Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scarcity and Abundance

In my last post (Win/Win), I wrote about needing an Abundance Mentality and quoted Stephen Covey on the difference between 'the Scarcity Mentality' and 'the Abundance Mentality'. Yet I was aware as I wrote it that six posts earlier I wrote about impending collapse. (See Collapse, 7/5/10, for more on this.) How can I talk about having an Abundance Mentality when I've just said that affluence is over, we've passed not only 'peak oil' but 'peak everything' (for more on this, see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, and Peak Everything, 7/20/08), and the economy is slowly collapsing?

I think that the big question is what kind of 'abundance' and what kind of 'scarcity' are we talking about? In my post on Peak Everything I mentioned that Richard Heinberg sees declines in not only oil, and coal, and uranium, but "population, grain production, arable land, wild fish harvests, fresh water, climate stability, and yearly extraction of copper, zinc, platinum, silver, and gold". But he also points out that there are things that aren't going to peak, such as "community, cooperation, ingenuity, artistry, ... intergenerational solidarity, personal autonomy, leisure time, happiness..." In fact, some of these things may increase, if having less material goods means we decide spend less time trying to accumulate stuff and social status, and more time building relationships. What I referred to as 'the Four Gardeners of the Great Turning' (Love, Compassion, Joy, and Serenity) and 'Their Four Offspring' (Patience, Forgiveness, Generosity, and Healing) will not be affected by peak oil, climate change, or economic crisis. (See my posts The Four Gardeners, 2/14/10, and And Their Four Offspring, 2/24/10.) An Abundance Mentality sees all these things as overflowing.

And why not? In some ways these are more important than many material things and we really won't run out of them.

This is not to say that there aren't material things that we do need. I spent months last year trying to enumerate our real needs. (See my series of posts on Needs, beginning with Looking at Needs, 5/4/09, and ending with Our Needs: One Last Look, 9/19/09.) Take food for example. Many writers see food shortages coming as the oil that fuels our transportation system (not to mention the fertilizers, pesticides, and tractors many farmers use to grow the food) begins getting more and more expensive. Yet we could prioritize growing food and there are lots of possible ways we could make sure everyone gets fed. (See for example my posts on Feeding Ourselves in the Future, 7/24/08, Food (Soil and Seeds), 5/13/09, and Biointensive, 2/10/10.)

Gandhi claimed that, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.” And this may be the real point. Having an Abundance Mentality isn't the same as trying to get more, more, more. Having an Abundance Mentality is really more about being satisfied with what we have and what we really need, and working to make sure that everybody gets what they need. Love isn't going to run out--in fact, as Malvina Reynolds puts it: "Love is something if you give it away, You end up having more." And we can have an abundance of material things as well, if we make our needs few and we are willing to share. And much of what is going to become scarce is things we don't really need anyway: McMansions, SUVs, giant screen TVs and home entertainment centers, etc.

I think that cultivating an Abundance Mentality begins when you realize what real abundance is.

Quote of the Day: "Our terrible affluence is at the root of your current crisis. Somehow most people in the rich world have gotten the impression that we're not here to care about others or do good work but to get 'ahead' and accumulate stuff. Most of our energy use goes to make us a bit more comfortable, not to meet essential needs. Perhaps the most important work we can do is to distinguish between wants and needs, and to find something besides consumption to value and put at the center of our lives. My suggestion is that we put our hope for the future there, and begin to live our lives as though we hold the world--and our particular piece of it--in trust for future generations." - Sharon Astyk

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