Saturday, February 25, 2012

By Any Other Name

It is Saturday morning, and I am doing everything in my power to avoid the laundry.  It won't be possible to do so much longer, but I will try.

I have been getting into a little bit of to and fro with posting with Joel over at "Of the Hands."  It has been focused around the near-certain eventuality that the amount of energy available for non-essential vanities is going to be reduced in the future.  This is referred to as poverty.

I guess that one of the main reasons that I have been giving so much feedback is that the words used are so emotionally loaded.  I think that the best way for folks who, like us, see the need for a much smaller footprint to proceed is take the judgmental and emotional content out of our writings and thoughts and rake the resulting language clean of the anger and loaded catchphrases.

The structure of American culture has to change.  I cannot think of a thinking soul that really believes that we can go back to the blissfully ignorant structure of American life in the oh-so-idealized 1950's.  The amount of energy available to us is decreasing and the options for obtaining more, or even maintaining the current level of supply, are rapidly being shown to be untenable.

We will have less.

But calling things poverty in the American system is a big mistake.  Poverty has such an astonishing emtional weight in our culture that calling a man poor is the societal equivalent of calling a man a nigger.  In our society, poor is something to be pitied and reviled.  We have made a cultural requirement of wealth and a shibboleth of fame coupled with grotesque levels of consumption. 

So while calling the hard work of peeling the necessary from the affluent a name like "poverty" might be a satisfying emotional exercise, it isn't going to help your fellow man in the hard readjustment that we will be making in the next twenty years.  Using words like "poverty" and "poor" merely allows the powers-that-be a way to manipulate the society to their own purposes.

There are a whole bunch of folks out there who recognize the need to change society.  To do so is a noble and fulfilling task.  But if the society that you wish to change is already mobilized against the words that you choose in the process of trying to find your way out of the maze.  Lifeboats are an act of desperation, frugality is an odd and underused term.  There has to be a better descriptor of the act of growing up and living within the means available, at peace with our fellow man. 

1 comment:

Joel Caris said...

Hi John,

Thank you. I like this feedback. I've been reading William Catton's Overshoot, which I think I mentioned in another comment, and really have been loving it. One perspective of his that I've been finding helpful is that which sees humans as simply another species--a concept I'm sympathetic to, obviously--and that our behavior these last couple centuries is not so much a condemnation of our morality, but just to be expected under our circumstances. Any other species would have likely acted the same.

As you seem to have noted, I can get a bit moralistic. Sometimes I think it's a strength, as it can spur me on to make changes in my life I believe are important, even if they're hard. It can also prove a weakness, especially in my writing. I let rhetoric sweep me away at times and weaken an otherwise solid, not emotionally loaded argument.

So I hear what you're saying.

But I'm using "poor" and "poverty" for a reason, and taking the risk that it might drive some people away. I don't really want to mince words. I want to be brutally honest, and speak to the people who are able to deal with that honesty. Not that I don't give a damn about the other people, but I'm not sure I'm the person to write to them.

I've found the straightforward manner with which John Michael Greer writes, for instance, to be very refreshing. And it's helped me tremendously, though admittedly after I had already come to a receptive place via other readings. But part of why I feel I've learned so much from him is that he's shed a lot of the useless story telling that our culture engages in, even amongst those who otherwise are sympathetic to the cause.

For instance, while using emotionally loaded terms that turn people off can serve the powers-that-be, so can mincing words and allowing people the idea that we're just going to swap out our fossil fuels for wind turbines and PV panels and go on our merry way, living essentially the same life.

I respect your point and I don't think you're wrong. But this is the tact I want to take, and my hope is that there are a contingent of people out there who aren't afraid of the terms I use, and whom I'll help.

Also, a general thanks for helping me to think about and sharpen my argument. I think the post I wrote in response to you probably serves as a better introduction to my voluntary poverty series than my rambling three-parter.

Of The Hands