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Will only hitting the bottom stop the slide downwards?

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 24 February 2011

"Within our gross national product we count industry which pollutes, cigarette advertising, ambulances to clear our highways of carnage, locks for our doors and the jails for people who break them, the destruction of the redwoods, napalm and nuclear warhead production, armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our city and television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet, the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play, the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages nor the intelligence of our public debate. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.

The gross national product measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile".

That observation was made by the eloquent Robert Kennedy in 1968. That's 43 years ago! If RFK was alive today, would he conclude that only hitting the bottom will stop the slide downwards?

RFK made reference to "what makes life worthwhile". So how can a nation on a slippery slope suddenly discover, just before hitting the bottom, what makes life worthwhile? Why would the discovery be made at one minute to midnight that too much time and material has been spent pursuing the wrong objectives?


Some people are confident that our ingenuity will come to the rescue before we are down to the economic and social level of Cro-Magnon man struggling to keep homo sapiens from disappearing altogether. Paul Gilding gives the example of the stupidity leading us into World War ll and the astonishing reorganisation which was made in a matter of months to meet the challenge when no option for escaping into delusion was left.

However, unlike Gilding's analogy of the instant turnaround in perspective when bombs started to hit the ground, we do not notice a deterioration in the quality of life if it is gradual. If the deterioration is masked by objects we have not owned before, then it is even harder to see.

RFK stated that the gross national product measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile. What about audio equipment and CDs? They are major contributors to the GNP, and they have added pleasure to a lot of lives. But are they filling a space that has been vacated by another pleasurable relaxation - such as reading a classic or friends coming over one night a week to play cards? Besides, radio running on vacuum tubes brought music into our lives and, at the time, we did not think that we needed more of it.

I will return to one year - 1944. The family, more or less, faced each other while listening to the radio. Generally it was quiz show. The radio was built into a large cabinet - so there was only one in the house. We were not so absorbed that my mum could not knit, my dad drift into a light slumber and my sister and I play a card game on the floor. The radio allowed one to do other things until something grabbed one's attention.

In contrast, TV consumes one's undivided attention. Wildlife features such as those of David Attenborough's cannot be matched by any book. But, documentaries padded with irrelevancies to keep us from escaping to something lighter, take an hour to provide the information a five-minute read could provide. All else on the tube simply kills time.

For the last two decades, TVs have been cheap enough to put one in each of the children's rooms. And, with the sun shining outside, their eyes are glued to the screen. The children even eat their dinner in front of them. It might have value in keeping the inmates of a nursing home from wandering, but on balance, the TV has sent us backwards because it has reshaped family life in a significantly negative way.


Now computer games and MP3s playing hour after hour of music removes our young people from life. The sale of that technology is also a major contributor to the GNP. The government is allowing industries which are shaping brain tissue in an unnatural and unknown way to be established - simply because they are industries.

What about the car?

My car and the one on my right moved off together as the light turned to green. For some reason, which the other driver could not explain, he immediately moved to turn to the left. We made contact at about five kilometers per hour. That is little more than walking speed. If we were both in Model A Fords, we would have continued on our way. But, we were in modern sedans. About $3000 damage to each - with the $6000 paid for by his insurance company.

Our social values determine the type of cars being manufactured. Indestructible Model A Fords won't do. And of what relevance is it to our social values that a Nepalese would have to work 30 years to earn $6000?

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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