Monday, October 16, 2017

Back to the Future

Published in the Concord Monitor 10/18/17
Cape Cod sunset taken 4/1/13; reworked in Photoshop
CC Jean Stimmell

Back to the Future

Does our best hope lie in the past?

Although pundits warn that our wasteful, consumer civilization is unsustainable, we still revel in measuring our wellbeing by how quickly we can grow our Gross National Product.  We even have the gall to elect an avaricious, real estate developer as our president.

However, down deep, we know end times are coming: It’s almost come down to flipping a coin: nuclear incineration or climate annihilation.

Just as we, as individuals, avoid at all costs the unpleasant fact that we will die, we appear to have the same kind of denial about our nation’s fate and that of the world.

Like it or not, the handwriting is on the wall.

Nuclear weapons proliferate around the world at the service of a new crop of tinpot despots, spewing schoolyard macho rhetoric, egging each other on to light the fuse of nuclear war, resulting in the atomic doomsday clock ticking down to 2- 1/2 minutes from midnight. Meanwhile hurricanes of unheard of intensity and frequency batter our coasts while forest fires rage out of control in the west.

No wonder we are in denial: Getting bombed back to the Stone Age or thrown back there by Mother Nature is the stuff of our worst nightmares.

Recently, several books suggest a kinder, gentler transition: a back-to-the-future scenario where we voluntarily return to a simpler, sustainable way of life, using the lifestyle of the Bushmen of Africa as a role model.

What we call the Bushmen are more properly referred to as the Kloisan. They may be the first humans to inhabit the earth and have lived sustainably, at one with nature, for at least the last 150,000 years, a length of time unfathomable to us.

It turns out the Kloisan lifestyle is not such a bad way to live: they only have to work around fifteen-hour a week. They live complex lives with deep meaning, attuned to nature and highly skilled, a necessity in order to thrive in harsh desert conditions.

James Scott, professor of political science at Yale, suggests “the step-down in complexity between hunting and gathering and domesticated agriculture is as big as the step-down between domesticated agriculture and routine assembly work on a production line.”

Antropologist Marshall Sahlins has characterized hunter-gatherers as “the gurus of a ‘Zen road to affluence’ through which they were able to enjoy “unparalleled material plenty— with a low standard of living.” He reasoned that hunter-gatherers were content by the simple expedient of not desiring more than their environment could provide. 

Here, it seems are people – egalitarian, honest, peaceful, free – who are
living in harmony with their natural environment, unconcerned with material wealth. Another quality they possessed, we now yearn for, is mindfulness: They lived their lives in the present, trusting that providence would provide.

James Suzman, author of Affluence Without Abundance, seconds what Sahlin writes, hoping that we, like our hunter-gatherer forebears, might learn to be satisfied with having fewer needs more easily met, and in doing so break out of our destructive spiral of endless growth and development.

After all, “if so much of our species’ history was spent hunting and gathering, mustn’t there surely still be something of the hunter-gatherer in all of us.”

 Unfortunately, at present, it’s almost impossible to conceive of us consumer addicted Americans making even a token shift toward such a sustainable lifestyle.

Yet Suzman notes another fundamental aspect of Kloisan society that appears even more unattainable: “a fiercely egalitarian society where profitable exchange, hierarchy, and significant material inequality were not tolerated.”

Okay, I admit that we are not going to morph into sustainable folks overnight. But, as a first step, we could strive to reduce the extreme inequality in our country – not seen since the robber baron of the 19th century rode rough-shorn over we, the people, and our government.

One might argue that such a solution is impossible to achieve because of the increasing polarization in our country. Actually, that’s the best reason to make it happen because recent studies have shown that polarization rises in lockstep with income inequality.

Trump and his band of plutocrats, of course, are pushing a different solution. Big tax cuts to the wealthy to be paid for by further slashing our safety net, including deep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare – which, of course, will only increase the divide between rich and poor.

All of this is happening at terrible cost: while our would-be emperor tweets, Rome is burning. God have mercy on us all.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Homeless in SF

San Francisco near the Ferry Landing
CC Jean Stimmell: 1/5/17
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me around

I feel numb, born with a weak heart

I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better

Make it up as we go along

Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It's okay, I know nothing's wrong, nothing*
*Lyrics from This Must Be the Place by the Talking Heads