We need to somehow shift away from the only recognized American goal—getting rich—toward individual goals that benefit us all. It’s not that no one should be rich, but rather that being rich needn’t be the one and only standard by which we judge ourselves. The classical way of saying an American is “successful” doesn’t mean that she performed a job well and was liked by everyone. If she’s not rich, she’s not “successful”.
But the exclusive focus on wealth leads us to embrace things that make some people rich, but are bad for everyone.
Being rich needn’t be our one and only goal.
Take fracking. Fracking means fracturing rock strata beneath us with high pressure water and chemicals to release methane gas. It’s very lucrative for executives of the industry, and it provides us with cheap gas. The only trouble is that it ruins the water where it happens, so badly that the water can often actually be ignited. Sometimes it causes earthquakes. We don’t know what other evil effects there are—yet. Cancer and other diseases? Birth defects? Forest fires? Methane is also twenty times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming, so causing it to leak over a wide area has a global effect.
But the executives are all millionaires, and because they are, they think it’s all good. They fight tooth and nail to protect their windfall wealth regardless of the consequences to others. [Addendum: Range Resources in Texas in early November sued homeowner Steve Lipski for $3-million for exposing the fact that they have polluted the water so badly it can be ignited. This is very similar to lawsuits launched by the GMO industry when their out-of-control Frankenfoods turn up unwanted in neighboring fields.]
The fracking industry, like others such as the GMO industry, tries to hide what they do by getting laws passed that prevent people from learning what they actually do. Call it Big Fracking, a division of Big Oil. They purchase laws that prevent us from discovering the chemicals they use, by purchasing legislators to write their secrecy laws. They prevent studies about fracking when they can, attack studies that show the damage they cause, and pay for studies that show how safe and wonderful they are. This is all done so that a handful of rich executives can get even richer, at the expense of the rest of us. Unsavory at best, but they are “successful”.
There are many nations where driving forces
do not include getting very rich.
The difference between today’s criminal industries and the Robber Barons is that we have run out of room for them to run amok. With a world population expected to top nine billion by mid-century, we are continuously reminded of the absolute limits of the Earth.
Can we learn to be satisfied with a good life that does not involve the endless accumulation of money and meaningless property? Moving away from the worship of money, which has characterized Americans longer than our national history, would certainly be a monumental change that would take many years. But there are many nations whose driving forces do not include getting very rich at all costs. Belgium, France, Vietnam, Bhutan, Australia, Botswana… This is not to say that there aren’t rich people in these places, only that accumulating great wealth is not what motivates most people. By studying these countries and their people, we just might end up with a better country.