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From Sustainability to a Sustainabilist Economy

Dreams to Intentions

They say time flies when you are having fun. In truth, I think time just flies. Period. It is always on the move and our big blue world spins with or without us. This article is a follow-up to a previous post about priorities. Sometimes our lives seem so busy, it is hard to make time to keep priorities straight and progress towards our dreams. I watch days turn into weeks turn into months, sometimes into years and even decades. And yet, looking back I clearly chose to do something else with that time. There is a name for dreams (or goals or priorities) which have never been attempted or perhaps we took some steps forward but were never able to get enough momentum behind them. We call them “intentions.”

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Our lives are filled with these “intentions”, at least mine is. They start as ideas, become dreams/goals and then typically get drowned out by the demands of everyday life.  Demands like the car making a noise and needing to get fixed, staying on top of medical appointments, dealing with traffic, that super important work project which gobbled up the weekend. Ugh, it is time to mop the floors and do laundry again? Wait, is that what my clothes look like clean? I need to go shopping. *CRUNCH* I stepped on my glasses! It’s at times like these, I am amazed. Truly. It is the year 2018 (that’s right, I started this post 4 years ago!), and for all the sci-fi I watched as a kid, nothing has truly prepared me for how fragmented and time-consuming we, as an “advanced” species have made our lives. And so, I end stockpiling intentions. I don’t think I’m alone, either!

The Great Time Suck

We live in an era where there exists a huge push to make customers self-sufficient. Customers pay for services and then corporations make them do all the work to acquire, configure and use those services.  Cell phones are a classic example. Want new equipment or a change to your service – do it yourself! Go to the carrier’s store and their employees are using the same app and dialing the same phone numbers as we are dialing. Need help using a phone? Deal with it yourself. Getting crummy signal? Too bad, not the corporation cant build a tower just for you. Just pay them and do all the work yourself (this is a true story where AT&T’s executive office agreed they must charge me full price but they admit the coverage in this area is just going to suck. Really? REALLLLLYY?!

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Want some more examples? Your retirement is on you – 401K not doing so hot? Too bad. Want to get an advanced education? On you – enjoy that mountain of debt you’ll graduate under.  Want health care? Good! Just like auto insurance, you’ll be forced to buy it, and what you pay for is just a monthly premium entitling you to pay the copay, coinsurance and deductibles for the actual services you need. You don’t get to define “need”, either. The people to whom you pay your premiums, they get to decide what you are allowed to “need.”  And who flips the bill when insurance drops the ball on a claim? It’s all you.

Want to eat healthy? Most of the food for sale is not healthy. Good luck figuring out what healthy nutrition is actually about. Want your politicians to represent you? They do! All 900,000 of us in their district. Hope you and your 899,999 other neighbors are on the same page, because the corporations funding our politicians know exactly what they want. Better get your civic-duty act together in all your free time while on hold with the medical firms, insurance companies and internet service providers. While they ship you through a rat maze of phone prompts and automation, they are busy lobbying and crafting legal agreements to indenture you further into the consumer role. Still on hold? They’re hoping you will suffer and give up before reaching a human, but just in case you persevere, you will get connected to someone who speaks your language as their 9th language because the corporation can pay them $5/day instead of hiring someone who lives in the same country as you to truly help answer your questions.

I am not making this up. I’m describing existence in 2022. The list goes on and on, and we have the good life.  No joke, these are all just first world problems… there’s third world problems which we will just avoid for the time being!

Modern Self-Enslavement

Here I sit, banging away on this keyboard, pondering where our time goes… it goes into the systems we have designed for ourselves.  We, the advanced, modern society of the 21st century.  For all the movies where space aliens come to enslave earthlings, we have done a perfectly fine job of enslaving ourselves. The aliens can just sit in orbit, watching and eating popcorn they helped us invent (shhh! corn is from space aliens! I saw it on the History Channel!).

What is this world where only a precious small percentage of humans actually are able to realize their dreams?. . . and why are the rest of the 99% of the population OK with that? Isn’t it this the opposite of “innovation” and “disruption” we keep hearing about? Shouldn’t a free market inspire competition that makes consumers come out ahead?! Consumers have become 2nd rate citizens – like the batteries powering the machine in The Matrix. It’s almost like that movie was a metaphor. Amazing.

All this modern noise, it enslaves us and turns dreams into intentions. Where are the companies that could save consumers from these practices using the power of free market competition? I think our anti-trust system has been lobbied to death, and maybe all those companies have an exit strategy which hinges on getting bought out by a mega corp. Blade Runner – another movie that is clearly just about robots. There’s no metaphors about enslavement in that movie. Move along.

Sustainability in the Broadest Sense

Clearly, in a sweet, little, emotive blog post, there are some broad and glittering brush strokes. But these days, we are finally thinking about “sustainability.” When I first started writing this post four years ago, that agenda did not have as much momentum as it does now. True, it is kinda in the “buzz-word” stage, like AI, blockchain, digital transformation, innovation, and so on. However, it is garnering inertia. And, as clever as these mega corp constructs are — making consumers do all the work for things they pay for, and hiding behind cheese-less rat-maze websites — as clever as all that is, I contend it is not part of “sustainability.” It is wasteful. In fact, I do not believe there is such a thing as carbon-neutral artificial intelligence. It takes a ridiculous amount of GPUs and electrons to create and maintain the neural net models those things run on. And that’s just one example.

Let’s zoom out a little here. Life is a miracle. Sentient life is a miracle upon miracles. Sentient life in the 21st century is like a miracle cubed, because it’s where we have invented a LOT of the things I saw on TV as a kid in sci-fi movies (much less having invented the TV itself). I’ll watch my old sci-fi and someone will bring up this pain of glass that responds to their touch, and all I can think is “wait, their screen isn’t in color?” or “why is that hologram so low-res, yo? My 3D TV is better than your futuristic spaceship coms.”

Point is, we live the lives of blessed creatures, and yet we curse ourselves by tethering these beautiful lives to 1 hour hold times, poor customer service, denial of service (beyond just the cyber-attack, think about medical claims, access to education, access to opportunity, access to resources and the ability to equitably pursue our dreams). These and a myriad of other curses that appear symptomatic of a profit-focused model. “Sustainability” demands that we rethink this model – right now the focus of sustainability seems to be on keeping us from gobbling up our planet and causing a self-extinction event. That is probably a good idea. But, barring said self-destruction, can we use this “sustainability” momentum to rethink other forms of waste in our lives (time being a high value target)? Could we use the sustainability agenda to avert self-destruction AND enable more time for pursuing our dreams? I think so.

Capitalist to Sustainabilist

Warning: more glittering generality ahead. It’s my jam, what can I say? Anyway, we tend to accept all human systems are subject to human corruption. Whether it is capitalism or socialism or what-have-you, there’s always this glorious power-struggle by, I believe, a small percentage of the overall population. This dogmatic minority are rewarded by the current model, and our media is set up to worship them. Watch Kal Penn’s “The Giant Beast that is the Global Economy.” It’s an interesting take on what our modern, self-enslaved society is glorifying.

In any event, these precious few get declared the “elite”, the “illuminati”, the “globalists”, or my personal favorite: “the best and the brightest.” News flash, although I have significant respect for what the people in this category have achieved, read “Atlas Shrugged” if you want a hint at what class strata actually harbors our best and brightest. I don’t think they are statistically at the top, I think they are statistically at the bottom. The “lower decks” as the latest Star Trek series is exploring. The inverted pyramid. Servant leadership. All of these concepts are taking hold, along with diversity, equity and inclusion . . . and I believe they are all part of the cosmic sustainability umbrella. I believe all of this moves us from what was traditionally hierarchical capitalism into something new. Lets call it a “sustainabilist” economy.

How would it work if profit wasn’t king and we forged a Sustainabilist economy instead, anchored across multiple tenets to address where we truly want to be as a species and what kind of lives we want each other to have? What if a sustainabilist model came to town and somehow helped us save the planet, simplify services, give us the gift of time in multiple aspects of life, and helped each of us have more free time and more resources to pursue our own dreams and goals?

See how broad sustainability could be? It could be hugely liberating if we really want to tackle the future as a more advanced version of ourselves. If we really want to apply sustainability to the environment, to our careers, to governance, to products and services. There are just tons of options. I have no idea of the detailed mechanics yet, but the sustainability agenda can do more than keep us alive: it could help each of us convert more of our intentions into into priorities, goals and at least a shot at realizing more of our dreams.

Most people say “prove me wrong.” But I don’t want to be proven wrong. It’s better for everyone if we prove this idea is correct.



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