I find it absolutely staggering, how western culture, specifically, the “consumer culture,” has groomed several generations of farmers and gardeners to ignore mother nature completely in favor of gaining “complete control” over her. There is a misconception out there, perpetrated by consumerism, that in order to have growth in the production of food and GDP, we must take over nature’s job, burdening our economic and physical limitations with work that nature would willingly do for free. Not only that, but the assumption that we need this growth, a basic tenet of capitalism, is erroneous.
Coming from a background of economics and statistics, teaching and researching, I am aware that much of our food production techniques and paradigms, whether crop or animal farming, grew out of a devastating doctrine in capitalism that we must feed from the periphery in order to sustain ourselves and a ceaseless growth. This has led to endless suffering as capitalist enterprises, be it corporations or nations or missionaries, flooded into unexplored areas of the globe and colonized peoples and their resources.
Now, I realize this topic is nothing new. But linking it to today’s issues of food and water scarcity and inequity has not been explored enough. I propose that western civilization, and I use the term loosely, is much like a heroin addict: we just cannot get enough of the products and services that spring from the syringe of capitalism and will do anything to get more or at least maintain the stream of supply. We go through “withdrawal” when the media announces that we are decreasing or leveling off (gasp!) in the production sectors, we blame anyone but ourselves for depressions in economic performance, and we turn our backs on friends who provide no direct, material benefit to us or our national financial and economic growth.
And like the addict, we need more every year to sustain the same high.
What IS that high? What drives Wall Street? What drives the suburbanite? What drives the kids of today? What drives consumption?
The answers used to include things like “needs” and “better quality of life” and “providing for our kids’ future.” However, all these have morphed in the last century from “needs” to “wants,” from “better quality of life” to “faster and more convenient,” and from “providing for our kids’ future” to “recklessly destroying the planet’s ability to provide for our kids’ survival,” to say nothing of a thriving future!
How did this happen?
It is an endless and futile exercise in philosophy to try and find the initial root cause. Needless to say, there are many; most of which can be clumped into categories like colonialism or consumerism or capitalism or a war mentality… whatever. These analyses do not produce solutions in most cases.
Having morphed from an economics professor and researcher, to a full-time parent, to a caretaker for my mother, to a fine artist, to a fine art print maker, to a graphic designer, and finally, to a permaculture designer and practitioner (deep breath here), I am shocked to discover that at the root of everything I know, everything I yearn for, everything that is important to my survival and happiness, lies nature. Yes, nature. Not doctrine, not dogma, not financial abundance, not psychological stability, NOT. THE. EGO.
… you will find something rooted in nature that has been severed …
Yes, it all sounds a bit hippy-ish… but I assure you, that if you drill down to any of your concerns and worries, your stresses, your anxieties, your problems… you will find something rooted in nature that has been severed. This is the result of a pervasive manifestation of a consumerist brainwashing that has happened for decades. And this does not just affect the west anymore, but has been exported and is also a plague in “developing” countries.
Why am I using quotes around developing?
Because the use of the word "developing" illustrates precisely the extractive and condescending mentality with which we view progress. The idea of progress piggy-backs on each of those addictive behaviors and perceptions of wants instead of needs I talked about. Why do you want that ATV? Because it will tow that tree trunk you cut down to provide firewood for the winter? I doubt it. More likely, it’s so your can say you “provided” for your kids’ entertainment “needs.” Are they having more fun on the ATV than on a bicycle? Are they safer on an ATV than on foot? Are they gaining physical prowess on an ATV they would not get running through the woods, climbing trees? Are they learning more? Are they benefiting in ANY way, shape, or form?
Most likely, your answer to all these inquiries will be no.
So why do we make these purchases? Because we have been taught to equate accumulation with progress. And we have been taught to believe a narrow and erroneous definition of progress. Progress for progress’s sake? Progress as the epitome of betterment? Progress as a surrogate for fulfillment? Progress as an immunity to oppression?
I suggest that we redefine progress.
To do that, we need to identify the role capitalism has played in history and in our own lives. How has our perception of “progress” been molded by culture, society, and economics?
And finally, we need to question whether progress is even desirable in its current form.
I propose that we redefine progress in terms of our own well-being. And our well-being is inextricably linked to the well-being of the earth. It is not tied to whether we make it to Mars. It is not tied to our earning potential. It is not tied to competition or a “competitive edge.” It is not tied to accumulation of material objects or “likes” or how big a bullhorn we possess.
It is tied to making amends with Earth… only then will everything else will fall into place.
How will you make amends?