Sunday, August 24, 2008

A personal transparency....

This weekend M. P. Dunleavey shares her observation that people are now talking among each other about of all topics money and their finances. Many commentators have said that money is the last taboo of America, even more than sex or politics. Her thesis is that this increased openness is helping everyday people deal with their money problems, in a way revealing that no one has it together, that we are overstretched and tired of trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Now what does this have to do with the environment. A lot, maybe everything. The oddest thing about the importance of money in our lives (and what is more American than money, we are a capitalist country after all, probably a value system more dominant in our daily affairs than even democratic values, but again I'm not original with that thought), is that we only know how others are doing by why they buy or display. It's sort of like the other minds problem in philosophy, the only way that you can know what is happening in other minds, is to make the assumption that your thoughts are similar to what others are thinking. So we do the same thing with our finances, but backwards. We see our neighbors with a new car and go, "hmmm, why are they doing so well? what am I not doing that they are?" then the thought turns to if I don't have a nice new car my neighbors will think that I'm not good enough so I better have a nice car. So I get one on credit. Problem is that your neighbors are in hock but you assume that they have legitimately obtained financial control.

But it doesn't stop with a car, it covers all the things that everyone else has as well. They have a Wii, I need a Wii, they have the latest scooter (have to be green don't we) so I need a scooter and it keeps going and going. So not only are we economically screwed, we're environmentally screwed as well since we buy, make and ship crap we don't need.

So maybe we'll start talking our debt, and talk about our wants and why we want them. It might turn out that I bought the car because I thought you were going to but the car. But I didn't want the car, well neither did I. Hmm, we both have cars that we don't want. If we can understand our motivations through conversations we might truly understand that all I want is to share some time with my neighbors and that means less but more meaningful stuff.

So have you bought things because your neighbors or co-workers have it and think you are missing out? Have you bought it on credit and are still paying it off? Have you bought stuff that you didn't want and is now sitting in a landfill? Money and the environment are tied together, since if the economy is stuff, the stuff is carbon and we know what that means.


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