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Economic Addiction, Withdrawal, and Clean Sustainable Living

"Man writ large"...that's our culture, our society, our community. Communities can become addicted...and families...and individuals. It's time to take a hard look at our economic addiction.

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Something's been bugging me about the TARP economic bailout, the auto company bailout, the stimulus package(s)...and all the talk about free enterprise and government regulation and what the helllll are we going to do??@!@

For one thing, it has brought an awful lot of cliches and folk sayings to mind! Things like "live by the sword, die by the sword", "don't put all your chickens in one basket", and "we're addicted to oil". Well, maybe that last one isn't folk wisdom, just an observation by a political lame duck.

What's bothering me is that "everything" is centered on the economy.

I grew up different than most of my contemporaries. And it wasn't perfect. But we survived every downturn, our breakwinner's broken arm and total loss of income for several months. What can I share with you about that lifestyle...and how we can learn from it?

Sustainable Family Compound

My parents built a sustainable family compound -- and I say compound because it was more than a farm, more than a small business, more than a multi-generation community. It was all of those plus the intersecting benefits of those elements. It was greater than the sum of the parts.

What's bothering me about the current economic solution-search is that it is focusing single-mindedly on "economics" -- the exchange of money. It's leaving out the non-monetary exchange of goods and services among family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, hobby buddies, and even prospects and customers.

I realize that government runs on "money". Taxes and votes matter to politicians. Businesses have a big broader mandate ... they run on revenue, innovation, good will, word of mouth, and distribution chains. Families run on income, exchange, and solvency.

Monetary resources in the form of debt, revenue and stock are a large issue for government and business they can "print" money, stock, or more easily attract debt.

Families used to have to live on their earnings, and that's why older houses are small, there were smaller, simpler cars, etc. Now that business lured both adults and most of the teens out of the home to get jobs...they have also lured them into debt: larger homes, larger and more cars, more stuff to fill those larger homes...and less time for family and friends. So more loneliness leads to more boredom and more shopping, more hours at work, and more loneliness. And more debt.

The Solution: Civilization

It's time for a brief history lesson. Tribes. Families. Communities. Arts. Education. Democratic participation. Industrial Revolution. Information Revolution. Demise of the family. Debt Revolution...

There you have it, the history of civilization in one paragraph!

So what's next?

The debt revolution is like being addicted to any addictive substance: sugar, wheat, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine...or cocaine.

It kills you or you get clean. And don't go there again!

This economic gully washer is our form of cultural drug rehab. We're in withdrawal and it is certainly painful. Think Enron. Lieman Brothers. Maddoff. Bush. China. Russia. India. And your job.

It takes a personal decision to get off addictive substances. Or addictive processes.

Have you given some thought to your own addiction (or lack thereof...there are a few of us who have avoided the cultural crush of debt and overspending and extreme lifestyles).

You might want to consider your own list of addictions and "guilty pleasures" that might include some of the following.

  • Stuff: jewelry, furnishings, collectibles
  • Gluttony: excessive and unhealthy food, drink and snacks
  • Travel and Transportation: excessive vehicles in size or number, excessive travel for fun and business
  • Housing: too many square feet of indoor space per person vs. outdoor connection with nature
  • Power and prestige: work excessive hours, obsessive thinking about work and networking

And you might press this "addictive" list up against what has been pushed out of your life. The balance of a civilized approach to your short years on this planet.

  • Family: genial, respectful, supportive family relationships
  • Friends: variety of caring, supportive encouragement, sprinkled with fun and joy
  • Neighbors: casual fun, security collaboration, children's playground and open houses
  • Innovation: time for productive, creative hobbies and thought-leadership development of your intellectual gifts
  • Self direction: maybe self employment or a charitable project
  • Community: free-time and worktime interchange with local businesses, organizations and interesting characters across town.
  • Lifelong Learning: awareness of the complexity of life, personal skills, political participation, spiritual exploration and so forth and so forth!
  • ...and so forth!

One must have HOPE in order to undertake breaking an addiction. And once you have hope, you must back it up with a system for change. The process is longer than you probably think. It is also more achievable than you might think.

Human beings are versatile, and very goal driven. We just need a goal. Preferably, a sustainable, healthful goal.

What works best for you?

What is sustainable and healthful for you?

Answering these questions is where your hope begins. You might not have an immediate or complete answer at this point, but you know in your gut what you enjoy, what gives you pleasure, what you dream of. That's the seed in your garden of hope.

You can build practical plans around your core values that are achievable, one step at a time. That's the same process as rebuilding a life after a chemical addiction is broken.

Clean living has a very different scale, very different payoff and all that old, unrealistic euphoria must go.

And so must our euphoric cultural goals of MacMansions, Ferraris, three cars per family, plastic everything, wasted natural resources, and working 80 hours a week. Would we REALLY miss those things? Really?

When we have quality relationships to look forward to? And simple, delicious food served with joy and time to savor them? And the beautiful smile of a child? And watching the sunset?

Clean living has its perks!



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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