximization equation results in an entire lifestyle.
What are your aspirations and why?