What Needs to be Done?

As i am coming back out of zombieland, i am redoubling my effort to find a wise livelihood and manifest my vision. I keep coming back to the question, inspired by this post: What needs to be done? We are facing several crises at once: Climate disruption, water shortages, soil erosion, and pollution – all of them exasperated by overpopulation. Our Western lifestyle is not sustainable and i see the survival of humans as a species in question.

And yet, i ask myself: What needs to be done? I am not ready to give up. I cannot give up, in part because, well, i would consider that highly unethical.

One thing is clear: We need to wake each other up out of our collective slumber. Business, life as usual cannot continue if we want to switch to something that is ultimately sustainable. We also need to repair the damage, so we need to regenerate the soil, clean the water, restore our connections.

Every system has a leverage point that causes the system to change. What are the leverage points of this hyperindustrial supercapitalism? I am considering two candidates: Couplemania and cultural trauma, though there are more (cheap energy is another one), plus we are dealing with interlinked systems, so we probably won’t find one leverage point that will change everything.

Couplemania has not driven our behavior forever. Stephanie Coontz shows its emergence in the mid-1800 and its economic feasibility not until the 1950s. Taking a sociological look at heart-break, Eva Illouz comes to a similar conclusion: Our obsession with coupling is decidedly modern. Couplemania reinforces (at least) two things: Isolation and over-identification with the self. The sphere of connections has shrunk with couplemania – we no longer nourish friendships as much as we used to; we don’t sublet parts of our house to get additional income; and we spend lots of time inside in front of the TV. All of this combines to an increased isolation of the couple (or the nuclear family). And, as Illouz argues, our very identities are now dependent on the coupled relationship. Based on her analysis, i would argue that our focus on our self has increased quite a bit in our modern world, especially since we now have the “freedom” to create our selves (Illouz also shows convincingly that we don’t really enjoy freedom… I plan to write at least one blog post about her fascinating book!). As long as we remain obsessed with the self, we remain stuck in the delusion of separation from others.

This then is one form of cultural trauma: Culture teaches us that there is a self that we can create, sell, and manage as if it is some fixed, never changing entity. We learn all sorts of ways of maintaining this illusion, from coupling to conspicuous consumption. Other culture trauma keeps us stuck, too. Not having a job is seen as a sign of failure (not as an opportunity). Living in a small space similarly marks us as someone who hasn’t “made it.” We have internalized these messages and often remain unaware of them. They keep us stuck in the status quo, prevent us from changing.

Ultimately, we need to change our behavior. Well, those of us who are fully aware of how dire our situation is, need to sound the alarm in such a way that it motivates behavioral change. Fundamental changes. Not buying green. Stop buying. Not switching to driving a greener car. Stop driving. Things like that. Changing the system at its core rather than making small personal changes that ultimately ignore the larger systemic picture. And that’s where i draw a blank for i can’t even get myself to implement the changes i so long for. Since more than a year i’ve been yearning to live in community. Have i moved? No, i haven’t even moved out of overpriced San Francisco. I seem to have to reach a high pain threshold. Or maybe i need to give up hope – hope that something will magically change and things will be better ever after. And musing on hope i, too, will leave for a future post.

So, what needs to be done? Fundamental changes need to happen if we as a species can have a chance of surviving. And on a more personal level, what needs to be done? Well, i want to figure out how we can motivate ourselves to make these fundamental, systemic changes – starting with myself.

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What Needs to be Done? — 3 Comments

    • Thanks, Ian! I’ll check it out! I am curious, though, what makes you think that i am advocating personal change? Maybe it wasn’t as clear in the above, though i’ve pointed out elsewhere that both personal and social/structural/cultural change is required (see also my review of the Green Festival). The two are interconnected, though, for example if everyone were to start growing their own food, agrobusiness wouldn’t be much longer… So, i think it depends on the personal change – if we take the old adage “the personal is political” seriously, the personal change can very well be political. However if we think that personal change means we just need to start thinking positive, then we’re screwed.

      (And i am working on a piece on hope…)

    • I added a link to Jensen’s article and this sentence: “Changing the system at its core rather than making small personal changes that ultimately ignore the larger systemic picture.” :-) Thanks for pointing out that i didn’t make this as obvious as it needs to be! And, yet, this actually makes the not knowing stronger: How the heck do you change a system?!? Or to use Jensen’s words: How do we implement the third option?

      The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

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