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Excerpt from A Language Older Than Words

No One Benefits (p. 124)

From chapter "Breaking Out"

I’m not suggesting that there is no selfishness in the world, nor that the world would be a better place if we’d “stop acting so selfishly.” We would be better off if we were to act in our own best interest. No one benefitted from my childhood. No one benefits from rape. Hitler benefited no one, not even himself. Who benefits from the production of plutonium? Who benefits from the production of weapons of mass destruction? Who benefits from the use of pesticides? Who benefits from the eradication of indigenous peoples? Answer: no one you know, or would care to meet. To believe we’re acting out of self-interest would be to buy into the presumption that our way of living serves us well, and that the destruction is merely an unfortunate by-product, a grotesque trade-off made by the rest of the world.

There’s a sense in which the last part of this equation is true: the hyper-consumerism that marks our way of life is predicated on the exploitation of human and nonhuman “resources” worldwide who pay with their own misery—remember the 150,000,000 children enslaved; the billion chickens per year crammed into metal cages—to create monetarily cheap consumables. But the second half does not equal the first: the consumer lifestyle does not lead to living well, and it is not in anyone’s best interest. This is not to say that, all other things being equal, and remaining snugly within the constricting framework of our culture, I would rather be poor than rich. But that is part of the problem: by systematically eliminating alternatives—try to withdraw from the cash-and-wage economy and live in the United States as a hunter-gatherer—we’ve confined ourselves in a kind of prison.