04 May 2011

What to do, what to do?

Honestly, I feel as if my reflection has become more reactionary than reflective. It is interesting to notice. It might always be that way.

The image is a 1954 ad from Monsanto posted on Good. I clearly remember hearing an ad on my little red, white and blue transistor radio in about 1967 releasing a report definitively showing that people born after 1960 would be likely to live until 150 years of age or longer because of our miraculous mastery of chemicals. At the time, I sure hoped I had been born in time to get in on that. I checked in on this memory from time to time growing up, looking for evidence that it might be the case. Later I was convinced that this was exactly what was meant by having forgotten the Tao, and was a recipe for a short, painful life, rather than some imagined longevity and immortality.

I seem to write and talk with people a lot about what not to do. I hope it is clear that this is not meant simply as a moral injunction, or some sort of answer to something. It simply seems to me in my own life that there are things to cease, the cessation of which makes the field of possibility and whatnot available. The cessation is a kind of very simple ground for cultivation. Such cultivation can be understood esoterically in terms of simple practice, but it can also be understood as the cultivation of community and a balanced relationship to our embodied, enacted presence on the planet. Such cessation also requires a component of awareness. It is then something about an integration of state and action.

The what to do itself does not seem that complicated in and of itself. That is true for me and Donald at any rate. The complication arises in the face of what seems to me an unbalanced and increasingly complex way of being and acting on the planet together. Which is to say that complexity arises from the connectedness of structure and dynamic interaction... sometimes called life. In the moments and ways that we are unconscious of our production of and participation in such interrelatedness it can occur as if the complexity were given full blown, as a pre-condition of reality.

Here are some things to do and stop doing, from my point of view. I am not particularly good at these things. In some cases I lack the necessary skills and I have not yet done the simple things to acquire those skills. The disposition in which such things are stopped, is as important to me in many regards as stopping them. This is so much the case for me that even having successfully checked something off some list, but in a way that was consistent with its existence in the first place does not result in the fundamental cessation I am attempting to talk about here. With regard to my 'past' life I feel I have done remarkably well in many regards. With regard to the actual planetary condition and appropriate, balanced living and participation with that, I would say I am still more or less at the level of complete and utter failure. This does not particularly bother me since I view that as a necessary and important part of the process. This does not constitute a justification of any sort, unless I make it so. That may bother you.

The list is a list for people living in and to some extent self-identified as a member of a consumer based, industrialized social contract and financial economy. Before you read this imperfect, incomplete list may I ask that you consider with regard to the items something like "If I could do that, and still have a meaningful, satisfying life (assuming you have that now), would I? If I could do that and have a real sense of an enriched life, would I?" Mostly, I think it is more like we often do not actually experience our industrialized lives as joyous, meaningful, participatory, etc. and have some formula about how they could become that way. We have some equation of something missing... If only X, then!... We experience our lives as a kind of problem and are working out how to solve it. Recently that formula has become consumerism. So abandon for a moment such formulae if you can. If there were no problem, in which of these things in terms of intent, form, feel, result, etc. might you participate?

  • Actively engage in local community and the support of local community wherever you are. Though this includes socializing and simple entertainment, that is neither the whole nor intent of it. Such engagement means an engagement in the planetary systems as they are expressed locally. This is perhaps the most important thing to do. One of the most important aspects of this is that meaningful, 'do-able' alternatives arise out of this local cultivation of community. The values and enjoyment of life arise out of this. It is this very activity that makes 'transition' or change in 'way of life' meaningful and enjoyable. This is not xenophobia or ethnocentricity. Quite the reverse. The local engagement must be consistently and thoroughly reflective about the global conditions. It is in great part our layered and ornate coping mechanisms that keep us more or less ignorant of and distanced from global conditions and the relationship our local communities and individual lives have to those conditions. We do not live in any immediate way with the consequences of our actions. (I am doing 'ok' at this in some ways, failing spectacularly in others.)
  • Stop buying things. To really do this it might be necessary to become aware of the motive or set of appetites involved in buying things. Based on that awareness a different level of discernment about our participation is possible. Is that 'unpatriotic' to suggest? Has consumption become patriotism in the industrialized world? "Stop buying things" means stop participating in dependencies of debt based global supply chains as they are expressed in your local community. I recognize that this simple action would apparently destroy the globalized consumer based economy. It is amazing really. If we stop buying things, apparently the world as we know it will come to some horrific catastrophic end. In great part it is our organization around this artificial economy that is producing many of the effects that would have anyone ask 'what should I do?' in the first place. This becomes very difficult in the industrialized economies and societies since there is apparently no alternative. We have worked to make it this way. It is based on a dynamic of dependency so of course it seems as if there is no alternative. We are left feeling "how will I live, if I stop buying things?", though we may not say that exactly. I do not know, but I suspect that many people in the industrialized economies could go a long, long way down the road of not buying anything for a long time without actually encountering that question. In this area and several of the others, we might consider shared models for existing and necessary 'assets' such as cars, houses and offices, etc. For instance, before you buy anything, and after an actual consideration of appetite and necessity, then consider how that same value or function might be provided in the context of social fabric. If you cannot find a way for that to happen, begin working on that. In the current system 'not buying anything' is the only actual basis for 'democratization' since we have so thoroughly hijacked the possibility for meaningful social contracts. If you are organized around the participation in the social contract based on industrialization, consumption and the maximization of profit, you are systematically preventing an equitable or meaningful social contract from arising. Sadly, I feel the ultimate outcome of that is likely to be even larger scale violence, whether human, planetary or both. (I am doing pretty well at this in most areas, strongly aided by the fact that my efforts to stop participating in global supply chains of the consumer economy also means I don't have any money. Amazingly the consumer economy does not actually care about this and scales itself such that should I wish I could easily spend the majority of the no-money I don't have on things I don't need and constitute no real value in my life in any way. I also have a sense of historical responsibility about addressing this, which I feel should not be confused with guilt, shame or other such dynamics.)
  • Become involved in local food and 'supply chains' in general. Localize food and 'supply chains.' Of course this is a correlate to 'stop buying things.' You cannot actually localize the globalized, industrialized 'consumer economy' and way of life. If I stop participating in the artificial economy, which currently provides all of my 'goods and services' (and the energy for that) how will I eat? What will I wear? Where will I live? Become involved in local food. Without that involvement you cannot hope to see where the actual boundaries of dependency and necessity might be. This goes for water, transportation, built environment, food, energy and economy altogether. (I am doing ok at this in terms of participation and supporting community activity around food and localization, but really failing in terms of successfully growing my own food, which is perhaps one of the simplest and most important things to do.)
  • Explore and learn to engage in circular economies and webs of localized value exchange. Even notions of steady state economy still have the point of view that production (or 'transformation processes' as Daly is now calling for: http://steadystate.org/transformation/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DalyNews+%28The+Daly+News%29) necessarily produces 'waste.' Question and explore this assumption. The notion of 'waste' requires something like an inside and outside. It might require a particular use orientation with respect to 'work.' Build local economies of community, grounded by an understanding of both local and global carrying capacity. Shift your economic reckoning from debt based reasoning to an economy grounded in energy exchange and the cyclic nature planetary systems. Consider development and growth intrinsic, rather than extrinsic to such a process, as Daly mentions. (I have been working on this for 5 or 6 years now with limited success, probably related to my failures in the area of community.)
  • Get rid of your (the) private car. It is very hard to do many of the above when your life and what you feel is possible to do or not do is based on the ideology, culture and infrastructure of the automobile that has arisen in this country as a kind of icon. A car does not equal freedom. Driving is not actually a rite of passage, or at least not a healthy one. This is a very basic structural and ideological shift. In industrialized economies so many aspects of what we understand as our 'way of life' become impossible without the car. Well, many of those now impossible things are only possible because of the radically unbalanced nature of our lives, and produce radically unbalanced consequences. Many of the impossible things become possible and even enriched in the process of considering together how we might want to conserve something like our children being able to play and learn together in the absence of the private car. Actually, stop traveling in ways that involve the globalized supply chains. Of course, get rid of your TV. Retain access to the emerging global conversations. Perhaps have one 'device' that allows you to keep in some sort of communication. Think carefully about the nature of that device, private, shared or communal, and the consequences of having it or not having it. (This is mostly done at a personal level, but I am still in all the infrastructure of it. I mean, no car for many years now, but still typing this on a coal fired computational device, living in a car-scaped world, etc.)
  • Re-purpose the existing built environment and 'left overs' from the industrial era. Your footprint is directly related to infrastructure as well as personal behaviors and way of life. Anyone who has attempted to reduce their individual or household footprint within an industrialized economy and infrastructure realizes this very rapidly. Hence the importance and prioritization of engaging at the level of local community. It would be very consistent with industrial era values to simply 'throw away' existing infrastructure, or ignore it as obsolete. At the same time this infrastructure and built environment can't be maintained as it is. It is not viable even with regard to the assumptions of the consumer economy. Though this includes scavenge and re-use it also means repurposing. We will need to re-purpose our homes and our way of living in our homes. I think we tend to think about the next new thing we will build that will 'solve' something about the difficulties we face. Re-framing our sense of what it means to build something and growth altogether is required of course. What will we do with the suburbanization of land and values in the industrialized economies and societies? Urbanization can be considered a problem. It is certainly a challenge for the Chinese. Suburbanization can be considered a problem for the US and anywhere in the world that has attempted to emulate that model and the values of that model. It can seem as if there are much more serious problems, if we take such problems in isolation, rather than considering how they are connected and contributing to one another. (I have done something with this, but have large shadowed areas here and no real sense of how to approach some of them... well, I have various plans and ways of being about it, but of course they don't all work out... ok... fine... mostly they don't. Mostly, what has emerged from such failure has been the most valuable. Intending to fail as a stratagem will not produce that value.)
These are the simple, evident things. They do not constitute actual transition or even change in 'way of life.' They are the basis for the possibility of such transition. This is by no means the 'right' list or an exhaustive list... or even something to relate to as a recipe, process map, etc. Those sorts of things only actually emerge in the active process of community engagement and practice, however that might be framed for you. They are not actually complex, nor do they imply some highly complex way of living. A bit like if you determine you are overweight, by whatever means, and know that if you care about that in some way you will need to eat less, more healthful food and exercise. You will need to live a kind of balance about that. Yeh? Or you could rely on the free market solutions of a consumer economy and technological fixes in order to be healthy, for instance. Since these are in no way actually purposed toward your (or our) health and well-being they are not essentially useful in that endeavor. That is a lived process over time, implicitly and explicitly based in interconnected processes and community taking place on and as a part of a planet. When we pretend it is not that, or that it could be something other than that, then things get very complicated indeed. There might be physical and material issues involved with either learning to live such a balanced life, or in forgetting a kind of delusional self-identification with an imbalanced life of consumption and stimulation. There might be psycho-emotional issues involved. There might be social issues involved. There might be issues of identity, equitability, feasibility, necessity, etc. There might be all sorts of things involved, but something about what to do is pretty evident. Aspects of 'how' are even relatively evident. The 'doing' involves participation, change and transition. It is not a project plan. It is not a switch to be flipped. Though emergence can be incredibly sudden, the process involved in the simple things above is not necessarily sudden. It can be sudden of course, but such things as 'community engagement' cannot exactly be forced... well they can be forced, but I might call that something other than community participation and engagement.

Of course this list implies all sorts of sub-lists and actions to be taken, some one time events, some cyclic participation and process; some individualized actions, some requiring explicit collaboration. It is a fundamental shift and as such can be entered into from many, many points of departure. I am just thinking of 'points of leverage' which require getting into the assumptions and 'mental models' associated with the activity and 'way of life' in order to address or explore those. Before you consider exploring any of these simple things, or the elements of your own similar list, I think it important to recognize that at this point in the overall process, to the extent you are currently living in an industrialized social contract and financial economy you will become a kind of exile. You will become a particular type of industrial era refugee, by which I do not mean to denigrate or devalue all the people who are quite literally refugees as a result of those same global systems, through no apparent choice or action of their own. (I think the last UN number, likely to be conservative in my view, is 42 million 'displaced' people.) The primary nature of this is that you may find that initially you are neither useful nor competent according to your own criteria, to the extent that you understand your self or your way of life as some expression of the industrial age. You will likely experience a great deal of failure with respect to these very, very simple sorts of things. You will become displaced until you can create place, in a certain sense. This failure and incompetence can be very important since it marks the way stones as clearly as conflict does.

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