Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Key to the Crisis

"...any meaningful democracy requires citizens who are empowered to create and re-create their government, rather than a mass of marginalized voters who merely choose from what is offered by an “invisible” government. Citizenship requires a commitment of time and attention, a commitment people cannot make if they are lost to themselves in an ever-accelerating cycle of work and consumption." Jeffrey Kaplan The Gospel of Consumption

This article reveals the source of a continuing business philosophy that drives corporate capitalism in the united States and most of the rest of the world.

Consumerism, and the "work ethic" that props it up, is a result of a deliberate propaganda program by corporate leaders in the 1950s to forestall a widespread public move toward shorter work hours. During the Depression, many companies shortened worker hours to allow more workers at least some work and income. Those workers found they enjoyed the increased time at home to be with their families, to grow gardens, to take part in the process of democracy in their communities.

After World War II, when the demands of war-time production petered out, workers prepared to return to a six-hour work day or a four day work week. Industrialists panicked. Floating on a sea of filthy lucre, they saw their bloody profits draining away as workers sought a more balanced life in post-war America.

The corporate response? Thought control!

The advertising market boomed in the 1950s as corporations sought to lure workers and citizens into the never-ending spiral of consumption, resulting in the institution of the 8-hour work day and five-day work week. Consumers were dragged along by silver inlaid nose rings into the work-debt-work cycle that drew fathers and mothers away from families, parents away from children and citizens away from involvement in local democracy.

We see the results today: an apathetic citizenry, unconcerned and uninvolved in democratic decision-making, with heads down against the economic winds carrying them to bankruptcy. Who has time to be involved with your community when one must work 60 hours a week to make payments on the new car and boat, the $350,000 house, the kid's braces and the vacation to Mexico to "get away from it all?"

Jean found the answer many years ago and taught me well. Consuming less allows us to work less, thus having more time to engage with our neighbors, walk our precinct during elections, work at the polling places, attend community and local government meetings, participate in local government, craft letters to the editor, and to our local government officials.

Corporate capitalism consumes democracy and excretes apathy.

As John E. Edgerton, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, noted: “Nothing breeds radicalism more than unhappiness unless it is leisure.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Peak Speed

In 1996, Ivan Illich gave a speech called, "Speed, what Speed?" for the "Speed" Conference of the Netherlands Design-Institute, in which he pointed out that the concept of "speed" is a very recent idea.

Speed arrived in Europe with the locomotive and mechanized travel. Prior to that, humans traveled at an animal's pace, be they humans or horses, camels, donkeys, mules or oxen on land, or at by the strength and direction of the winds at sea. Speed was not a concern, since the pace the animal maintained varied considerably with the nature of the surface on which they traveled, weather, burden and length of time traveling. Sea travel was entirely dependent on the winds, sea conditions and weather.

With the advent of mechanized travel, speed became a factor, as locomotives and steam driven ships could travel without regard to the natural conditions of the place they were moving through. Passengers were less jostled about and arrived at their destination more rested, clean and in possession of greater amounts of baggage and freight.

Speed isolates human perception by annihilating space. Traveling by commercial airplane, one goes to a place identical to other places in other countries and continents, walks, briefly, through a metal tube to sit in another metal tube, while someone or something outside makes strange noises, changes the pictures on the windows and loses your luggage. Hardly anyone travels by ship anymore, other than to go to an expensive resort with a variety of entertainment spectacles, some of which are marginally on dry land. Even travel by private automobile has become a boring, meaningless exercise, as highways and support infrastructure are geared to speed the travelers on their way as quickly as possible, with as little connection to the local fauna as possible and with as little money remaining in their wallets as possible.

We've even noticed it, in the reverse, as we walk and bicycle around our own community. Bicycling allows me to observe the neighborhoods as I ride through, smell the flowers, feel the wind (and rain) and hear the sounds of birdies and humans. I sit upright on my bike, aware of my surroundings, fully involved with the place I'm riding through.

The difference between walking and biking is the same order of magnitude as the difference between biking and driving a car. When my wife and I walk, we are more involved with our surroundings that when I bicycle. The pace is slower, we can stop and smell the roses, listen to the birds, admire the clouds and sky. We don't have to watch for traffic (except at intersections) and we don't have mechanisms between us and the place where we walk (except shoes).

The other thing we've discovered is the perception of distance. When we walk, we discover that 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles passes by before we know it. We're engaged in conversation, involved in our surroundings, and POOF! We're there! Amazing. Riding in a car, the distances seems so much farther and the time to get there so much longer.

It's all about scale. When we pass beyond the bounds of human scale, our connection with our bioregion is mitigated such that we lose touch with all that is. Speed is not human, not animal, not natural. "Pace" is the organic equivalent, the varying rate of movement through our world. Speed denies pace, annihilates distance, substitutes an arbitrary measure of velocity for the experience of moving through the world.

The first step to Living in Place, is to stop moving around so fast.