Diagnose: Affluenza

Ein unbefriedigendes Streben nach Meer…! (auf Saltspring Island, BC, Kanada)

In einer Jahreszeit, wo die Medien sich wälzen in der Fülle der Berichterstattung über Grippe Erkrankungen (zum Teil ausgelöst durch das Influenza Virus), scheint es mir wichtig ein viel grösseres Gesundheitsrisiko in der westlichen Hemisphäre mit ähnlichem Namen zu betrachten.

Affluenza: 1. Ein schmerzhafter, ansteckender, sozial übertragener Zustand von Überforderung, Schulden, Sorgen, Ängste und Verschwendung ausgelöst durch das ungehemmte Streben nach Mehr. 2. Das blähende, deprimierende, und unbefriedigende Gefühl das entsteht durch die Versuchung immer seine Nachbarn übertrumpfen zu müssen. 3. Eine Epidemie von Stress, Überarbeitung,  Verschwendung, und Verschuldung verursacht durch das Streben nach gesellschaftlichem Erfolg und materiellem Reichtum. 4. Eine instabile Sucht nach Wirtschaftswachstum. (nach www.affluenza.org)

und ein möglicher Therapie Ansatz:

Degrowth (“Entwachstum”): die beabsichtigte Umgestaltung der ökonomischen Systeme, weg vom ewigen Streben nach Wachstum. Für Wirtschaftssysteme, die über die Grenzen ihrer ökologischen Grundlagen hinaus operieren, beinhaltet das eine geplante und kontrollierte Schrumpfung um zurück in ein Verhältnis mit den natürlichen Grundlagen unserer Erde zu kommen, allenfalls durch die Schaffung eines ausgleichenden Wirtschaftssystems (Gleichgewichtsökonomie).

nach: Serge Latouche, “Growing a Degrowth Movement,” in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2010 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), p. 181

für weitere Gedanken über das Krankheitsbild Affluenza, klicke hier: Affluenza

For an English version, click here: diagnosis: Affluenza

The ascetic in the palace – Ein Asket im Palast

Statue of Nicholas de Flue, a 15th century ascetic and hermit - credited for peace building advice to various governments. - Statue von Bruder Klaus in der Jesuitenkirche in Luzern. Seine Ratschläge an verschiedene Regierungen gelten als friedensstiftened.
Statue of Nicholas de Flue, a 15th century ascetic and hermit – credited for peace building advice to various governments. – Statue von Bruder Klaus in der Jesuitenkirche in Luzern. Seine Ratschläge an verschiedene Regierungen gelten als friedensstiftened.

The ascetic in the palace

Der deutsche Text folgt weiter unten

A hermit lived in a simple dwelling outside city limits. He was revered as a holy ascetic; many people were seeking his advice. Even the head of government became aware of him. She wanted to get to know this man. One day, she appeared in front of the cabin and asked him, whether he wanted to move up to her stately house.

“If you think so”, replied the hermit, “I will follow you anywhere.”

The head of government was surprised, but did not loose her composure. She did not anticipate that the hermit would accept her offer. Would a true ascetic not have to refuse such an offer? The head of government had some doubt. But, because she made the offer, she took the man to her stately house where she arranged for a beautiful and comfortable room and a delicious meal.

What did the hermit do? He enjoyed the beauty and the comfort of the room as well as the delicious food. Continue reading “The ascetic in the palace – Ein Asket im Palast”

Is Providence Road a dead-end street?

Is Providence Road a dead-end street?
Is Providence Road a dead-end street?

When I think about the extent of misery I described in “Mapping it out”, there are many questions that come up for me:

When is this misery, this crisis going to end? This statement implies where we generally see the problem: The misery of “poverty amidst prosperity” seems to be the apparent problem that needs to be addressed. Why else would we find evidence of hundreds of charities and social services initiatives, both from the public and the private sector in Kensington?

Poverty is not the problem – Affluence is!

The early church fathers (5th century) have formulated it this way: “Some people are indigent for the very reason that others hold a superfluity. Take away the rich man and you will find no pauper. No one should own more than is necessary but everyone should have what they need. A few rich people are the reason why there are so many poor” (Pelagius, as cited by Wallis, p.116)

There is nothing wrong with wealth in its original meaning of the word: Being well. But affluence has nothing to do with well-being.

Affluence in the United States refers to an individual’s or household’s state of being in an economically favorable position in contrast to a given reference group.” (Wikipedia)

Jim Wallis describes how that dynamic of maneuvering into a favourable position for individuals, households, or corporations has led to a rat race that is ultimately destructive for the world. We seem to have lost some old fashioned values, like the concern for the common good. It is a sense of individual entitlement (“it’s all about me!”), and the instant gratification of wants (“and I want it now!”) that has taken over.

And we are not satisfied if we have all we need: The consumerist discourse suggests that we need to compete and get ahead of everybody else. Keeping up with the Joneses is one of the symptoms of affluenza, a non-medical disease that has become widespread in affluent societies:

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.”(http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/)

Wallis describes how the market has become like a god. It is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. We have subjected ourselves to the power of the market forces to the point where we start realizing and suffering from the symptoms of affluenza: This unfulfilled feeling.

However, the market does not give you the comfort of the divine. It is not all-loving. If we feel unfulfilled, the market will produce yet another consumable for us and will give us the promise that everything will be taken care of. It sounds like providence

Kensington is a prime example of the hollowness of that market providence. It is not meant to be shared among all human beings. It is not meant to be shared for the sustained well-being of all of creation. Most of us are aware that natural resources are limited. We have made everything on this planet and beyond a commodity that can be exploited for short term gain. Few decisions are driven by the concern of the seventh generation from now.

A perpetual and unregulated growth society needs millions of impoverished and middle-class people that sacrifice themselves and contribute to the extreme accumulation of wealth by a few. Wallis gives stunning examples of the growing gap between the rich and the rest in America and the world. The 400 wealthiest people in the United States control more assets than the 160,000,000 people at the bottom end of the wealth spectrum together!

And the gap is widening every year. That is why I am convinced that poverty is not the problem. Once we rediscover that we are happier with less, and that we are all in this together, we will be heading towards a state of providence. If we redesign our economy and polity, as an expression of the divine will, there will be enough to meet the needs of every human being.

Street scene along Providence Road in Media, PA
Street scene along Providence Road in Media, PA

In the meantime, the self-proclaimed “road to providence by perpetual and unlimited growth and consumption” is indeed a DEAD END. It has led to the financial collapse of recent years, and it will lead to further crises and catastrophes down the road.

Unless we decide to plan for de-growth and create a culture of sharing, we will have to ask ourselves again and again: when will this misery going to end? Wallis suggests that we better start with the question: “How is this crisis going to change me?”

Wallis, J. (2010). Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street; A moral compass for the new economy. New York, NY: Howard Books.

Banking and integrity – the good side of money

For the third time in my life, I have become co-owner of a bank. This seems like a contradiction for a person who embraces voluntary poverty, strives for a simple life, aspires to the ideal of non-possession. Well, I call it a necessity on the way.

The meaning this step has for me is the reason why I feel led to share this unspectacular event in a person’s life with you. I am very critical of the consumerist-capitalist paradigm and dominant economic system. I am deeply suspicious about the integrity of the banking system. These banking institutions embody much of what I see is missing the mark in the global discourse of affluence.

Intriguing pattern of light - Art installation by Niki Saint Phalle in the historic grotto at the Royal Herrenhäuser Gardens in Hannover, Germany
Intriguing pattern of light – Art installation by Niki Saint Phalle in the historic grotto at the Royal Herrenhäuser Gardens in Hannover, Germany

Continue reading “Banking and integrity – the good side of money”

The time for giving – global needs you would have never dreamed of

Over the last few days, I came across several writings in the blogosphere about aid. It started with the blog from a Norwegian family that inquired whether providing employment for a person from a marginalized context (read: Third World country) could potentially constitute a form of development aid at the private, most direct level.

Is hosting an au pair the most direct form of developmental aid maybe?
I´m not being cynical. It is a sincere question. (from Au pair host: “Development Aid?“)

In response, I offered some of my own thoughts for finding an answer:

…However, I have some doubts about the notion of development aid. In the first case, the mother and child have migrated from the less affluent to the more affluent context due to marriage. They have uprooted themselves to significantly improve their social and hopefully economic standing – this is what I call upward mobility. There is no development in Kenya associated with that.
In the second case, the young woman has returned with hard earned and saved cash and is able to run a family business. At least that will have a development effect in the country of origin. But the process is a form of migrant labour, or maybe another form of remittance.
I think that if a person from a marginalized country comes and works as au pair in a highly privileged country and is treated like a human being and not simply as cheap labour, it is a noble exchange.
But it does not constitute charity:

Nick Negerli - the ubiquitous guilt-absorbing church collection boxes of a recent past (photo credit: vgntramp.wordpress.com)
(photo credit: vgntramp.wordpress.com)

Continue reading “The time for giving – global needs you would have never dreamed of”