Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Retail Therapy: Does Sadness Mean Spending?

Dan Childs, ABC (U.S.A)
Down in the mouth? Why not pick up something nice for yourself?

It’s a practice so common it has come to be called retail therapy. And in a recent study, researchers uncovered evidence of what shopaholics have known for years — that people may be willing to spend more on themselves when they’re feeling sad.

The study of 33 volunteers, to be published in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science, found that feeling sad leads to self-centered thinking — and this, in turn, can lead to a greater likelihood of dropping extra cash on something to make you feel better.

To reach their conclusions, a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pittsburgh showed volunteers either a video clip that showed grief following a tragic death or a neutral clip from a nature show. Afterward, participants had the chance to purchase an ordinary item — a sporty water bottle. They found that people who’d watched the sad video clip offered an average of 300 percent more money for the item than those who had viewed the neutral clip.
(8 February 2008)

My Cortex Made Me Buy It

M.P. Dunleavey, New York Times
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University asked 20 volunteers to taste and evaluate five wine samples, which were labeled according to price: $5, $10, $35, $45 and $90 a bottle. All of the volunteers identified themselves as moderate wine drinkers and not experts.

They said they liked the more expensive wines best. And brain scans taken as the volunteers sipped and rated the wines showed that the higher-priced wines generated more activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain that responds to certain pleasurable experiences.

But there was a catch: although subjects were told that they were tasting five different wines, in fact they sampled only three. The $90 wine was presented twice, once at its real price and once as a $10 wine; the $5 wine was also presented as a $45 wine. When the wines were offered at the higher price, participants preferred them – and their brains registered greater pleasure.

When they sampled the wines with lower prices, however, the subjects not only liked them less, their brains registered less pleasure from the experience. It seems that what these subjects really liked was the price tag, not the product.

…Professor Rangel said that the pleasure we take from something “seems to depend on our beliefs about our experience of that thing.” It’s interesting that the study also suggests we aren’t always aware of these beliefs – even though we end up paying for them.
(9 February 2008)

Slow Sex: Moving Toward Informed Pleasure

Ann J. Simonton, Common Dreams
It isn’t just fast food that reminds us fast is not always better. The frantic pace of everyday life seems to impede our ability to make changes that are increasingly necessary for a sustainable future. Many have begun to realize that a primary step toward positive social change is to slow down. Cutting edge groups like Canada’s Adbusters have been promoting Slow Week to encourage SLOW as means to enjoy and prioritize all aspects of life.

Add to that the explosive popularity of the Slow Food Movement. It gently reminds us that by slowing down we can truly savor and honor the celebration of the harvest, the smells and joy of sharing and preparing food with a like-minded community that challenges the Super-Size-Me dogma. …

Snails Unite

So, with this same gustatory excitement, let’s start a Slow Sex Movement. Using the slow food movement’s template and their snail icon-who happens conveniently to display an extraordinarily elaborate sexual dance to inch us forward-slowly. Slow Sex expresses a progressive and more humane view of sexuality. Membership is open and would include people of all sexual orientations.

… If sex is to be sustainable one would seek to build lasting relationships with other humans just as the food movement does with the land and soil. Relations would be cultivated over time rather than on a “mere grab and go” basis.

Fast sex is often cold, impersonal and can leave one feeling empty, angry or both. Slowing sex emphasizes the human connection rather than the mere surface, quickie sensations. Slow Sex is hot, engaging, satisfying and celebratory. It could promote passionate kissing, foreplay for all, hand holding and deep soul gazing all of which could increase intimacy.

… The media landscape is clearly bloated with highly processed sex. High in fat content-in terms of the lies it tells. High in calories-in terms of the burden it places on the possibility of real intimacy. It does not celebrate the beauty of imperfection, the vulnerability of tenderness and shared experience. It hasn’t time for, or interest in empathic communication about respective desires and boundaries. At best it sets people up for misunderstanding and disappointment-at worst for rape and abuse.

Ann J. Simonton is a university lecturer and the coordinator and founder of Media Watch. A reformed Sports Illustrated cover model, she is now a media activist with 11 non-violent civil disobedience arrests to her credit. Her work challenges the restrictive world of beauty, racism, sexism and glamorized media violence.
(9 February 2008)

The poverty of nations

Jeremy Seabrook, Guardian
The perpetual state of desire that we call ‘human nature’ is very particular, for it demands conformity with the nature of capitalism

Why do the richest societies on earth constantly harp on their poverty? There is apparently never enough money to do all the things we would like to do. Every institution in Britain complains about “resources” (a word always qualified by “limited” and now a synonym for money) – the BBC, universities, the health service, educational provision, policing, the fight against crime, and especially, of course, the war on poverty. Scarcely a day goes by without some sombre warning about budgetary constraints, the non-existence of the bottomless purse and the illusion of the free lunch.

To a visitor from outside our market society (an increasingly implausible tourist in a globalised system), the rhetoric of perpetual indigence might come as a shock, given the highly material excesses that accompany it. We are always having to tighten our belts, make sacrifices, go without, cut our coat according to our cloth. There is always some privation to be endured, some penny-pinching measure to take, some curtailment of our plans. Treats must be foregone, merited rewards postponed.

…This solemn perspective is bound to be reflected in people’s view of the world. There is never, even at the best of times, enough of anything to go round, and not only money: there is also a lack of recognition, a want of respect, an insufficiency of regard, an absence of consideration, a shortage of appreciation. Celebrities never get quite enough attention; the famous are always in search of more publicity. Even the rich – whose incomes have grown prodigiously in our time – dwell, not upon the power their money bestows upon them, but on all the things they still cannot afford. There is always someone in a better position, with greater prestige, of higher status and regard in the world. A state of chronic wanting, if not want, is now the common condition of early 21st century humanity.

The most privileged people on earth dwell upon the coveted goods, sensations and experiences from which the slenderness of their means estranges them. Why has the wealth of the rich world set up such an unassuagable obsession with what remains always just out of reach? How does our plenty produce such a feeling of penury, our prosperity of deprivation?
(10 February 2008)
Religious traditions are a rich source of counter-trends. For example, Buddhism has an image for the condition described by Seabrook: “hungry ghosts”. Wikipedia explains that in Tibetan Buddhism, hungry ghosts:

are represented as teardrop or paisley-shaped with bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food such that attempting to eat is also incredibly painful. Some are described as having “mouths the size of a needle’s eye and a stomach the size of a mountain”. This is a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires


The ecological economy

Hubert Bauch, The Gazette
Picture a drunk so far gone that he’s bent on drinking himself sober.

It’s much like the behaviour of governments and central banks in Canada and the U.S. in the face of a looming North American recession, suggests Robert Costanza.

In response to an economic downturn caused by excesses of debt run up in pursuit of over-consumption, the banks have slashed interest rates and governments have cut sales taxes and offered tax rebates in hopes that people will spend more on stuff and services and thereby boost the economy back to full-throttle growth. Heaven forbid they should invest it in savings; it would be the ruination of the whole scheme.

“It’s crazy, insanity,” said Costanza, who is director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. “Insanity means doing the same things and expecting a different result.”

It would seem not the best of times to be pushing the cause of ecological economics, of which Costanza is a prime mover.

He and his eco-economist cohorts preach against the classic doctrine of the dismal science. It disputes the long-standing assumption that the measure of a nation’s economic health and well-being of its society is a steadily growing gross national product. They argue that traditional economic accounting doesn’t factor in the cost of resource depletion and environmental damage involved in sustaining a perpetually burgeoning GNP.

In other words, the production of ever more “goods” is actually not a good thing. At worst, it’s said, it could ultimately lead to the end of the world as we know it

One of those saying it is Richard Heinberg, whose book Peak Everything is a recent addition to the growing bookshelf of eco-economic treatises:

“We in the industrial world have gradually accustomed ourselves to a way of life that appears to be leading toward a universal biological holocaust. The question is, shall we choose to gradually accustom ourselves to another way of life – one that more successfully integrates human purpose with ecological imperatives – or shall we cling to our present choices to the bitter end?”

And yet the measures invoked by authorities in response to the recent economic turbulence are depressingly old school, and precisely the kind of thing that’s driving us toward a bitter end, said Costanza.
(10 February 2008)