Surrendering our freedom to the market

Posted April 4th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

[The is long, kind of a testament of something I truly believe – with urgency. If you care about these things and can make a contribution to this project, we would be most grateful. Donations are tax-deductible.]

I want to write about something hard today, something important. My project looks at ecology and spirituality. It asks questions about how we are living in this world and what about that is shredding the fabric of the ecological life in which we are embedded – the whole of the earth and all its beings, the economies in which we live and move, the interactions of all these dynamisms of our lives that mean we do not make a single decision or take a single action that does not have some ripple effect in nature, in our families and communities, our neighborhoods, in our bodies and souls.

Smog over Lake Michigan – Photo: Deanna

We can’t escape that. Doesn’t matter if we want to believe it or not. There are the obvious connections – I buy an iPad or iPod, I have connected myself to the destruction of rare earth mineral mining and encouraged it. I buy foods made with corn syrup or eat corn-fed beef or encourage more corn ethanol at the pump, I connect to the rapidly escalating production of corn that is destroying arable land, breaking down habitats, and increasing incentives to grow corn for other than good food and nutrition – and I connect to one of the drivers that is increasing food insecurity around the world. You know, there are a million examples.

And what is in the heart, what we bring to our work, our relationships, our way of presence in the world, the attitudes that linger, the belief systems that shape our world view and whether or not they honor what is most real – which is the interconnection of everything with everything, the individual acting alone being a figment of our imagination.

The meaning of my headline today:

the ‘market’ as currently constructed is based on that figment of our imagination. It caters to it, strengthens it, tends to enhance our feeling of isolation and self-interest. It is built on the foundation of the Western Enlightenment, that burst of hubris that came with the ‘scientific age’ and the philosophies of Francis Bacon and Descartes, that mental disease of the West that sees creation as a ‘mechanism’ to be broken down into isolated parts and then mastered and manipulated to promote the human and especially the individual.

Except when the individual became part of the machine, producing in assembly lines the products that were/are consumed by those who can afford them, the experience of the isolated superior individual being the privilege of a very few who own the machines, the science (think patented life forms, for example), the labor of others.

Think Thomas Jefferson who knew slavery to be immoral but did not free his slaves because he knew his privileged life, his free time to think and write and discuss, was based on the foundation of slavery.

Wall built by slaves – Springbank Retreat Center, South Carolina. Photo: Margaret Swedish

Or think Koch brothers who fund efforts to destroy the decent wages and benefits of workers, the right to collective bargaining in the private and public sector, who want to eliminate public schools because they educate unwanted and unneeded poor people, or who aim  to eliminate laws and regulations that prevent them from polluting at will in order to make more profit, or to have more of the earth at their disposal for exploitation for their energy and paper products.

These are examples of this kind of thinking. The corporate-based global market is built upon this sort of thing – with the predictable results. The life systems of the planet are being eroded and in many places permanently destroyed, toxins are in everything now that we need for life (including our very bodies), species are going extinct, our beautiful places are becoming steadily less beautiful, and we have all become dependent in most aspects of our lives on that market.

Human beings spent centuries evolving in our sense of human dignity to the point where wars, upheavals both violent and non-violent, occurred over a couple of centuries to overthrow government and military tyrannies of all kinds. I think of how long it has taken the ‘Jesus Christ breakthrough’ – the sense that all people are equal in God’s love, that all have access to God without mediation of religious authority, that ethnic and racial discrimination are sinful, that poverty and other forms of injustice are expressions of human sin that God deplores, that the rich are in big trouble morally and spiritually – to take any deep roots at all in our psyches. I know this: there is no way to integrate that breakthrough into this marketplace, into the economic world as it is currently constructed.

Sign at Madison WI protest – Photo: Margaret Swedish

Yet millions of Christians are among the biggest boosters of an individualistic approach to our economic and ecological lives. Where do they find the gospel roots of such a belief system?

So, having struggled over centuries for the idea of freedom from tyranny, we have given over our lives to the corporation, to the market. The market decides what we need, what we want, what it should taste like and feel like, who will get jobs doing what sorts of things, that being determined in board rooms and secret CEO meetings. Now it is deciding who gets elected into office, how to make more private profit from the public sector, what our energy policies will be, and who will control what we need for life – things like access to food and water.

And what we are all experiencing is a deterioration in our quality of life, a way of life that has millions of us  hooked on psycho-drugs to help us absorb the awful psychological and emotional impacts of living in such a world, to help us control the depression and anxiety that are probably a sign of mental health rather than disease, perfectly understandable and appropriate responses to a world that assaults our psyches and our spirits on a daily basis.

I do not believe we were meant to live like this. And I especially do not believe that anything about this all-consuming market is inevitable.

All we have to do is stop participating in it, stop letting it give us our values, or make our decisions for us, or allowing it to be the first place we go to meet our needs, when those needs could be met outside that market (one example, the burgeoning alternative food systems of organic and local farmers and backyard gardeners and farmers markets and not expecting off-season vegetables in our stores when they are, well, off season).

We could start talking to each other again instead of texting and emailing. We could start spending our evenings in the company of our friends and families and neighbors instead of watching TV. We could stop supporting the shopping malls that have devastated our green areas and destroyed neighborhoods wherever they appear.

This is what matters – Photo by Mom

You know, the list is long.  Seems to me that, while we weren’t paying a whole lot of attention, since World War II (a very short time in which this has happened), we have surrendered our souls and our freedom to the market. We have defined freedom as freedom of the marketplace, which has made a shrinking number of people fabulously wealthy and wrecked the planet, while it has made a growing number of us poor, insecure, overworked, hooked on gadgets for entertainment, sick in body and spirit, needing drugs to help us get through our day, and terrified for our futures.

I do not believe it is possible in any way to achieve ecological health and wholeness within this global economy. It destroys nature rather than mimics its wisdom; it elevates the hubris of the wealthy corporate human who believes him/herself to be a Master of the Universe, while degrading human work and meaning; it tears at the fabric of our ecological lives until that fabric will no longer hold.

In order to find ecological and spiritual wholeness, in order to revive a sense of the deep meaning of the human journey, we must begin to wrest ourselves from the market, to work to change the policies that enable, entrench and strengthen it, to become fierce defenders of this planet wherever we live, not only of our lives and our children’s lives but of the eco-communities in which we live and move and have our being. We have to wrest the meaning of the earth’s gifts away from the market which demeans them, seeing in them only resources for exploitation for the exaltation of human wealth generation, for the corporate bottom line.

That is what I see now behind all of our economic and political tensions. That economic way of life, exalted in the market, is leading us quickly towards a terrifying future of environmental catastrophe (think Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant or the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as examples), economic collapses (more 2008s, but worse and more frequent), a return to savage exploitation of the human worker, greater poverty, and fewer paths out of the crisis.

What we can do is  begin to rebuild our communities to replace the market as much as possible, to scale down, share more, live simply, begin to redefine the meaning of life to something that more closely resembles the dignity and worth of the human being within the story of this planet.

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2 Responses

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    Good creative art for improving the creativity. which most of our folks lag, especially scientific community. There is proverb “when ever more people walk on a grassy land on the same steps of the others in front, nothing grows”, and a proverb “gone with the wind”, it is history and also mystery. A creative person always always looks the other way. He/she goes on creating their own web of creations which shall be amazing to others, it may take time for others to understand but one by one start following and go on creating some thing or other, this how the life gets on this earth.
    These all people who are from the market side look only for their profit and coverage, just they exploit the weakness of the people for the product. It is better to go back to Mahatma Gandhi’s principle by denying to purchase such items and discarding them where ever if it can. This strategy makes more impact on those industries which were exploiting the people.