Friday, February 24, 2012

When positivity rests on the ability to degrade

Cut trees, pollute waters, pave prairies. Industrialise, "add value", compete, sell. Increase wealth, move away to the gorgeous mountains. Manage from afar, while sipping a margarita beside your pool. Give charitable donations to groups you support. Feel good about yourself.

I wonder, Why do we have to degrade before we can collaborate and construct? This is the typical argument that is presented by "developed" countries--degradation of the Earth and its effusive offerings must occur to increase our "standard of living", and once we have all of our basic needs met, we will have more time to care about other things (like the Earth, which, ironically, is what provides us our basic needs).

"Development" lends itself to degradation more than it does to construct and sustain, for two reasons that I can think of. The first is that it assumes that our "needs" can be fully met. Unfortunately, this culture has done a tremendous job at conflating our needs with our wants. Think about it. How much have your needs gone down as you've grown up? If our material needs went down, our houses wouldn't look like hoarding units, and landfills and oceans wouldn't be places as thoroughly filled with junk as they are. The second is that if we are to live in an equitable, peaceful world, then the traditional ways of accumulating 'wealth', like mining, warring, etc. cannot be ways in which we continue to seek wealth.

If we look at the countries that give the most foreign "aid" (details here and here), the list is made up of those countries that have monetarily profited most from ecological degradation. Benevolence is not about lending dignity after rape has occurred. The rules of the game are structured so that these countries, and their organisations and institutions, win, every time. They are already powerful under current regimes, with aid being wagged like a carrot or a stick whenever appropriate to do so. If you believe even a shred of what John Perkins says in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, then you can see what I am getting at.

Many times we feel as if the only way to have access to power, to have control over our own lives, to do what we want to do (positively), is to be first subsumed by the system, and then create our own bubble within it when the opportunity lends itself. We must bite our tongues until we are granted permission to let loose. My contention is that the things that we aspire to, the things that we wish to see in the world, can be created by us, right here, right now. Building constructive dialogue, building community, enriching our lives, these things are impossible if we burn the bridges we will need to cross. We must engage in creative, thoughtful, respectful, cherishing ways from the outset, for then we will know with certainty that the outcomes are those that are in the collective and individual good.

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