Gobble Gobble NO, Slow Down

slowdown

Thanksgiving is one of those stopping points in a year—or at least it should be. But I don’t see signs around that it really is. The mad pace of life carries us from store to store, from precipice to cliff, from megabits/sec to gigabits/sec, from war to war… Tom Friedman wrote a column today extolling the new high speed Internet access network built, in part, with our stimulus money in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

How fast is that Chattanooga choo-choo? The majority of Chattanooga homes and businesses get 50 megabits per second, some 100 megabits, a few 250 and those with big needs opt for a full gigabit per second, explained Harold DePriest, the chief executive of EPB, the city’s electric power and telecom provider, which built and operates the network. “The average around the country is 4.5 megabits per second.” So average Internet speed in Chattanooga is 10 times the national average. That doesn’t just mean faster downloads.

It’s another of his raves for anything technological that speeds up commerce and flattens the globe. He does have a reason to crow besides the technical capability of this new system, which I do admit is quite spectacular, and a sign that we can, if we want, catch up with what is already happening in other parts of the world, where infrastructure projects like this are not left to the market. But what’s all that speed for. This Chattanooga system was opened with a coordinated concert between performers in LA and in Chattanooga playing simultaneously, a feat made possible by the ultra high speed of the connection.

The transcontinental duet was possible, reported Chattanoogan.com, because the latency of Chattanooga’s new fiber network was 67 milliseconds, meaning the audio and video traveled 2,100 miles from Chattanooga to Los Angeles in one-fourth the blink of an eye.

All this was preface to the guts of his column which was a plea to President Obama to seize the moment and package all his fiscal proposals to Congress in a cloak of “growth.”

It’s good to see the budget talks between President Obama and the Republicans getting off to a solid start, but we know there will be plenty of partisan fireworks before any deal is cut. With that in mind, I hope the president will reframe and elevate the debate. It is vital that he not frame this as a discussion of just new taxes and spending cuts. His guiding principle should be “growth.” Right now, the whole budget discussion reeks too much of castor oil — and which side will have to swallow the biggest spoonful.

Unlike greed is to Gordon Gecko, growth is not good for the rest of us. At least, not without some conditions and qualifications. Even Friedman knows we have pushed the capacity of the Earth well beyond its capacity to tolerate our profligate economies—the US being the worst in terms of natural resources damage. The President finally let the words, climate change, pass his tightly pursed lips, but not until the election was in hand, and he was safe from the manipulating deniers and misguided self[ish]-interests of the energy and related corporations. He certainly knows that we cannot grow economically without a fundamental change in the ways we both produce and consume. Why do we have to grow? Put people back to work, of course, but in a system which will inevitably make them more and more stuck in the nether regions of our society, while those at the top suck up the so-called benefits of growth. Trickle-down simply does not work; trickle-up or better gush-up is what has actually happened for several decades now.

“Forget growth!” Please,Tom Friedman and all the economists on whom you rely. Let’s all start using other words to signal our intentions. How about development for a start? I am not a great fan of this word, but it convey a sense of unfolding or realization of the full potential packed into the dormant seed of a rose or a redwood tree. How about fairness? We would start thinking not about growth but doing better with what we have so that those with less would have a chance to catch up. This was the thought that triggered the connection to Thanksgiving in this post. How about simply love? I don’t mean some affective feeling that serves as a reason to get us into and out of relationships. Love in my vocabulary is about the way we act, not about the way we feel. To love is to act toward and with others from a context of their legitimacy to exist as they are, not from the actor’s opinions about what they should be. A tree is a tree, not a source of firewood. A cow is a living animal, not a hunk of meat for the table. A human being is a feeling, thinking creature with all sorts of possibilities, not a source of sexual satisfaction or a placer of doors on an automobile assembly line.

These last few sentences should not be read as a plea to be a vegan or a hermit. We will do what we decide is necessary for human satisfaction, since that’s the utilitarian end to which all material objects serve in our present conceptions about who we are as humans. But it is always to go about our business with a respect toward those objects we use or consume in satisfying our so-called needs. So-called because so much of our existence today here is focused on needs we did not always have and really do not need to have at all. Speed is one of those, as is growth. One cannot live on love (the kind I talk about here) alone, but it goes a long way to substitute for more and faster. So maybe tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day, don’t rush out in the middle of dinner to crash the lines already stretched around the block at the neighborhood big box store. Don’t think about the “more” you seek, but the stuff you already have. Think even harder about those that do not have what you already have, and come up with solutions that can make life fairer for all, and send them to President Obama with a copy to Tom Friedman so he will stop harping on growth, growth, growth.

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