Deep winter

Posted December 21st, 2010 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Deep winter

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

[Reflecting the moment of mindful transition from darkness towards light, from one human-measured year to the next, I will post just once this week and once next week, taking some time in between for quiet and rest. As we honor these sacred days, may our hope be renewed, not hope as an ideal, but as an incarnate reality in our world.]

Photo: Margaret Swedish

I don’t know, friends, I find this a spiritually difficult solstice, Christmas, holiday season, however it is you honor it. I bask in the long darkness, lighting my candles pre-dawn for some quiet sitting. I enjoy the Christmas lights on the houses on my block, especially when snow graces us in the long evenings. Thank you, neighbors!

But then there’s this, a headline in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  Poverty on rise across Wisconsin.

Or from yesterday’s New York Times, an article about how permanent jobs are being replaced – more and more for the long term – with ‘temporary’ employment, which means lower wages, no benefits, and no labor rights protections, workers hired and fired solely at the whim of the employer. I recommend reading this article, Weighing Costs, Companies Favor Temporary Help, if you want to get a clue into what is really transitioning permanently in this society – the end of steady employment with wages and benefits that make it possible to raise a family and live with some modicum of security and dignity.

The corporate world that has brought this about with great deliberation and forethought knows exactly what it is doing. If you want a good read that exposes this, try Winner-Takes-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer-and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. I assure you it is not cheery holiday reading but full of things we need to know so that we aren’t just passive victims watching the demise of our middle and working classes, which means the vast majority of us. I haven’t finished it so I am not endorsing it exactly, but their narrative of how the business world took over our politics beginning with the Carter administration is, well, enlightening. The last chapter I read described the odd and contradictory alliance between the conservative evangelical movement – most of which folks are among the workers and poor getting clobbered by this process – and the wealthy of the wealthy who now bankroll our corrupted political system. Has one population ever been so misused and manipulated by another?

Fog on Lake Michigan shore - Photo: Margaret Swedish

Here in Wisconsin, our new Gov-elect Scott Walker has begun a wholesale assault on public sector workers and has vowed to nullify their collective bargaining rights under state law if need be in order to coerce them into huge cuts in pay and benefits.

It doesn’t take a genius or an economics PhD to see what’s going on here. It just takes doing something you won’t get on TV news – a little research under the surface of the faux-news noise intended to keep us from knowing what we need to know. The US economy is being restructured to lower costs of production at the point of labor. One strategy is to create two-tiered pay structures that allow for reducing permanent workers and bringing new and/or temporary workers in at a far lower wage without benefits like health insurance. We have written of this before, but here again is a NYT article that describes what is going on in some of my own state’s most established manufacturing companies. This is not a new story; it has been going on inexorably for 3-4 decades now, but the pace is quickening under the rising power of the corporate world in the global economy.

Why write about this depressing stuff just now? Because it is the under-current of so much suffering under the surface of our culture right now. We know by now that economic recovery is really about this kind of restructuring which is making some people very, very wealthy. I just read yesterday that 2011 could see record numbers for Wall Street stocks. Meanwhile, you tell me how someone can live on, much less raise a family on, $14-$16 per hour, which will be the new low-tier wage scale at places like Kohler and Harley-Davidson. You can’t, and the result will be families with parents working 2 and more jobs and stressed kids and more foreclosures and rental evictions and bigger boosts to the already swollen lines of working people at food pantries and soup kitchens.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Deep winter – how cold are we becoming as a culture? How deeply frozen do we want this winter to become?

Friends, I am not a person without hope, nor have I given up on the resilience of the human spirit. What I know is that we are going through an enormous transition right now on many fronts. Economically, the business world knows it cannot support a well-paid labor force that includes the world’s burgeoning population. It needs less of us, not more. Workers are a drain on the bottom line in this global economy. What this says to me is that if we continue to allow the logic of capitalist growth economies to rule the day, the vast majority of the world’s population will be left out altogether.

Environmentally, if this current form of a more savage capitalism becomes the paradigm for the global economy, we will continue to trash and contaminate and ruin the eco-communities in which we dwell, and more and more lose our access to the most basic things we need for life – food, arable land, clean drinking water, functioning cities, decent schools, healthy families and neighborhoods.

We need a major transition, a ‘great turning,’ to use Joanna Macy’s wonderful term,  to deconstruct this whole way of life, this approach to how we live on the planet, and to  begin constructing something wholly new, a new way of being human, one in which we give up our aspirations for wealth, comfort, status, and privilege (which fewer and fewer of us will be able to have anyway) for the sake of lives of simplicity, locally-based sustainable economies, a renewal of our relationships with the natural world of which we are a part, giving up a place of dominance and power in the world for the sake of abundance for all – not wealth, not riches, but abundance.

Photo by Mom

I am still deeply moved by the narrative of the child born in a manger and how that narrative continued in the story of a young man who denounced wealth and privilege, who exposed discrimination of all kinds, who denounced religious authorities for their self-righteousness and control over people’s lives, who allowed himself to be vulnerable to the powers-that-be for the sake of his message of justice and love and how these things come about in the world – and how down through the centuries so many peoples have called that person who did and said these things “God.”

This is one reason why I can still be shocked by what we have done to this narrative, coupled as this story is with the solstice time, the honoring of that moment when the darkness has reached its limits and the light begins to lengthen in our day yet again. We take these sacred narratives and corrupt them with our economies, our human self-centeredness, our grandiosity, or simply recast them to use them for our own self-aggrandizement. Or we idealize them to the point where they no longer have resonance, are no longer able to reach us, to call us to something other than, greater, or beyond ourselves – as if these narratives could not possibly contain anything “real” in this world.

That, my friends, is not a problem of the narratives, it is a problem in us. Here lies the real human lack of faith – that we have within us the capacity to construct a different world than this cruel and destructive one that seems now to rule the day – and we choose not to.

So this is my plea this week, my shout-out, if you will – that we take stock, that we come to actually believe in what lies in the human heart, the heart that can create these stories and still have such a hard time living up to them. We can opt out of all that is destroying our human communities and laying waste the gifts of this planet. We can choose not to cooperate. We can choose to live differently, right here, there, wherever you are. We can say ‘no’ to things.

And then we can help each other.  We can begin to reconstruct our communities, to learn once again to rely on one another instead of ‘the market’ for what we most need and desire in this world. We can opt for joy. We can opt for sharing the suffering so that there is less suffering. We can opt for truth and beauty and in doing so help transform the world – like the vision of the reborn light transforming the darkness.

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