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Money - and why we must learn to do without

By       Message robert wolff     Permalink
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Yes, I am fortunate to have Social Security but could not live on that if I lived as I used to. Yes, I have Medicare, but when a tiny quarter ounce bottle of eye drops that was prescribed by my doctor costs $105, I don't fill that prescription.  Now I use a drop of  green tea and it works. Medicare here pays about half what doctors charge for a 10 minute visit. I go to a doctor once a year. I am also fortunate to live in Hawai'i where we have sun but not 100 - and rain, but not 20 inches a day. We have very little soil but am learning to make soil from all the leaves that fall and my kitchen garbage. I grow some things in large pots, careful to put more than one kind of plant in a pot. A large pot with only one kind of plant is mono-culture. Humans have always known that does not work, It attracts pests and kills the soil. Not sustainable. Agribusiness refuses to believe that, as Big Oil refuses to believe that digging for oil has become lethal, as big everything is bad for the planet.

Sustainability should be written above all doors.

A friend wrote me recently that my writing was like cold water shocking him awake. Another friend wrote--received the same day--that maybe she believes me but she likes her life style too well to give it up.  I'm not the only one who writes cold water of course. Many others write about how our life has become dependent on sources of energy, oil, coal, and now natural gas, that are incredibly destructive to get out of the earth. We're very clever at getting at those resources but just as clever to figure out other ways to get energy that are not aggressively destructive. I've read that Germany, for instance, encouraged people to put solar panels on the roofs of their houses. In a few years the country made so much energy from solar panels on private houses, feeding the existing grid, that they now export electricity to neighboring countries. It can be done and it can be done economically creating millions of jobs.

In America Big everything owns the economy. Solar panels must be imported from China, making solar panels little or no government support. Here the electric company is not eager to pay privately owned solar panels feeding into the grid. I had a long discussion with someone who owns interests in the local electric company. He explained in great detail that, of course, they are in business to make money, and if we the people start competing with them, they have the power and the means to prevent us from competing. In the 1930s almost all houses in California had solar water heaters; the simplest way to get energy from the sun. No more. Los Angeles had a great system of fixed rail public transportation (streetcars). GM bought the company, destroyed the rails, and so forced the city to buy busses and people to buy cars. That is called capitalism, our religion.

Unsustainable simply cannot be.

I must be older than any of you and I did not grow up in this country. I was born in one country, grew up half a globe away, then arrived in the Netherlands two weeks before 1 september 1939, the official beginning of WWII. I had finished high school and was planning to study medicine. I'll spare you the rest of my wanderings, but believe me, I have lived in a number of very different worlds. Now, close to the end, I know which world was the best. Not the easiest to live in, but the only world in which people were truly free. No leaders, no laws, total equality of the genders, children taken seriously, and warm, caring people, who smiled and sang little songs all day. They did not live as long as I have, but it was a good life. And, most unusual, their world  was totally sustainable. They did not live on this planet, as we do,  but in the arms of Mother Earth. 

For many years I have tried to live as I imagine they would live in this insane civilization so-called. But of course I cannot. I use electricity, drive my little car occasionally to get the mail or buy some bread and cheese. I have no TV, watch "news' on my computer although I am rarely very interested and do other things while unseen voices argue in the background. My diet includes lots of greens that I find, sometimes grow in large pots (much of the ground here is lava with a thin cover of soil) and fruit that I gather on my morning walk.

Climate change is here. That should be obvious, but Americans don't believe it. In fact, it seems almost as if we willfully make global warming worse. We should do what we can to save the planet and so ourselves, but we don't. I worry about global warming, climate change, for my children and grandchildren. But my voice does not carry far or wide.

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Yes, as many people remind me often enough, we cannot go back. But evidently we cannot stop destroying this earth and whether we want to or not a changing planet will force us to adapt to a warmer, stormier, wetter here and dryer there world, Whether we want to or not we have to learn again to live as we lived before inventing things like money, and chemicals that kill weeds and also people;  chemicals that keep food from spoiling and so harms us; inventing cars and planes and iPhones. Can you imagine man-created plants? And we make laws that allow the companies that created these artificial plants to "own' them, forcing farmers to buy seeds each year rather than save nature's seeds for next year's planting. We have come far in the last several years, but what have we come to?

I find it not hard to imagine living without the things we now cannot do without because I'm old enough to know we easily survived without much of what we now take for granted. I grew up without clean water coming out of taps, without a refrigerator in the tropics. We bought ice blocks that kept a few things relatively cool. We had a telephone but no long distance. Mail or travel to Europe took four weeks, to America at least six; all by boat, there were no planes. We had a car but it seems we had a flat tire at least once a week. But it was easy to patch the inner tube that had failed again. We had electricity that provided light but nothing else. All our food came from local markets that sold vegetables and meat produced a few miles away (we, as the rest of the world, talked kilometers). I saw the first airplane when I was fourteen and that was at night, we did not see much. I first flew in a plane when I was thirty; since then I have flown around the world three times and a total of more than a million miles. My children flew in planes most of their lives. I went to more than one grade school, two high schools all in the same country, three universities all in different countries. As my life became more complicated, as the world got enormously more complicated, I adjusted. We all did. We learned to be dependent on washing machines, blenders, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and most of all cars, planes, and mobile phones. I did get addicted to computers I must admit. I had the first mac, I think 1983, that changed writing forever.

For more than half my life I have wondered why we changed. I was always doubtful that all those inventions after the 1950s that were supposed to make life easier actually made life better.  Different but not easier. Most of all it changed how we, humans, thought about ourselves. To me, the sustainable worlds I knew felt warm and comforting if not always easy. Today's world feels dangerous, very restricted, solitary. We used to be humans who cared and shared, who were intimately close to whatever environment we lived in: a little island far from anywhere; far up on high mountains; deserts. Why throw away age-old customs, stories, feasts, to get bleak artificial lives in exchange? Instead of entertaining communally we are now entertained. Instead of playing ball, or swimming, we watch other people earn a million doing "Sport'. Instead of hearing news from people who had been there, we watch a screen that shows edited bits and pieces of what is going on around the world NOW.

Thanks to the internet and other marvels of technology I can know what happens anywhere in the world instantaneously with a click of the mouse. What I see is extremes of poverty and wealth. I see unstable societies, countries that were never meant to be a "country', wars within and between nations. Violence and torture  almost everywhere. And we call that civilization.

Looking back, the people I knew even fifty years ago--which is not long at all even in human terms--had much less in the way of technology but a wealth of caring for each other. 

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What motivated so many indigenous people to give up what they knew; to jump in the dark, so to speak, supposedly to find a "better life'? Probably they did not choose. It was their government that was bribed to become more western. In most cases that meant some people got an awful lot richer, and more people an awful lot poorer. Now, 2012, money and the immense force of modern weapons and ways to spy rule the planet, making it more unsustainable by the day..

The only way I see to a saner future is to do away with money. Howls of protest, howls of laughter. I'm serious. If we want to survive we must stop destroying the planet, stop the systems that politicians create and keep messing with. All over the world people are overthrowing tyrants and now protesting the military who then take control. Democracies can be captured by individuals and/or fractions as is becoming abundantly clear all over the world. And all that is driven by the greed of a few huge corporations that own us.

Think about it. If I spend less than I did yesterday, and all of us do the same, businesses go out of business. Eventually the very very rich have all the money in the world but what can they do with it? They cannot bribe me, or you. Suddenly money becomes worthless. What once bought power evaporates. Then the top 0.01% own numbers in a computer, nothing more. The less money we spend the less it is worth.

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robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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