Everyone Should Grow Up Poor

There are only two relatives I’ve ever known to whom I’ve felt a strong biological connection. One of them died last month. This is a tribute to her…

I spent the majority of my early childhood growing up with my mother in a single-room add-on attached to the side of my grandmothers house in a Northern suburb of Chicago.

My mother never went to college and worked very hard to keep us financially safe doing jobs such as data entry. She is a very hard worker that gains personal satisfaction from a job well done and was always gainfully employed, so we were never poor in the hungry, homeless or other romantic sense, but firmly lower class, yes. My mom still loves to tell the story of how I didn’t understand you could purchase food without a coupon clipped from the Sunday paper. She didn’t have a lot of free personal time due to being a single parent, but made it work. I don’t think I would handle that lifestyle well, and have a tremendous respect for single parents trying to make ends meet while “being there” for the kid(s). I was even fortunate enough to get a hand-me-down obsoleted Macintosh computer from my mother’s coworker on which I typed school papers from elementary school until high school.

The land and house I grew up in had been established by my grandparents some years after World War II. My grandma grew up on a farm and filled the house walls with rural-feeling nick-nacks and small-town artifacts. The surrounding neighborhood became caught in urban sprawl and began to transform into luxurious mansions settled comfortably on 1-acre lots.

My father is a South Korean immigrant who came to America for a better life, and eventually found his place in California. The balls it takes to pack a suitcase and move to a foreign country with a pocket full of dreams continues to astound me. I recall listening to him confidently lay out his plans to run his own successful businesses as so many other Asian immigrants did in Los Angeles. Looking back on the first 18 years of my life, I now realize…

Having less in an environment of opportunity can be empowering.

When you have less, you feel like you must improve yourself to be noticed amongst peers. No one can fix a situation with a magic wand should you fail, so you must dedicate yourself to tasks because success will not otherwise come. And if you succeed, you’re not stuck with a convoluted sense of entitlement to a world full of subordinate peons. You know exactly how hard it is to make it in life because you’ve seen the sacrifices and tears from your family and friends. You chose your fate, and made it come true.

I enjoy the niceties in life just as much as the next guy (who doesn’t?), but I feel good that I don’t feel entitled to them. I know that if I get a nice dinner or fun new toy, I earned it, and I’m going to be more proud and protective of it than if you just handed it to me. It’s not just another disposable object; it’s mine because I consciously caused a chain of meaningful events resulting in a reward. Push the button, get a treat.

So here’s the deal. If you win the next Powerball jackpot, you get to keep a few million to secure your home, family and reasonable lifestyle, and have some fun while you’re at it. Go for it. Take a vacation on the International Space Station or something. I’d do the same. But you don’t get to blow $5 million in Vegas or $50 million on a toy.

You hire a financial management team and get to work doing something meaningful with your fortune (and your life) by sheltering homeless children, curing cancer, somethingMake the world a better place. And if you’re investing wisely, you’ll feed off the inherent greed of the system and use the profits to further your own philanthropy. Keep the compassion, dreams and simple contentment of being poor, and use the power of being rich to change the world.

The fated rich have not such empathy for the masses.

Do not strive to be rich. Do not strive to possess. Do not strive to control. Do not seek admiration of the world. Do not seek approval of authority. Do not strive to be popular. Do not be a pessimist. Do not dwell on the past.

Strive to be wise. Strive to be kind. Strive to be selfless. Strive to be loving. Strive to be more. Strive to do more. Strive to use less. Strive to be an example. Strive to leave the world a better place than you found it.

Strive to redefine humanity.

Sustainable Living

One purpose of my visit to New Mexico last weekend was to see what a self-sustaining single-family habitat in the Southwestern United States would.. or at least could.. look like. Several observations of which those of the region should already be keenly aware…

  • We use entirely too much water. Luxuries such as golf courses in 110 degree (Fahrenheit) heat consume an absurd amount of resources. The Governator officially declared California to be in a drought earlier this year, and Arizona… well… it’s a desert. Maybe we should lay off on the palm trees and grass, hmm? Fighting this hard against the Earth’s ecological tendencies for the sake of luxury is bound to produce the highly inefficient modes of living to which we’ve become accustomed.
  • Solar water heaters and photovoltaic collectors will be huge. Output effecientcy levels are increasing, they are approaching blue-colar affordability due to technological improvements and rebate programs, and fall in line with the ideal of consuming local resources.
  • We eat poorly, and also consume a tremendous volume of costly non-native food. Foods simply lend themselves better to certain regions and we need to be more explorative of regional food options.
  • Gas sucks. We all know it so I won’t go into it 🙁

This is a snapshot of my own macro-economic sustainability opinions, which change rapidly with the times and fall somewhere between ecological conservatism and hard-nosed financial feasibility.

Sustainable American living activists need to focus on three primary goals: (1) significant cultural change in all socioecominic classes, (2) improving sustainability technologies to produce incentives for #1, and (3) figuring out how to reduce the human footprint in economic context to make #1 and #2 plausible. Specific ideas I would like to see pursued..

  1. Focus aggrocultural subsidies away from small rural farms and onto medium-sized, community-run suburban farming initiatives which share equipment and resources. The notion of the independent, middle-American mom ‘n’ pop farm in Smallville will always be romantic, but you cannot ignore the economies of scale. We need to look at the production possibilities curve of farm size vs. output, factor in waste of transportation costs and pesticidal effects, and find a compromise which will allow significantly-sized local farms to produce native or near-native vegitation within a 20-mile radius of urban areas, while not requiring the populous to return to an aggregarian state or douse everything in chemicals. (Not that chemicals are inherently bad: just unnecessary and wasteful in many cases.)
  2. Incentivize large-scale adoption of solar water heaters by artificially raising the cost of traditional indoor tank water heaters and using the difference for solar subsidies. It’s ridiculous to spend energy heating a tank full of water in an empty air conditioned home when you could just put a damn tank outside in the sun for 10 minutes and have magnitudes more hot water for free. Sense make that does.
  3. Incentivize large-scale adoption of household solar arrays by using artificial energy costs to subsidize payments to households selling energy back to the grid via bi-directional meters.
  4. Plausible sustainability change requires working with the existing system. You can blame The Man all you want, but the world is not going to abruptly adopt better principles overnight. Changes need to come gradually–in a way people can slowly accept and adapt to–in incentives facilitated by the government, demand from the people, and interest of the industry.
  5. Ceteris paribus, chose local products and services to keep money in the region and reduce waste.
  6. Recycling costs cities too much. Trashing stuff costs citizens too little. Residents should force the issue with their municipality and compost the sanitary organic waste.
  7. The food industry needs to stop wrapping every last item in a silly little shrink-wrapped cardboard box and sell everything OEM-hard-drive-style. That is, make one box for the display, but sell the product in an extremely minimalist biodegradable packaging. This will be (1) easier on consumers since there’s less trash to deal with, (2) better for the environment, and (3) cheaper for everyone. You can put as many bright colors and wacky content on the display as you want, as well as print on the biodegradable packaging.