On similar subjects...
Societal dysfunction and cancer
Community spiritThe reader can look up the definition of community spirit in various online dictionaries or Wikipedia. For the purpose of this page I will define it as a willingness or desire to contribute to one's community without necessarily expecting anything in return, although most would hope for gratitude.
I see many who do demonstrate community spirit, but unfortunately I seem to see more who just look after themselves.
Civic pride is very similar; the desire to be able to take pride in one's town, city or community and a willingness to contribute to making one's town, city or community a place deserving of pride. How could one be proud of one's community if one contributed nothing to justify that pride?
There is a shortage of community spirit and civic pride in AustraliaAt the time of writing this section of this page my wife and I had just returned home from a few days on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula. We spent some time strolling in a number of the public garden areas in the towns on the peninsula, as many tourists would do. The gardens varied from older ones that were badly neglected to new ones beautifully planned and laid out, but perhaps the point that we noticed more than any other was that almost all of them, even the new ones, needed a bit of TLC (tender loving care).
In Maitland, in about the middle of the peninsula, while walking in a park we noticed many people on the nearby golf course. Plainly there was no shortage of people with leisure time. An hour's work weeding from one or two people a couple of times a week would make a huge difference to the town's public gardens. The same could be said for most of the towns we visited.
The labours of a small handful of volunteers has turned what was mostly a patch of marshmallows into one of Clare's greatest assets (see Lions Gleeson Wetlands) and there is also a voluntary labour effort to turn a patch of wasteland in the middle of Crystal Brook into a nice park (see Crystal Brook's Central Park).
Weeding is job that requires very little skill. There are many parks and gardens in Australia that would look far better, and could be a source of civic pride for the local people, if a few people made an effort.
I suspect that many would say "It's the local government's job to look after the public gardens. Let them do it." But how many of us want to pay higher rates and taxes to cover the cost?
What do various people contribute to society?People of limited means are forced to work for a living for themselves and for their children; their income producing work and the responsible raising and education of their children is a large part of their contribution to society.
The wealthy may make a contribution, a few make a great contribution, but they do not need to make a personal contribution to society in order to live comfortably; and I hold that many of them make a negative contribution by using their wealth to corrupt government and disrupt the proper functioning of society for personal gain and that, further, this is a crime against humanity.
As individuals our consumption is largely proportional to our income and our adverse impact on our environment is largely proportional to our consumption. Consumption is a negative contribution to environment and hence society. The greenhouse emissions we are responsible for are closely related to our consumption.
In the West many older people spend a lot of time in retirement. This is a part of life in which there is great opportunity to make contributions to our communities and our world.
While this page deals more with the contribution that can (and should) be made by 'ordinary people' I believe that the broader subject is one that needs to be discussed by those interested in ethics in our society.
With capitalism, a person who has capital (perhaps in the form of a company that was inherited from his parents) does not need to make any personal contribution. He can sit back and receive all he needs from the contributions of other people. Where is the justice in this?
Even if that person built up the business himself, once it is built up he can donate money and feel he or she need no longer make a personal contribution to society.
A personal contributionDonating blood or plasma (photo on the right) is an example of a personal contribution. At the time I took the photo I was told that only one in thirty Australians donate blood or blood products, yet it is easy, takes only an hour or so and is practically painless.
The "sweat of one's brow"?In my community I see several very different types of contribution toward getting things done at the community level:
Contrast – the wealthy capitalist and the volunteerThe wealthy person donating some of his ample money can be contrasted to the millions of volunteers who mostly have very limited financial means but give massively of their time to help other people and to do good works generally.
See also my page on Corporate greed.
Those in control of fossil fuel companies such as Exxon have been publicly and very vocally denying anthropogenic climate change at the same time as being fully aware of the facts. Those who have big money invested in the status-quo are the ones who are most resisting the much needed changes away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. Those who are keeping the coal industry going are responsible for millions of human deaths each year.
In my country, Australia, people like Gina Rinehart and Clive palmer are individually responsible for thousands of deaths each year resulting just from the air pollution from burning the coal that comes out of their mines, let alone their contribution to climate change.
Also, people consume more or less in proportion to their wealth and as
consumption increases so do the resultant greenhouse emissions; so wealthy
people are responsible for far more per-capita emissions than are poor people.
How much income is enough?My wife and I live in Australia. We own our home outright and we are in reasonably good health for our age (around 70). Our combined annual income is around $40-50k and we can live on this quite comfortably. If we had more we would not be more happy.
The bosses of big corporations and the big capitalists such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, two of the wealthiest, most unethical and prominent Australians, have incomes in the millions of dollars per year. They do not needed anywhere near so much money; research has shown us that more money, beyond that sufficient for one's basic needs, does not lead to more happiness.
More money does not necessarily lead to more happinessResearch has shown that while people living in poverty may very well be unhappy, increasing wealth beyond having enough for one's basic needs does not lead to increased happiness.
For example a research paper by Aaron Ahuvia, titled Wealth, consumption and happiness included a graph that indicated that beyond an income of about $15,000 a year (1973 values), happiness did not increase with more money.
Too much?A person generally spends in some sort of proportion to his income. Spending (not investing) generally involves consumption and excessive consumption is one of the main causes of the many environmental problems that the world has.
Is stealing always wrong?When one person has far more than he can ever need and another person doesn't have enough to feed his family, I would hold that it is justified for the poor person to steal sufficient from the wealthy to buy food and clothes and to pay his rent.
How is it justified? If the poor man steals from the rich man he can feed his family – that is good for them. The wealthy man would not suffer because he would still have quite enough for his needs. He need be no less happy. The poor family gains, the rich man does not suffer.
You might reasonably ask: what if all the poor people stole from all the wealthy people? It might then come about that wealth of the world was more evenly spread; the wealthy would lose some of the power that they previously had from their money and the poor would live a little better.
Plainly, using the utilitarian justification above, for a man to steal from another who was little or no better off would not be justified.
You might reasonably say: isn't this advocating anarchy? Yes, it is, but perhaps some anarchy would be better for the world and for the great majority of the people than the present great disparity of wealth and power?
Attitude to wealthThe twenty-first century attitude to wealth seems largely to see it as something to be sought after and to see the wealthy as 'successful' and people to be admired and emulated.
We should be despising the wealthy for their greed! We should be looking at how much good they could be doing if they were to put that wealth to work improving the lot of the poor or doing good works for the environment or other worthy causes. The wealthy are especially despicable when they use their wealth to corrupt the political system for purposes such as advancing the coal industry, when that industry is causing enormous harm to the planet through climate change.
In the USA (I am not generally an admirer of
the USA) there is at least a tradition of
philanthropy among the wealthy, but this seems to be largely lacking among
the wealthy in my country, Australia.
Making the world a better place
In many ways the world is becoming a worse place year by year; see
civilisation is unsustainable.
But we can all try to make the world a better place and, while the world
might still steadily become a worse place, our efforts will at least slow the
Contribution can provide a purpose for livingI suspect that most people, at least at some time in their lives, look for a purpose. While we are young we are learning and maturing. Later many of us have children and see our purpose as helping them develop into well rounded adults. A career can, I suppose, provide something of a purpose.
Perhaps after our children have become independent adults and after retirement is when we most look for a purpose for continuing to live, something to make us feel that we have a value.
I believe that contributing to society, trying to make the world, or at least our community, a better place, can provide that purpose.
How might retired people contribute?I could go into a philosophical discussion of what constitutes happiness as compared to pleasure here, but will not take the necessary time and space. But I will point out that contributing something to one's society provides a far greater and lasting feeling of satisfaction than playing golf or sight-seeing. It provides one with a feeling that one's life is worthwhile, one is not just a burden on the rest of society.
A retired person is well placed to be active in movements to push for a better society including becoming involved in environmental activism.
It is very easy for a retired person to clean-up his local area; all it takes is some time. They could also get involved in revegetation projects, local parks and gardens, helping people recover from disasters such as bushfires, working for charitable organisations, etc.
'Grey nomads' are very well placed to contribute as they travel around.
But do they contribute?But the question needs to be asked: are those people who travel around enjoying visiting places, staying at free camping areas (such as Bowman Park in the image on the right), spending as little as possible and contributing next to nothing to the areas they visit, being unconscionably self-indulgent? (A couple of links: Regional communities question if grey nomads are getting free ride; Volunteering is good for nomads, and the communities they help)
Just in my personal experience, the Lions Gleeson Wetland in Clare (a popular wine region in South Australia) and Bowman Park also in SA, and a popular stopping place for free campers just out of Crystal Brook, could both use more voluntary workers. Weeding in particular is often needed and pretty straight forward. (Contact me at email@example.com if you'd like to help.)
TouringTourists are sometimes accused of spoiling the places that they love to visit. If you improve the place, perhaps by picking up some rubbish left by other tourists, then you can know that you have left it a better place than you found.
Your choiceYou can 'pass your time' by hitting a golf ball around a paddock, rolling a ball across a lawn, travelling; or you could contribute something to your local community. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with doing all some part of the time.
In a world that is threatened with the disaster of climate change and other threatened disasters there is a great deal that we can all contribute toward a better world.
For example, if you want to help slow climate change and ocean acidification and reduce the number of illnesses and deaths due to the air pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels you could do several things, including:
Much of my spare time is spent at Gleeson Wetlands in Clare, South Australia. In early 2014 it was unattractive and covered with weeds, since then it has been turned into a beautiful garden area that is an asset to the town. I can assure you that doing something for your community provides far more personal satisfaction than does some sort of pass-time that achieves nothing. (Also see Bowman Park and revegetating Crystal Brook Central Park.)
The people who have worked to achieve this have made this small part of the world a better place.
|Gleeson Wetlands, Clare, South Australia|
On this site...Blood donation
Some thoughts on death
Some thoughts on euthanasia
Clare's Gleeson Wetlands
Mandurah volunteers; looking after their community
Self or all? Selfishness or altruism?
Suicide as a rational decision
To oppose wind power is to support fossil fuels, including especially, coal, a compassionate person would not do it.
Why I support the local wind farm and why any other compassionate person would do the same.
External sites...Why Do Human Beings Do Good Things? The Puzzle of Altruism", by Steve Taylor; he suggested that the answer could be empathy.
IndexAttitude to wealth
Contrast – the wealthy capitalist and the volunteer
How much income is enough?
Making the world a better place
More money does not necessarily lead to more happiness
Purpose for living
Retired people can contribute
The "sweat of one's brow"?
What do various people contribute to society?