by Sandra Long
Originally, this essay was intended to be a cozy, feel-good list of suggested activities to help make spending time with disparate individuals within our communities more mutually beneficial, satisfying, and productive. Indeed, the word “community” is rooted in the Latin words “munus” (the gift) and cum (together, among each other). Many peoples’ lives are already saturated with social contact. These associations are often surprisingly specialized. The bulk of your social network, for example, might consist of people with whom you have just one or two primary activities in common. Thus, technology powered by fossil fuels has allowed us the luxury of being finicky consumers of “specialized friendships.” I suspect generalized friends will make a comeback in the days ahead, so don’t burn your neighbors’ bridges.
Hitler was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 20 million people. What the heck does that have to do with community? Well, if history repeated itself today, and millions of lives were in jeopardy because of one misguided sociopathic idealist, everyone would hop online to sign the petition, and some would probably get creative and boycott his brand of cologne or sneakers, and make countless memes to get the whole world laughing in anger. But who would actually stop him? My first thought was that our tax dollar supported military or police force would protect us. But what if they were the ones carrying out the orders of mayhem? I don’t like to incur stupid or unnecessary personal risks any more than the next person; we value our own lives and security more than our neighbors — I’d say that is one of the big ugly truths that most people have in common. And the further from sight, the easier the suffering is to ignore.
Whether you’re a soldier, police officer, barista, or paper pusher, I can totally see how easy it would be to just carry out your duties and go home at the end of a hard day, pop in a movie, cozy up to a good book, and just be grateful for the good things that remain in your life. When you do not feel responsible for your actions this is surprisingly easy to do. Besides, if you quit, you’d be replaced within the week, no? So why not get the consumer rewards, and leave the guilty conscience to those giving the orders. It makes sense in a way, but it takes massive cooperation from individuals just like me and you to amass that kind of body count, and this remains true today, while technology has distanced us still further from our feelings of social responsibility.
The Corporatocracy, by externalizing the true costs of profit, has silently waged a War on Life — and they are winning. How do you fight a system that is Anti-Life? A system that does the hiring, the firing, the downsizing, tax collection, bailouts, and makes the rules that selectively address or choose to ignore the most relevant issues of our time. Hitler was like a fat bug, relatively speaking, he was easy to squash. But the enemy we face today is more like a river full of swimming salmon bombs. While the bombs are far more destructive than the bug, if you don’t recognize the inherent risks, you might just see an abundance of dinner and business opportunities within easy reach. We have built our societies on this river of risk. The slow ticking lulls us from cradle to grave into complacency with assumptions of safety, benevolence, and entitlements.
For more than 2 million years, humans lived on a durable pro-life planet. In the last few hundred years, the Earth has been mutilated into an anti-life Corporatocracy, a monocultural wasteland of unsustainability. The “too big to fail” governments and corporations of our time have taught us that money is a prerequisite to resources needed for survival. Every fertile corner, every fish and stream has been labeled a resource to be bought, sold, and defended from destitute trespassers. Animals are also considered resources, with the exception of a few humans.
Most humans, too, are resources, but a few are not. There is a hierarchical distinction in our valuation of human resources. Technically, the top 1% is not classified into the category of “resource” but rather privileged resource consumers. Their sacred paper entitles them to consume and weld power over all other resources on the planet, regardless of their physical and emotional aptitude or any prerequisite for sanity. They are rewarded for this privilege with our envy.
Meanwhile, you or someone you know could match another description: young, healthy, lively and bright, eager to learn, unwilling to fight, and very likely unemployed and strapped with school loans and consumer debt. This person is less than worthless; because “potential” does not buy food at the grocery store. Your 90-year-old comatose uncle might be worth many thousands of dollars a month in life support. But are we bitter? Yes, because living in harmony is not considered a valid life option. It says that we should take our place and that any old job is better than being worthless. It says that money gives you entitlement, the notion that freedom isn’t free, and our planet is just another resource waiting to be consumed by the humans with the most paper power.
So what is our biological value? What would be fair if there was such a thing as human equality? More than 3 billion people, roughly half the “wise” apes, are living on less than $2 each day. There are roughly 1,000 billionaires in the U.S., and 10 million millionaires. But as pointed out on Wikipedia, “It is common to limit questions of the world economy exclusively to human economic activity.”
Greed, like corruption, runs deep. Economic equality for 7 billion people by one estimate might tally roughly $8 each day. I think growing our own food, relying on community, borrowing things, and participating in a gift economy actually sounds like an improvement. It would be great for those of us who value our time more than the Corporatocracy says our time is worth. I have a dream that one day we will stop valuing one another according to our capacities to consume, and will begin a new Pro-Life Era. People who are benevolent enough not to reproduce themselves ought to be held in the highest regards, and if there are still hot showers in the future, these are the people who deserve them. The rest could do with a few more cold showers.
The enemy of these goals are numerous, but include those who profit from or contribute to ecosystem destruction, cutting corners, species extinction, perceived obsolescence, green house gases, overpopulation, factory farming, and consumerism, and pretty much everyone. We should just socialize the blame and get it over with. After all, the Corporatocracy is never going to take responsibility for giving us the orders to consume and pollute our planet. We come from a long line of bills, taxes, shopping, and inequality. While we weren’t personally asked if we thought it to be a good idea to gas, rape, mutilate, and otherwise exterminate life on this planet, chances are good we watched a few of the commercials selling the end products, and see that our homes are littered with the skeletal remains. Surely we deserve a little leeway, no? In court, ignorance of your actions only sets you free if you have a really good lawyer (yay for paper power!) or an extremely low IQ, and then only sometimes. Low IQ is of limited consolation for victims, particularly when those victims are now gone.
Many people long to escape the rat race. Who wouldn’t love to spend more time with their favorite people, or doing something that actually felt meaningful? Imagine if growing a garden, or reading a book was considered at least as valuable as earning a small paycheck at a fast food restaurant. These activities are far less destructive than the current model. The efforts of our lives would be far more satisfying without the thin veneer of coerced civility spurred by financial dependency. It would be more valuable to support each other with what we know and what we grow.
Without fossil fuels, following orders and being a corporate drone is no longer a valid life option. We need air, food, water, community. We do not need a “job” to defend the worth of our existence.
Building community and helping victims of the Corporatocracy is not for the faint of heart. Moving against the dominant paradigm is a dangerous task. Following orders and using your consumer power to make personal preparations while nature takes its course is probably the most common reaction to an insane situation. When Hitler was in full power, relatively few were willing to incur tremendous personal risks to help others. Those people did so primarily out of emotional attachment or a strong sense of morality. Resistance is not easy. From birth we are raised to obey our parents, police officers, teachers-pretty much everyone in an authority position. Our shared hierarchical worldviews ensure it will be emotionally and socially painful to resist those who are viewed by society as having legitimate power over us.
With Hitler, fortunately other nationalities didn’t buy into the notion that they needed to become Aryans to be of value. Unfortunately, in the Corporatocracy, that is exactly what has happened. If people can’t join the ranks of the wealthy through their own exploitative means, the dream is kept alive through the casinos, lotteries, inheritance, and pure dumb hope. Everyone wants to be a consumer: an organism that preys on other organisms. These tendencies are not particularly conducive to community building.
In anthropologist Colin Turnbull’s book The Mountain People, the focus of individuals within the tribe has become acquisition of food, to the extent community loses all meaning. Old people are cast off and left to starve, then young children are left behind. Breeding-aged pairs represented the strongest combination, however, even partners turned against one another when times were hard. As Pfeffer and Salancik note in The External Control of Organizations, “the key to organizational survival is the ability to acquire and maintain resources.” This means growing carrots and sharing the seeds, instead of competing for carrots and hiding the seeds.
Sandra Long is a well-traveled psychology major currently attending the University of Arizona, where she is pursuing a thematic minor in quality of life planning. She is a toad-loving, harmony-seeking, herbal-tea-drinking observer of humanity who aspires to live near a hot spring, and grow her own carrots.
Guy will be visiting Michigan, again, in February 2012. I’m scheduled to speak in Traverse City on 11 February, and I’d like to spend the subsequent two weeks speaking and consulting for the usual fee (i.e., room, board, and transportation). Please let me know if you’d like to host my visit.