Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lazy Lions

Visiting African Lion Safari with my kids produced a new metaphor to save the Earth from humanity's follies, while taking advantage of our nature. We need to be lazy lions.

(Photo by Deb Middleton
borrowed from National Geographic)
The kids had been waiting for the lions the whole visit. Honestly, so had I. Such a creature to behold! At African Lion Safari, the animals have vast stretches of land (well, not vast compared with the Serengeti but vast compared with a zoo enclosure). There's no guarantee you'll even see lions, they could be anywhere. Yet, there they lay, sleeping in the sun, on huge cat-houses made of rocks, right by the road and completely ignoring us. Their huge feet lolled over the sides. Their giant, lion tongues hung from half-open mouths. They didn't move.

"Are they gonna just sleep?" asked my son.

"Well, they're not here to entertain us," I answered (a bit shortly I now realize - sorry!).

Over the loudspeaker, our guide chimed in on the subject.

"Both here and in the wild, lions sleep about 20 hours each day. In the remaining four hours, the females hunt."

"What do the males do?" asked my daughter, but the guide had a script to keep to, so I decided to be helpful.

"Like most species, the females do most of the work and the males fight and enjoy the spoils," I supplied.

"20 hours! That's almost the whole day," noticed my son.

"But why?" asked my daughter.

"Why what?" (this is now an automated response to the question "why")

"Why do lions sleep so much?"

"Well, it takes a lot of energy to be a lion. They're big, they have lots of muscle, so moving that body around means eating a lot. The only way to make muscle is to eat protein, which they get from hunting. If they were awake more, they'd have to eat more." I felt like I was on to something. I continued down the path.

"If lions were awake and busy all the time, then they'd have to hunt more, which is hard work, and who wants to work hard if they can lay in the sun? Anyway, if they hunted more, they would kill off the herds too quickly, then they'd have nothing to eat later. So they might as well sleep all day. It's good for the ecosystem. In fact," I postulated playfully, "being at the top of the food chain, they have a responsibility to sleep all day."

"In fact," I continued, mostly to myself at this point, "humans, being at the top of the food chain, have a responsibility to sleep all day, or bang on the drum. We use too many resources, always doing, making, producing, growing the economy."

No one was listening so I continued in my head. We're reducing the size of the herd (read: resources) too quickly, and for no good reason. What's the rush to convert all our resources into private profit?

Technology has come a long way in reducing the need for humans to work at any repetitive task. But we've decided people need to work at least 40 hours a week in order to earn enough to live on (and they don't earn enough anyway, at the lower end). We've decided we all have to work, whether we like it or not, and we've let every gain in productivity go into more productivity, instead of giving humans some slack, distributing the profit in a way that continually increases quality of life in all layers of the social stratum by decreasing the number of minutes required to earn a dollar.

We could be adding leisure instead of faster, more and bigger production. We could be adding it by increasing wages per hour and reducing hours. We could save our economy by slowing it down, expecting less of it, letting it take up less of our human activity, and making space for other creative ways to be than to work at someone else's goals for their profits, often at work we don't like that a machine could do anyway. We could value the work of caring for children, the disabled and elderly with a wage, just like the work of pushing things through factories or the internet. We could value artistic pursuits.

But what about the economy? What is it, anyway, but the construct our governments create through a rickety framework of regulation that encourages some behaviours and discourages others. The economy is a social decision, not a living entity. What we do know is that doing what we're doing is not a sustainable future.

(start of sidetrack) And anyway, maybe we should make fewer things. We could start by making fewer kinds of gum (see No New Gum). It's expensive to make stuff when you pay true-value pricing for resources (water, energy, human time, etc.). Maybe stuff shouldn't be so cheap, so we'd make less of it. Maybe there are lots of things we shouldn't be doing at all. (eos)

We could use our resources more wisely than producing more cheap, gimicky products. We could sleep all day, or paint, or make music, or write, or help a neighbour, or build a relationship, or read a book, or parent our kids with more time, love and care. We could stop expecting each other to work so hard for so little - we could, instead, support a whole new way to look at contribution in societies.

We could. In fact, we have a responsibility to our ecosystem to be lazy lions, here at the top of the food chain, before we eat everything up. Right now, only a few of us get to be lazy. The rest are hunting all day, so we can eat enough to hunt all day, to the detriment of us all and our planet.

We're close on the technology to permit a lazy lion direction for humanity - it's coming whether we want it or not, and there won't be work for all those human machines to do anyway. But will the manufactured Work Ethic culture allow our transition? Can the human species on this planet ever change its worldview of pride and shame, judgement and division, into one that affords each of us the slack to value contributions beyond paid labour?

(we can choose to entertain possibility)