In the comments field of a previous post, Blue Page astutely asked me to elaborate on my reference to "the God Money" (mentioned on Monday in relation to the Gulf oil tragedy). I'd like to do so here. Being a skeptical agnostic, I try nonetheless to use the word God carefully. I used it then as an expression of my frustration with capitalist culture: with the way that corporate rights equal or sometimes transcend personal rights, and earnings reports seem to trump ecosystem health, cultural heritage, and community integrity. There is reverence in our society for the right to profit, and I think that money has become something other than what it should be: a means of greasing the "goods for services" or "goods for goods" trading system. It has become an end in itself. People kill for it, people die for it. In this way, it is treated like a deity. I'm all for ownership: I'm glad I have a house, a mule, food from the grocery store. I also think that the rights of people, animals, and the environment should be weighed carefully against the rights to property ownership and resource use. The right of BP to drill with shaky safety systems and indefensibly poor emergency action plans, the right of industrial-age "farmers" to torture the soil into submission, to warehouse animals like inanimate inventory and to feed them the dirty byproducts of other industries, the right of Ford and Toyota to manufacture gas guzzlers, my right to choose an SUV over a compact electric vehicle, or to own a car at all—these things are protected with almost religious fervor by our regulatory system, and I don't think they should be.
I don't have the answers, but I do know that economic growth has had a huge human and environmental toll. Ecosystem destruction and labor exploitation in developing nations; gushing oil and strip-mined landscapes in the US and abroad; sprawling land fills, soaring carbon dioxide levels, rapid ozone depletion, dangerous topsoil loss, deforestation—these things may once have been attributable to ignorance, but in this day and age there is surely a better way. I have no doubt that the means for wide-scale use of clean, green alternative energy and sustainable, soil-friendly organic agriculture exist right now. Perhaps it is naive to suggest that changes could be effected today—everywhere—to create a zero-carbon, world family of healthy eco-warriors. I do think, however, that it is the monetary interests of existing big business and its defense of fossil fuel-based industry, intensive production, and rapid consumption, that stand in the way of change. It goes against the "growth" model to promote green technology in the developed world, but why do we insist on growth, and at what cost?
If the true cost of a gallon of gasoline and a pound of storebought beef were measured I think we would manage, as a culture, to walk a very different path, and I think that letting consumers pay these true costs would be a step in the right direction. In broader philosophical terms, I think we should put money in its place as a tool for the betterment of human community-building. It doesn't belong on a pedestal.