Wednesday 3 August 2011

Who Wants to be a Billionaire?

Yesterday afternoon at four o’ clock I went to the beach and sat on the warm shingle. I’d just been in the library reading Lindsay Curren’s article Debt downer: Thank you, sir, may I have another? in Transition Voice, about the consequences for ordinary citizens of the US government avoiding default (which has now happened).

I was asking myself what makes it possible for a billionaire minority to keep their grip on the planet’s physical resources. And to increase their plutocracy at the expense of the majority who become ever more financially squeezed, unfree and in debt... to them.

Part of the answer had come out of my own mouth the day before on the same beach as I considered my own financial resources.

“What I need is to for someone to give me a couple of million,” I mused to Charlotte.
“It’s not going to happen”, she said.

And there it was. In that simple, throwaway statement was one clue as to why this situation exists. And a perfect example of magical thinking.

Because most of us, like me (still? and being such a committed downshifting transitioner over these past years?!?), harbour secret dreams (read fantasies) of having a ‘couple of million’, or winning the lottery, or meeting a rich man or woman, or living the high life, going to all the right restaurants, being a hollywood star - or any star, wearing the latest fashions, having a big house, having a second, holiday house, having power over other people... GOING UP IN THE WORLD.

That fantasy has us in its thrall. And it's being upheld aggressively by groups like the Tea Party and their Defending the Dream agenda - see George Monbiot's recent post.

But in a DOWNSHIFT time, in a world with less available fossil fuel energy to physically drive that dream lifestyle (and what energy there is concentrated in those few hands), for most of us GOING UP IN THE WORLD is not going to happen. So we need a shift of focus. To put our energies into a different kind of dream.

Last Sunday at Bungay Beehive Day I led a Bee and Flower walk through town and gave a talk on the Healing Power of Honey in the marquee. My intent behind both walk and talk was to bring attention to the living, physical world that all of us form part of and depend on, and provide conditions for this to be experienced, even within an urbanised setting in the short time frame of 45 mins.

I asked everyone to consider the shift from having control over and needing to possess everything, including the natural world (and each other), to being in relationship and reciprocity with the living systems of the planet – our fellow plants, creatures and humans.

The walk was simple: Let’s go out and pay attention to the flowers on the way and the bees and other insects visiting them. Wildflowers, garden flowers, 'weeds', bumblebees, honeybees, hoverflies, whatever we find, wherever we find them. Don’t be concerned about names (certainly not the Latin ones!). We’re just visiting the neighbourhood to tune in and see what’s happening.

So over thirty people moved through alleyways, wildflower meadows, gardens and ‘wastegrounds’ and the library community garden, encountering everything from common mallow, ivy, echinacea, meadow cranesbill, corn marigold, virginia creeper and the indomitable anise hyssop – along with their various insect visitors.

The atmosphere was open and harmonious as we walked along. Even a discussion about the much-maligned ragwort was good-natured (see here for solid facts on this important invertebrate food plant).

Recently what well-being depends upon has been the subject of several studies. The general consensus is that once we have enough money to eat decently, keep warm, have a place to live and clean water, our well-being then depends on non-monetary things, such as good social relationships with each other, a healthy environment and engagement in life. Things that money (and the obsession with it) will never bring us.

This year the theme of Bungay Library Community Garden has been Plants for Bees and Buttterflies. Next year I’m going to be establishing a Medicine Garden, based on those very principles of well-being and how they relate to Transition. Stay tuned.

Pics: Southwold beach on the day before the US didn't default (by me); Bungay Beehive Bee and Flower Walk: Down the alleys and Dragonfly on Anise Hyssop (by Muhammad Amin)


  1. As you point out, the desire to be a billionaire is a symbol for a "simple easy way to have all you want so you'll be safe, happy, and carefree."

    Maybe we need to keep the metaphor, but give it a different meaning, i.e. "How to have the power and protection of a billionaire, without destroying your health, stealing from others, or wrecking the planet."

  2. Money just breeds insecurity and unhappiness. Do we all really believe that billionaires are happier than us? I reckon they are pretty paranoid all of the time that someone is going to try an burst their bubble, which is why they invest so much money in security and lobbying.

    The keys to happiness have long been recognised (Maslow's heirachy of needs) as meeting our physical needs for food, water and shelter - and our emotional needs for security, community, respect & self-esteem. I feel that as Mark says as long as you have your physical needs met, then your emotional ones are normally better served by having less money - less to lose, relying more on others, but unfortunately society often gets in the way of these people having respect and self-esteem.

  3. In the following article, Stop Coddling the Super-Rich, US billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett calls on congress to tax him and his friends. Worth a read: