Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Consumerism (Page 2 of 6)

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

George Monbiot has written another insightful article, this one on the problem of neoliberalism, and the fact that most people in our neoliberal society don’t know what the term means.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.

Here are my thoughts on some of the points Monbiot makes:

  • “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.”

Just like communism reduced people to cogs in a machine, neoliberalism, or market capitalism, does the same. We become consumers whose value lies in how much we contribute to the ongoing efficiency of the economic machine. We are not seen as having inherent dignity in ourselves.

  • “When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation.” Think Tony Abbott and ‘stop the boats’ in Australia.

The rise of Bernie Sanders is as much a response to the current climate as is the rise of Donald Trump. The failure of the Left has been seen by them and is responding in the rise of Sanders.

“Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed”. I remember when communism fell over in the late 1980s, Jim Wallis said the same would happen to capitalism one day. It might take another generation, but we are seeing it happening now before our eyes.

  • “it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” Perhaps one option (and there may be others along the lines of what people like Bernie Sanders are putting forward) is Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.

The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that it is an amoral system. It doesn’t take into account human nature, the fact that humans are ultimately committed to their own self-interest. That’s why it needs people in poverty to survive.

The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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Christmas in the busyness

8293158697_5a42c9bcdf_kIs it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.

Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.

I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.

I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.

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Why you need to chill out more

 

 

This little clip from ABC News 24 speaks to the common disease of our over-stressed age.

A common comment we ask people when we greet them is “Are you busy?” I do it myself sometimes. It also goes to something I have mentioned before: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

We live in a culture where we have so many options that attract us, where advertising is designed to make us perpetually unhappy by creating felt needs in us to the point where we are never satisfied until we have that next product.

A culture which is built around the god of economic growth, where the economy is king, is a culture that will quickly become addicted to making money and getting ahead.

And speaking of addiction, when we have so many options available to us, so many options to titillate us and satiate our insatiable appetites for more, addiction will be rife.

Long may we remember what is really important to our psyches, to what Christians have often called our souls (though we have incorrectly understood our souls to be that which will go to heaven when we die. Jesus never meant the term “soul” to be understood in that way).

Indeed, what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our souls in the process? In a culture that is fixated on the self as number one, the old wisdom of denying yourself, embracing life on life’s terms and following in the footsteps of Jesus is not popular, including in our success-oriented churches.

What is central to being human is relationship and connection. In a word, love. Loving connection with a Source of Love outside of ourselves and greater than ourselves is what the soul needs. And when that love is then directed in connection towards others, humanity lives at peace.

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. It is much more interesting than that. The words of God in the flesh 2,000 years ago ring true in our over-busy and over-stressed 21st century culture.

How to overcome your addiction (yes, yours)

Hi, my name is Nils and I’m an addict. And so are you.

Most of us don’t have the obvious addictions like drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex. But we all have attachments, certain beliefs about ourselves and the world. Everyone of us is addicted to certain patterns of thinking. If you’re not sure about that, a great book to read about it is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May. 

We live in a society that places way too high a value on feeling good. When that happens, especially at the expense of relationship and connection, addiction thrives and shame eventually sets in. We substitute feeling good about ourselves for feeling good.

In our culture, addictions take many forms. We are addicted to our smart phones, to shopping, to making more money, and it is killing our souls. If you don’t think you are addicted, try stopping for a few weeks and see how you feel.

Research is now showing that there is a definite link between the lack of connection in our society and addiction. As the above TED talk points out, in the United States, the number of people who can say they have close friends to call on in a crisis has been diminishing since the 1950s. The same would be true in Australia, as we are a very similar culture which is enormously influenced by the US.

Johann Hari, in the above talk, also says this:

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How to recover from your FOMO

camp, marshmallows, fire, smoke, burning, wood, roasting, toasting, outdoors, camping, stikes, desserts,

“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliott

Do you ever have the attitude that, no matter where you are, you want to be somewhere else? I do.

A friend and colleague of mine has been talking a bit lately about FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It is the disease of the age. There are so many options in our lives these days, so many things to do, people to see and places to go, that we suffer from choice anxiety.

What this results in is an attitude of “keeping our options open” so we don’t miss out. But in the meantime, we end up not really experiencing anything properly because of our fear of committing. Continue reading

Loneliness kills more people than Ebola ever will

Great but tragic article from George Monbiot on this age in our existence being known as the age of loneliness. Check out some of these startling quotes:

  • “Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.”
  • “Structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism.”
  • “For [all our technological and material prowess], we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.”

Is Australia a nation of idiots?

australia-flag-mapAs we come to another Australia Day and thank God for the public holiday, I think it would do us well to have a read of a couple of very good articles decrying the fact that we generally live in a nation of self-centred idiots.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, Sam de Brito pointed out that “The ancient Greek word idiotes, from which the English version is derived, meant “one who put private pleasures before public duty and who was, for this reason, ignorant of everything that mattered”.

Is that the general perception you get when you watch commercial television in this country and listen to our political leaders spout three-word slogans? De Brito goes on to say that, in ancient Greek society, “the famous Greek statesman Pericles is recorded as saying: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all.”

In the last decade or so, Australians have become very cynical of our politicians. And generally for good reason. Question Time in our Parliament is shown on overseas news networks as an example of the abuse and name-calling that a nation’s elected leaders can stoop to.

The other article that came to my attention was Corinne Grant’s piece in The Hoopla, pretty much saying the same thing as Sam De Brito. Calling to mind our tendency to want to pacify ourselves with mindless pleasures while the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Grant, in her own comedic way, gives the example of satirising our phobia of asylum seekers by saying “The sooner we send ‘em back to get killed in their own country, the sooner we can stop worrying about them taking all our car parking spots at the supermarket.”

Have we become a nation of self-centred morons who passively sit back in our comfy chairs and blame asylum seekers for causing us all this trouble as we flick the channel over to the next episode of Million Dollar Minute? While of course we can’t label all of us in this way, it is a general perception of many Australians that we just don’t care about asylum seekers, what’s happening in Syria, or anything that has to do with what really matters in life, as long as I’m alright.

So what’s with this selfishness? How can we be so blind to the genuine needs of others and so gullible, so unthinking, about what we are told by our media and politicians? I see it as largely about protecting a way of life. Twice in recent years, Credit Suisse has voted Australia, per capita, as the richest nation in the world. No one wants their comfortable way of life threatened, and as long as “I’m alright Jack”, I don’t really want to know about the bad news I see on TV.

When we are so rich, we can easily become blinded to the difficulties of people outside our circle of reference. And when the media encourages this attitude by furthering our demonization of people groups such as asylum seekers and outlaw bikers, an unthinking populace tends to go along with it.

Our political leaders are equally culpable. Our most recent Federal Election campaign was characterised by its negativity and lack of genuine policy discussion. And we the people have become numb to it. So, when our Prime Minister refers to the complex situation in Syria as a war between “goodies and baddies,” we barely bat an eyelid. After all, we’ve just thrashed the Poms in the cricket. That’s what really gets our adrenalin pumping.

Our comfortable lifestyle is also a result of our history since European settlement. We are a nation that has never had a civil war (you could say there was one against our indigenous people but that’s more genocide than civil war, and that’s another story), and we are not bordered by a host of other nations like Europe is.

People often question why Europe has had so much conflict over the years. Why can’t they just get along and stop fighting each other? When you consider the fact that most conflict is over issues of land, you can see why the fact that there are so many different nations and cultures in Europe has fed so much conflict. That plus the fact that some of those conflicts go back centuries, a good deal longer than the history we have known since European settlement. In contrast to Europe, we are a nation surrounded entirely by coastline – “girt by sea” as our national anthem puts it.

Our love of pleasure while trying to ignore those aspects of life that make us who we are is a reflection of a lack of a sense of what we think life should be about. It was 25 years ago this year that John Smith wrote his magnificent Advance Australia Where? (different to Hugh Mackay’s more recent book of the same title). Smith’s book was a brilliant analysis of why a country with such material riches has such a tragic rate of social statistics. The tagline of the book was “a lack of meaning in the land of plenty.” That said it all then and it says it all today.

I am convinced that meaning lies only outside of ourselves. The more we look for life inside ourselves and in the idea of “individual freedom” as it is thrown at us by popular culture, the more we are sucked into its vortex and the more we lose a sense of who we really are. What I have found through living life with its associated consequences, good and bad, is that real meaning and ability to cope with the vagaries of life is only found in following Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived in a culture that was in some ways very different to ours, but in other ways was very similar. People in 1st century Palestine wanted their good life just like we do.

The way Jesus handled this desire in people was not to criticise them for having the desire, but to accept them for who they were as people while pointing out better ways to live the good life. If we want to be first, he said, be first at serving. If we want riches, seek riches in heaven. That will give us what we are really after.

Thankfully the church in Australia is talking a lot more these days about issues of meaning and identity. Churches run courses on depression, addiction and other critical life issues. Despite the dumbing down that we generally see in popular culture, many Australians are searching for a genuine spirituality as they realise that something is drastically wrong in a country where we are told that life could be a dream if only we won that elusive lotto draw. In some ways, the church is answering the call.

The search for what really matters in life is one that lasts a lifetime. It is a journey of discovery, difficulty, joy and love, especially when we do it with others who are on the same journey with us and accept us for all our foibles. May this Australia Day be more than a celebration of (hopefully!) another win over the Poms in the cricket, but a genuine reflection of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. Our destiny depends on it.

What does the end of poverty look like?

wealth povertyA few days ago a colleague at work sent through a fascinating article by the son of Warren Buffett. Some quotes from Peter Buffett’s article are as follows:

  • “People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?”
  • “What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.”
  • “Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.”

Fascinating points. When we work for a better world, are we just dragging people into a consumerist way of life which perpetuates the very poverty we want to alleviate? As Buffett says, doesn’t this all just feed the beast? What does the alleviation of poverty look like? Is it like the new society described so beautifully in Isaiah 65?

This is why just bringing people out of poverty is not enough. Changing structures which keep people poor must also take place. If there is no advocacy, then the work of development and relief is pointless.

What this reminds me of is Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity Without Growth, in which the author lays out a blueprint for a system that works in a world of finite resources. A book well worth a read, along with the above-mentioned article.

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