Most of us subscribe to the idea of interconnectedness. It sounds good, for one. And, yet, we don’t seem to understand the depths of what this means. If we did, we wouldn’t be in this collective ecological-economic-social mess we’re in. As I was hanging laundry in my living room, I realized I few more interconnections.
Yes, I hang my laundry up in the living room. It takes some planning because it takes 2-3 days for it to dry in the foggy area of San Francisco I live in. It’s best not to have visitors when you got your underwear hanging around . I hand my laundry to dry because dryers use up a lot of energy and are hard on clothes, something that makes wearing them as long as possible a bit shorter.
It takes a while to hang things up, so I tend to think while pinning the things to the clothes rack. Why aren’t more people doing this? I wondered. Maybe they don’t know how much energy a dryer uses? I gotta tell them! Somehow my glance fell onto a clock and I realized that I had just spent about 20 minutes hanging one load of laundry. That’s when it hit me: I can do this because I have the time! Right now, I don’t work full-time, nor do I commute. If I’d be spending 9 hours at a job (8 hours plus a forced lunch hour) and commuted an hour, I would throw my laundry into the dryer, too. Well, I did not that long ago…
The idea that a normal adult life includes a 40-hour-a-week job is interconnected with climate disruption! The 40 hours we spend building someone else’s pyramid (to use an expression from Daniel Quinn’s “Beyond Civilization“), we cannot use to hang our laundry, cook our meals, grow our food, fix our stuff. Much of our consumptions are short-cuts because we just don’t have enough time in a day to do it all. That’s aside from the ridiculous idea that we have to go from one box to another – in a box – to do our work (i.e., commuting from home to work in a car or bus or train).
We’re facing a tremendous challenge – on several fronts – for the very survival of humanity, well, at least of civilization. Doing the math, it is clear that business as usual will give us the usual results: An increase in atmospheric CO2 and climate disruption. Underneath the climate catastrophe – taking in the interconnectedness – are other issues lurking. Instead of changing light bulbs, we need to start asking what makes the very way we are living not sustainable – for ourselves, our communities, and the planet. It is not just the amount of non-renewable energy we’re using up and spewing into the atmosphere. Reducing atmospheric CO2 requires substantial changes, radical changes that go to the root of life as we know it. Like the idea that we should be working 40+ hours per week, own a house, and drive a car (and be married and have kids, to suggest questioning the idea of the nuclear family…).
This reminds me of a brief conversation I had with a recruiter. She could not believe that I wouldn’t want to work full-time. She wanted to know exactly why not. These are the kinds of beliefs we need to leave behind. And, yet, there’s another connection: Cost of living. Even my little one bedroom apartment is too expensive for the projects I am working on right now. I will either have to downsize further or find a corporate job to maintain my standard of living. In other words, reducing our work hours is not as simple as just doing it. We are facing a whole web of interconnections that make this more difficult – from the lack of part-time jobs that pay well to the fact that we need well paying jobs to maintain our ways of life. And there it is again: A reminder that we cannot maintain our ways of life when we fully take in all the interconnections.
The other day, I pondered on a t-shirt saying: “Change is good. Make the first move.” Or something like that – putting the onus of change on the other person. If we’re all waiting for the other to make the first move, nothing will change. And I know all too well how scary it can be to make a move outside of the culturally defined boxes – and not knowing whether others will follow. Our need for belonging is very strong – and the threat to our survival from climate disruption too abstract to counteract it. It takes a lot of courage to make the first move. We need more courage.
Here another interconnectedness becomes clear: The hyper-individualism of our culture makes the collective changes much more difficult. If we didn’t have to go it alone, it might be a lot easier. If our culture celebrated diversity rather than stereotyping it, we could experiment in new ways of living. Of course, those experiments are happening in many places. These are the other people, though, the weird ones, the hippies. (That is the stereotyping I am talking about!) If they only worked a real job, they’d be normal.
Maybe what we need is a courage web. A way for those of us who are pushing the boundaries of cultural norms to support each other. As Daniel Quinn points out, the most insidious myth of our civilization is the idea that there is only one way to live. To change that, we need to learn to celebrate all the myriads of ways people live – learn from each other and support each other in finding our own ways. There is no one right way to address the crises. My intent with this blog is – at least in part – to share some ways, like hanging my laundry and living in a smaller place. Or not succumbing to couplemania and all the stuff that comes up with questioning those cultural norms.