by Jan Lundberg
U.S. society tells itself and the rest of the incredulous, disgusted world that the U.S. is compassionate and great, while killing for a profitable, petroleum-intensive way of life that distorts the global climate. The U.S. and the rest of the corporate world has for decades tried to white-wash a sham, day-in, day-out. All that the official story admits perhaps is that there is complexity and division facing us. Heard anything lately about nuclear arsenals still on hair-trigger alert?
Also seldom mentioned is perhaps the main reason for our ills. It remains unaddressed, slipping by us in our daily experience in the onslaught of suffocating details, embroiling almost every consumer/citizen during all waking hours. This occurs in part as deliberate policy to stave off protest against inequities and outrages.
A bank teller told me when I asked her if she was concerned about global warming, "I should be. But I have a full plate, such as children." Whether she is really unable to start directing her children to care for their future world is open to question. But there truly is a torrent of crises and information hitting us nonstop. The rulers' stratagem of distracting the masses from dealing with their problems head-on is perhaps an incidental bonus and byproduct of exploitation, oppression and terror.
Obscured in the swirling, deadly details of living in the modern world of wage enslavement, toxic and radioactive pollution, sedentary commuting, weakening of family structure, competition and status-oriented consuming, is the kernel of our basic difficulty. But it cannot be appreciated in a hectic world where we must look out for ourselves and seek comfort and success (Ahh...). We must "get through life."
Our circumstances, therefore, excuse and enshrine the original source of conflict threatening peace and our common survival in an ecologically abused world: selfishness and greed. Selfishness and greed are extensions of the reasonable impulse to look out for oneself materially in an unfair world because one feels insecure. Materialism can be a mistake of clutter and confusion for many, but for others it is "the game of life." When there is no tight-knit family or village community, one can depart from traditionally honoring the family's and the tribe's greater interest, and instead set out on a course of just taking and taking more. Anonymously or innocuously, a citizen can be isolated in the highly populated town while building up personal material wealth. The person proceeds to accumulate still more, defending his or her interests, and perhaps opts for expansion of the resource base when the ruling order feels imperialistic. War, genocide, "free trade" schemes, and ecological degradation ensue. To top it off, many perpetrators can present themselves as God-fearing church people who fight crime.
That is Western Civilization's history and the Bush regime in a nutshell: more wealth for the few. Now that we've identified the source of the problem me-firstism, same as U.S.-firstism what do we do? [For those who may misunderstand: I do not advocate having no defense, whether on a household or national basis, in today's world.]
Lest one imagine that it's fine to be materialistic, let's keep in mind the dishonor of being petty. Twenty-seven years ago, some real estate agents and house buyers came to a house which my then-wife and I were renting, because the house was for sale. The owner's friend was the lead agent in the group of visitors. My wife was in the bathroom when they wanted to see the bathroom, so they went to other rooms. After about 15 minutes the lead agent knocked again on the bathroom door and called earnestly, "You've been in there long enough." Commission greed, typical greed.
Most of us resist strongly the notion of breaking out of our personal and national patterns of self destruction "Who, me? Now?" We limit our daily activities and thinking mostly to the mammon part of our consciousness. It feels so safe and logical to go with the herd that it makes sense to outdo oneself with extra study and extra work to surge ahead in the pack. Most of us don't want to look at ourselves ascending a ladder of success if it means stepping on heads, so we close our eyes to it or seek a quiet, bureaucratic job. But the socioeconomic system does rely on a pyramid occupied by less fortunate, less endowed and victimized folk on the bottom.
A good way to remain stuck in the muck of the rulers' pyramid at whatever level is to behave selfishly. An incident I recently witnessed featured some prospective neighbors of a hopeful renter. They told the landlord that the candidate was part of a circle of homeless people, which was enough to deprive him of housing. One would conclude that homes aren't necessarily for the homeless!
The war for love
With things as they are, no wonder the Mohandas Gandhis and John Lennons are so rare. However, if one begins to examine their message similar to that of Tolstoy and Thoreau it's clear that liberation starts to flow from just realizing that there is something else for one to follow other than greed and oppression.
When Lennon's "Imagine" seized the imagination of millions globally in 1971, the song was not some commercial daydream of his. "Imagine" brings tears to the eyes of many, decade after decade. Nor was his "All you need is love" in 1967 a simple-minded, hedonistic sell-out. Rather, his realization rang so true that some cynics felt it easy to pass off the message as naive or Utopian, to be ignored even if they loved the song.
Why should such a simple notion that we just need love in our hearts and lives resonate so strongly and help a generation define itself? We stood, thanks in large part to our songs, in rejection of the mindless materialism and spiritual sterility of the status quo's militaristic authoritarianism. Lennon's love message rose above the din and strife and got to people because love is profound truth. After all, it is the basic formula for the nucleus of society: a couple, then children, and so on. It is possible for families and larger social structures to build on something other than love, and instead use coercion, but love is easier, nicer and more pleasurable.
Love is also practical. If you're in a predicament that money can't solve, you need someone or a number of people who love you, to help in various ways. If you're in a jam that can be solved by either money or friends and family, money is not necessarily better because friends and family can not only help you generate some money but save you. But if you have a pile of money, it cannot buy friends or family; some strive to disprove that maxim so they can have all their material wants satisfied as well. But the drawback of that is that modern, disturbed consumers make decisions that go "just of the bucks" and let go of solid relationships, in order to maintain and enhance their privilege, whether as comfortable lap dogs or aggressive top dogs.
Is it lonely at the top? Were Lennon and Yoko Ono crazy to hold inane news conferences to push peace? Although they were right that the power-hungry and militaristic rulers needed love and this lack caused others to suffer, it is also true that there is much insanity at the top: Evidence is in the form of research that surfaced a few years ago that revealed that super rich people, when asked if they consider themselves rich, say they do not. In other words, for some there is never enough wealth for one to secure, if someone else has more by comparison.
Yet, as Kate Wolf sang, "Love is what you're after." This cannot be denied, even by those who have the power of life and death over others. One must continue to discover what love is. It is sometimes glimpsed as practiced by the Women In Black or the Veterans for Peace who hold vigils against state violence. One can engage in those activities or once again raise one's voice to sing, if it allows one to speak out.
Love is the answer, but here may be a reason it does not rule:
Love is covered up and overwhelmed by our modern individualistic impulses in a society revving at hyper-speed, such that two factors prevent our uncovering love and seeking liberation: (a) We are convinced of overriding "needs" for collecting such things as college degrees, comfortable amounts of money for material comforts, or even creating some art or setting off to explore the Andes Mountains. (b) The consequences of the pervasive, growing lack of social cohesion (e.g., crime, manifestations of insanity, paving over nature, and distractions for titillation such as pornography) have rendered almost all of us mentally and spiritually ill but not able to admit it. Love, liberation and our prospects for a sustainable culture are thus reduced to minor elements in the whole mix, just as me-first gratification and the tendency toward greed are seemingly additional and valid details in the greater reality of life.
As long as we let life be defined as such, and hesitate to elevate love, freedom and common sense to the highest priority, we will stare in wonderment or wail as trends continue their negative slide.
We can either heed the wisdom most everyone is denying, and listen to more poets and fewer business hacks, or continue to imagine that amassing wealth will allow us to be free and help those we "love." Or, we can start now to begin building the basis of a new society. Not only are peace, love and freedom the only way, we must question all our actions for their effect on others including other species. There is something fundamentally artificial about the fossil-fueled, technological "life" that people live, besides the implications on nature and Iraqi civilians getting killed in large part over U.S. petroleum dependence.
If fundamental change fills you with doubt, or if you don't feel you have all the facts and you don't want to make a false move, at least open your receptors more widely to what is happening, and gather the lessons that offer deep teaching. Self-education is self-perpetuating.
Many a U.S. citizen is angry or confused, yet determined to vote out Bush. Excellent. But that is such a small start at remaking society for equality and mutual cooperation for lasting peace that the pro-business Democratic Party politicians can manipulate our sentiments. These "leaders" lead us nowhere but further toward ecological destruction, as the Clinton/Gore "good cop" regime did.
The next stage, therefore, is active participation in our own local economy. You can "love thy neighbor" by supporting your most nearby human resources. To dispense with fruitless me-first materialism and misguided adoption of institutions of mass manipulation ( public school, corporate news media, joining the military), one needs to ask not "How do I get more love?", but "How do I build it and give more of it?"
When one acknowledges one owns "too much junk," and pays to store things he or she may never use, one can go much further: get rid of stuff and start sharing the usual household appliances that help cause global warming when used by masses of isolated consumers. The secret is to build real community by sharing more, collaborating, bartering, and supporting one another in solidarity: one household, one neighborhood, one bioregion at a time. This will be easy and unavoidable when petroleum supplies are interrupted in the near future: a historic break with "growth" will mark the chart of civilization's "progress," which will be redefined at all levels of our lives. We shall return to being part of nature instead of against it.
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