In the case of yesterday’s forum, some great topics in need of discussion came up: climate change, human population, economics, solar and wind energy, etc. I do believe that all of these are critical issues that need to be understood if we are to have any hope of changing the direction the human world is going. What troubles me however is that these topics are sort of just lobbed out there and batted around with implications that if we just refined, controlled, or reinvented them then everything will be “groovy”. The event came across as much more of a sales pitch, rather than a presentation designed to encourage understanding about the topics presented.
It is my belief that major issues threatening humanity and the planet, things like climate change, human population, loss of habitat, species extinction, war, etc. are all symptoms of a much worse “evil” and that “evil” is our current global world view that is primarily shaped and imposed by CAPITALISM or a system of civilization designed by the “elite” folks to control everybody else so that they can have more wealth and more power. And one of the keys to doing this is to consume the resources of the planet to produce expensive and complex infrastructure, designed to provide global access to more resources, more markets, and hence more wealth. Of course waste disposal, illness, or other negative side effects like climate change are denied or ignored or the cost imposed on someone else – otherwise the whole thing would not be profitable.
It is kept in place using coercive methods imposed by governments who write rules, hire military and police and other agencies to enforce those rules and keep the people in line. Huge sums of money are spent on advertising, education, and other manipulation techniques to convince people that this is the system they need to follow. And it also depends on the support of other various folks within the hierarchy to implement the rules and to reward those who do these duties. And then once it is all in place, it is difficult if not impossible for the non-elite folks to survive outside this globalized economic/political system, especially when the support systems outside the market are destroyed, outlawed, or impaired. These support systems include the likes of families, neighborhoods, small local business, and the commons of our land, air, water, etc. which are needed to obtain what we need to live.
If you’re interested in this topic, one of the best sources of explaining it all that I have found has been in the writings of anthropologist John Bodley in his books CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, VICTIMS OF PROGRESS, or ANTHROPOLOGY AND CONTEMPORARY HUMAN PROBLEMS. I am sure there are many other authors and books that have delved in to the topic from other perspectives as well.
So what do we do? That is indeed the challenge, especially when survival outside this messed up system is by design discouraged by the cultural and material infrastructure that keeps it all in place. I believe that the solution will come as we learn to unlearn all that we have been taught growing up in this system. To do that we need to understand what lies behind the curtain of Capitalism – reading one of Bodley’s or other author’s books on the topic might be starting point.
Learning to get along with our families and neighbors will be an important hurdle. These support networks have by design been destroyed or dysfunctionalized by the “system” to force us to have to go the market for things that we should be getting from our friends, families, neighbors, or even obtain for by ourselves. We need to rebuild our communities so we can insure we meet our real human needs.
Recognizing the methods we use to “numb” out so we don’t have to think about all this stuff will also is critical. These might be the obvious things like drinking alcohol, or doing drugs; but also include the less obvious like over working, or performing acts of “charity”, or participating in the games provided by the empire like surfing the internet, watching movies or sporting events, or playing other “games”, being consumed by consuming “junk” food, etc. Bruce Alxander’s book THE GLOBALIZATION OF ADDICTION is a great source for more on this topic. The solution to these mind numbing issues is not to be found through righteousness or pharmaceuticals, but by understanding that to survive in the insanity that defines our society today, one needs to numb out in some way or another.
As we do the above things, another step we need to take is to begin to understand what it is we really need to thrive and survive – or what our real human needs are. At the core they include the need for clean air and water; access to healthy food and land; and access to healthy community. The writings of Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef might be one source of information that helps to identify what it is we really need and not get sucked into buying what the market sells us.
We need to relearn how to recreate a society that is designed to meet those human needs. One example of a possible model for doing this can be found in the Transition movement, which may not be perfect, but it might be a start. This re-creation will require we meet our real needs locally as much as possible. We will need to learn to feed, cloth, and shelter ourselves. The energy we use to accomplish these tasks will need to be locally sourced and not destroy us or the planet by using it. Technology we use will need to be about helping us to meet our needs, not about increasing the profits of someone on the other side of planet or about creating jobs. Economy will be a subset of people, and people will be a subset of planet – economy will be put in its place, and not used to control us. We can no longer simply take what we want from others.
And last, but certainly not least we need to understand what it means to be human, and appreciate our place in the planet. Unfortunately our religious institutions have failed us here and instead of helping us to reconnect to the cosmos they have instead been used to guilt us into complying with consumption. This means we need to re-find that deep connection to the planet and ecosystems that are the real source of all it is we need. Shutting off our electronic devices and spending time outside in nature will be one of the primary methods of accomplishing this. Finding respect, appreciation, or perhaps even reverence for the planet will be the key to everything else.
And throughout this we start practicing and experimenting with how to do all this. We reduce our consumption, we spend time with our families and friends, we build community, we get rid of lawns and plant gardens, we grow more trees, we learn to cooperate, we stop depending on the market for our needs and start relying on ourselves and our communities, we let go of blind faith in technology, we stop numbing ourselves and start thinking, we stop listing to fools and call them out when they act foolishly, and hold them accountable for their foolish acts, and we begin dismantling the current infrastructure and reclaim it to rebuild a new society designed by the people - for the people - with the planet in mind.
So my goal for the coming year is to find or perhaps create events where these sorts topics can truly be discussed, understood, and perhaps even practiced, and not to waste time or energy going to sales pitches designed to keep the same old game going. Waiting for governments, non-profits, corporations, or other institutions means relying on the same old systems that have gotten us to where we are now – does not seem like a viable option anymore. I indeed need to be the change I want to see and I need to start living accordingly.