Is this true?
Many of us has been watching the world for changes throughout this pandemic – changes for both good and ill. Today, the UK media is full of stories of the re-opening of ‘non-essential’ shops in England (but not here is Scotland) and how this has brought great relief, not just to the traders, but also those of us desperate to return to the great social good that has defined our era: consumerism.
That sounds so judgemental and sneering – as if I do not shop. We have all been caught up in the same cycles of disatisfied wanting, followed by orgiastic aquiring, then post-coital morning-afters in which we awake to the realities of how those thing swe desired failed to deliver any lasting pleasure and in fact might have made us feel worse.
But even as the planet is consumed around us, we still seem to think that the answer is to be found in consumption. We NEED that posh new electric car, right? After all, think how amazing we will look when other people see us passing by, waving our ecological credentials for all to see. Our (my) instagram feeds are full of photos of foraging equipment, eco-toilet paper and fine foods I have made from healthy produce shipped in from half way around the world.
Will anything really change, even after the wake-up call offered by the pandemic and our enforced sabbatical from the life we lived before it?
I think the answer to this question will depend entirely on the attitudes and attention we bring to bear upon it. Cynicism will easily draw us towards inertia and anxiety and fear will spin us off into self destruction. There will always be reasons to point at others and find them wanting, thereby absolving ourselves for the continued dissonance between what we feel to be right and the way we continue to live our lives towards consumption.
As I write this, I feel my head dropping and my spirits sinking and there it is again. Intertia. As if nothing can ever change.
But this is not good enough. I HAVE changed, at least in part. Even if my individual choices are a drop in the ocean, the ocean is made up of… lots of drops. I know this for a fact, being somewhat of the sea-faring salty dog of late.
But for change to take place, individual action (easily rendered as ‘consumer choice’) is just not enough. Change can only happen if we rediscover the collective; if we stop pretending that the world is a binary one made up only of zeros and I’s.
The pandemic surely has made this clear yet again. As well as revealing global and national inequalities in harsh light, it has reminded us that global problems require global solutions. Trump has been Trumped by Biden the middle-man, who now seems to be revealed as rather more radical than we suspected. Even in this fractured polarised world, a window has opened, through which new light can get in, no matter how dirty the glass.
This blog is primarily about ideas; it has long been one of the ways that I try to explore the coming together of spirituality and economics, politics, art and social justice. Partly this is because I have come to believe that ideas shape us for good or ill, even when unrecognised and unacknowledged. Some ideas enter into the zeitgeist of what is seen as ‘normal’ human relations and become almost unassailable. They take on the certitude of ‘common sense’ and as such, any challenge seems absurd. Of course, there is often a power dynamic to these ideas too- they create winners and losers, so the winners pour huge resources into maintaining them.
Think about this for a moment in relation to one of the foremost dominant ideas of our time- individualism. I wrote a blog piece about this once before in which I tried to describe the way that individualism permeates our culture;
ECONOMICS. The dominant economic model for the western world is still Neoliberal economics, which is based around the idea of individual autonomous consumer units
POLITICS. ‘There is no such thing as society’ said Margaret Thatcher, and successive governments on the left and right have tried to prove her correct. Instead we have strivers/skyvers. There are those who are contributing to society and those who are ‘excluded’. The latter need only individual solutions.
RELIGION. We offer only a personal Jesus, who seeks to save the world one sinner at a time. The Hebrew God, who refused even to be given an individual name, and was collectively engaged with a whole nation, has been forgottten.
THERAPY. It is not just because of swiftness and convenience that ‘self-help’ has become such a huge seller and gained such traction within the world of mental health. We can only see individual solutions to what are mostly collective problems.
HEALTH. Positive thinking is offered as the cure all for everything from depression to cancer. Your healing comes from the power of your individualism.
The idea of individualism, even if it contains important truth, masks an alternative reality- perhaps best understood by contrasting two approaches to understanding the natural world.
Following on from the enlightenment and the work of Darwin, we began to see the natural world as one in which the fittest survived, and the weak were discarded. Nature, red in tooth and claw, was a system of competition and conquest, much like our market economies. Supporting the weak is futile. Let nature take it’s course.
Meanwhile, back in old-memory, there are ways of seeing the world as being a great interconnected family- animist folk ideas that we discarded (replaced by idividualised versions of Christianity of course) in the name of science. More recently though, we have learned more about the world of funghi.
Funghi make up about a third of all living organisms on the planet, if mostly unseen and out of sight. The mushrooms we see are merely their infrequent reproductive eruptions, whilst down below the long tenderils of micota are the information superhighway of the natural world. They connect, exchange nutrients, break down, feed up, co-operate and facilitate in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. Funghi form the perfect analogy of a natural world that is anything but individual. A world in which one element is entirely dependent on the other- no, more than that – rather one element is indivisible from the other. They can not exist in isolation, but only in connection.
This idea of connectedness and ‘one-ness’ is found throughout the great religions, in economics, even in politics. So why has it slipped from our zeitgiest? Whose interested are being served here? What changes are prevented if we suppress this idea, perhaps even label it as ‘communism’?
If anyone fancies exploring how ideas/spirituality/activism might come together and form a fungal mass, then it is well worth checking out this podcast, featuring Gail Bradbrook (above), founder of Extinction Rebellion.
As for me, I am determined to continue to be that drop in the ocean I alluded to earlier. I will plant my potatoes and my poems. I will try to reuse, exchange and recycle.
And as we emerge from winter, things will soon start to grow. (This from my aforementioned instagram feed!)