The Bad, The Good And The Horrid

A week ago, I was eating lunch and turned on the TV. (Sometimes I don’t know the reason that I bother since so much is disturbing to view on the television, such as murders, car thefts, nightclub shootings, wars, rapes and so on, along with nonsense programs.)

Yet I did so anyway and saw part of a show about a wealthy family that has a huge, ocean-side compound that it used in the summer-time only. (The compound was a sprawling mansion covering several acres of prime land.)

The fatuous show featured a cook going around with the mansion owner’s wife to various stores in the region to get items for the dinner meal. Then it displayed them preparing the food with the cook as the instructor. (How boring! If I want to see cooking, I can just hone my focus to more closely watch myself!)

First off, I objected to their driving (creating pollution and indirectly climate change increase) from place to place: a costly fish market, an expensive wine store, an international cheese store, a local upscale pricy farm market and so on that were not in close proximity to each other. So drive, drive, drive from one place to the next just for ingredients for one meal with great time to spare shown in the process in an extensive, time-consuming excursion going from here to there.

(What a colossal waste of a day unless one is bored and looking for an adventure! Yet who has moments for such an extravagant process for merely one meal? Obviously it is someone with too much extra time on her hands.)

Next I objected to the compound, itself, wherein the kitchen and the main dining room were the same size of the whole bottom level of my much smaller, although certainly adequate, home. Lastly I found unacceptable that this family would devote so much in terms of lavishness towards living in such a compound only for one season out of the year and devote so much that is costly for just one of their meals. … Haven’t they a more creative use for their excess money while still living very well, themselves?

Why this need to go over the top time and again for one’s own excesses and greed? Is it to prove one’s own specialness or superiority over others day after day in one’s own eyes?

The U.S.' priciest house for sale is a Bel-Air mansion that includes 7 staffers and a helicopter - LA Times
The U.S.’ priciest house for sale is a Bel-Air mansion that includes 7 staffers and a helicopter – LA Times

A glutton for punishment apparently, I turned on the TV again at dinner and saw a home for sale for $250 million USD. Why if I had it, I’d either turn it over to become a homeless shelter or divide it up so that friends of mine could live in each section of it (with its 21 bathrooms and 12 bedrooms the size of giant apartments). … or maybe I’d sell it and use the money to good causes like, AFSC, the Lakotas, who fought the Dakota pipeline initiative, and so on.

In any case, the huge property (stunningly gorgeous) and home (equally gorgeous) didn’t impress me. Instead I was disgusted once again that one family would devote so much wealth to itself, especially when the world has so much dire, urgent and pressing need.

Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate great meals (such as shown in the TV program aired during my lunch). Likewise, it is not that I shun the beauty shown by such a household and property shown on the TV during my dinner.

However, both shows raise the question: How much is enough to have for oneself and one’s own individual family? Where are the limits in wants and the desire for ever more?

I suspect that most people in the USA, brainwashed (deliberately programmed by the corpocracy) by glitzy advertisements and other means since practically birth to covet a greater number of personal belongings and bigger homes, are not much different from other people across the world in terms of desiring status, wealth, control of massive amounts of resources and power. In short, they’re a bunch of self-serving egotistical hedonists for the most part. Witness:

A random large (maybe a hundred people or more) sample some years ago in Great Britain was selected to respond to the following query. It was about whether you would want a new high-end luxury vehicle, but one lesser in value than your neighbors’ counterparts. For example, you could have a BMW M series with a 2017 starting price of $87,000 USD and your neighbors have Rolls phantom coupes with a 2017 starting price of $440,825 USD. (I updated the finances outside of the original study to reflect our current year.)

As an alternative to this scenario, you could have an upper middle class car that is higher in rank than your neighbors’ cars that are almost comparable. In other words, you could have a $40,000 USD car and they’d have cars around $5,000 to $10,000 USD cheaper.

The outcome from the study was clear. All or nearly all of the people participating in the study wanted the car that put them “ahead of the pack” even though the car was presumably less nice than the luxury one that could have been had as an alternative.

I find it very hard to figure out viable ways out of some of humanity’s dilemmas since most people, seemingly, want more goods, larger than life lifestyles and aims to acquire as much as they can, as well as be self-serving … even as they sometimes act with kindness and compassion towards others less fortunate than themselves.

As Hobbes wrote: “For the laws of nature (as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we woud be done to) of themselves, without the terror of some power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge and the like.

“Another doctrine repugnant to civil society, is that whatsoever a man does against his conscience, is sin; and it dependeth on the presumption of making himself judge of good and evil.

“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

“To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

For a man’s conscience and his judgement are the same thing, and as the judgement, so also the conscience may be erroneous.”…in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. he judgement, so also the conscience may be erroneous.

“Corporations are may lesser commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like worms in the entrails of a natural man.” – Some quotations taken from Thomas Hobbes Quotes located at

Nigel Warburton, in A Little History of Philosophy, introduces Hobbes’ main ideas:

‘[…] Hobbes, like Machiavelli, had a low view of human beings. We are all basically selfish, driven by fear of death and the hope of personal gain, he believed. All of us seek power over others, whether we realize this or not. If you don’t accept Hobbes’ picture of humanity, why do you lock the door when you leave your house? Surely it’s because you know that there are many people out there who would happily steal everything you own? But, you might argue, only some people are that selfish. Hobbes disagreed. He thought that at heart we all are, and that it is only the rule of law and the threat of punishment that keep us in check.

The consequence of this, he argued, was that if society broke down and you had to live in what he called ‘a state of nature’, without laws or anyone with the power to back them up, you, like everyone else, would steal and murder when necessary. At least, you’d have to do that if you wanted to carry on living.

In a world of scarce resources, particularly if you were struggling to find food and water to survive, it could actually be rational to kill other people before they killed you. In Hobbes’ memorable description, life outside society would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.’

But Hobbes’ theory did not end there: he wanted to find a way out of such an undesirable situation. – Excerpted from Thomas Hobbes: ‘Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ – Yale … located at

Hobbes’s views resonate with mine and the observations that I make about life surrounding me. How astonishing that he came up with his sharp insights since he was born so long ago, actually in 1588.

(I guess that humanity, driven by evolutionary mechanisms and surrounding cultures, hasn’t much changed between then and now except for one aspect. This is that our human population is driving up to be possibly 15.8 billion by century’s end and the contention for resources, both dwindling nonrenewables and renewables, will go all out in conflict.)

Please, let’s try as best as we all can to reject the status quo – to reject the tendency to go all out to live like the people residing in the two homes that I saw on the TV. If most of us can’t do so, then our worldwide resources will disappear ever faster than at our current rate of demise and we will ALL of us have to all the sooner reap the consequences of a gargantuan collective gluttonous folly!

Yes, it’s hard to resist the urge to strive up the ladder of social and economic success. It’s hard to set limits on wants and desires. Yet it can become a way of life as more and more humans keep arriving on Earth, and it must be done as an absolute imperative: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” – Kenneth Boulding

Our species, especially as the number of us keeps rising, is a perpetually and increasingly destructive species. Anyone doubting this being so needs only look at the food on his plate day after day, his clothes, the life forms (such as forest trees) that went into making his shelter and so much more in his life. He needs only to consider all of the lives of others that went extinct or simply gravely in decline when people gradually took over an area the size of South America for agricultural development and the size of all of Africa to serve the huge numbers of domestic animals that we tend on farms, and eat.

How much more can and should we people, one measly little species, take from the natural world? How much should we try to garner for our individual selves and families? How much more of our economic growth can the world subsume?

Please let’s try to curtail our ever expansive appetites for more goods, bigger than life lifestyles and huge families. If we can’t thoughtfully and deliberately do so, then nature will, I can guarantee it, do it for us. If this seems unrealistic a viewpoint, then just look at present-day Somalia, South Sudan and some other disastrous countries with their tragic and desperate results in population overshoot relative to their resource bases.

I can’t help myself. I keep thinking about an article that I read concerning the human condition according to Tim Morton. It’s here, and here’s an excerpt for reflection for anyone to further consider the way that s/he personally wants to live and the reasons for his or her choices:

Morton’s itinerary was an index of how popular the notion of the Anthropocene has become, and how deeply his approach to it resonates with our increasingly disquieting experience of the world. Poring over his books, or speaking to him in person, one starts to suspect that what is outlandish in his thinking and personality actually reflects something truly strange about the world. Over lunch, Morton ordered a chicken salad sandwich – an earlier experiment with veganism had lapsed – and we discussed the development of his thought. As he ate, I was reminded of a recent report that almost 60bn chickens are slaughtered globally every year, which, in the words of Jan Zalasiewicz, means that their carcasses have now been “fossilised in thousands of landfill sites and on street corners around the world”. That thought leads immediately to another one: about the bacterial “superbugs” we have created through widespread use of antibiotics, especially in industrial livestock production. From there, it’s only a short jump to thinking about other strange phenomena in our new epoch, like rocks formed from plastic and seashells, and changes in the earth’s rotation caused by melting ice sheets. Once you start listing these unsettling Anthropocene facts, there’s no end to it.

We’ve all got to cut back except for people at the bottom of the barrel – the scrawny ones barely scraping by to survive. If we don’t, then watch out since the results may catch you or loved ones in the snare of lacks, too.

Please don’t judge based on today’s resource base that is experienced for now in your region or based on my position as I turn my gaze forward. Just watch for yourself…

From the article at

The earth is a giant rock, hurtling through inhospitable space surrounded by a very thin film of life sustaining atmosphere. Earth’s life support systems are self-sustaining and self-regulating. However, we humans are slowly and steadily pulling this life support system to pieces. Our planet is very large and can absorb a lot of tinkering with its systems, but there are now over 7 billion of us and the amount of energy and resources we are each using is growing fast. That’s a lot of tinkering.

There’s plenty of evidence that we are pushing up against and exceeding several critical boundaries of global sustainability: by which I don’t mean some tree hugging idea of sustainability, I mean we are taking actions that cannot be supported by the earth’s systems in the long term. We’re already exceeding the earth’s adaptive capacity with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle and we’re approaching critical limits in both the phosphorous cycle and ocean acidification. Our use of fresh water is also approaching or exceeding sustainable limits in many parts of the world and we’re systematically destroying our arable land. These are critical life sustaining global processes that cannot be ignored without severe consequences.

The Living Planet Report illustrates what we know about our impact on global processes. Photograph: living planet report
The Living Planet Report illustrates what we know about our impact on global processes. Photograph: living planet report

Economists, like the nobel prize winning Paul Krugman, will counter this line of thought by pointing out that, theoretically, we can have endless economic growth because of continuous efficiency increases. If you believe human creativity is endless then you can argue that economic growth can be endless. However, in this case, like in so many, reality clashes violently with economic theory. We are showing no signs of decoupling economic growth from physical resource use. Unless that decoupling starts now and happens in a hurry, continued economic growth will push the planet beyond its capacity to sustain us – on several fronts.

Come on. Let’s in unison “get it together,” people, and it does NOT mean our using and striving to live like the households that I saw on TV around a week ago. No, it means absolute resistance to the trends that they represent.

Yes, we all have unwarranted issues whether liking travel to resorts in other lands, going on ski vacations in our regions, buying mega-mansions, purchasing excessive belongings like an inordinate amount of clothes or shoes … or whatever is the latest passion that possesses oneself. Yet can’t we force limits on ourselves? Possible???

Sally Dugman is a writer in MA, USA.


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