Sunday, October 03, 2010

A terrible dependency of mind

As I watched snippets of President Obama's town hall-style meetings around the country recently, I was struck by how often questioners demonstrated the mindset that solutions to their problems will come from some central authority, in this case, the federal government. It's not surprising to see this in the modern industrial state. The other central authority would be large, globe-spanning corporations that provide the essentials of modern life including food, fuel, transportation, and a wide array of industrial and consumer goods. They even supply much of the entertainment.

I see no easy way for a modern person, especially someone living in an urban setting--as the vast majority of people in the United States do--to avoid such dependencies altogether for now. To disengage from them completely would mean certain death for many if not most. For nearly everyone alive in wealthy countries there has never been a time when we were not faced with extreme dependence on the two most centralizing forces of the modern era, central government and behemoth corporations.

So, given the current economic mess it seems natural for people to turn to the twin citadels of central power and demand that they alleviate our suffering. This demand assumes that those running our governments and corporations have the ability and the desire to respond to such suffering.

In a world where various occupational niches are disappearing never to return, the extreme specialization which has become the norm in modern labor has doomed many to long-term unemployment. The market no longer needs them because they have the wrong skills or because demand for what they do is very low.

And, the promise that the economic downturn will be temporary further enslaves the minds of those already out of work and out of luck. It deals them a second blow of suffering, the second being the false hope that things can return to what passed for normal in, say, 2006.

This terrible dependency of mind results in paralysis for some and rage for others. It leads people to believe that someone else can fix what ails them. They assume that they have little power to solve their own problems in ways that don't involve central authorities.

And now, like children throwing tantrums to punish their parents, America's voters appear ready to throw out the current governing party because of its inability to resolve their suffering. They do not recognize that neither party can now steer a corrupt and bankrupt central government toward solutions to our difficulties. In part that's because the government has become the lapdog of self-serving corporate managers who take no responsibility for our current predicament and therefore see little role for themselves in addressing it.

Those who have labored now for years in the relocalization movement generally recognize this dependence of mind and attempt to fight it. They fight it not merely with mental exercises, but, more importantly, with action that leads to a degree of self-sufficiency and a healthy mutuality among neighbors, friends and other community members. In America there has always been the necessary cultural framework for this. And, we have not forgotten how to do it. But we have forgotten that we know how to do it.

It is one of the main tasks of the peak oil and sustainability movements to reawaken that knowledge. Once reawakened a person faced with such scenes as we saw on television in these town hall meetings will understand the pain. But that person will seek to alleviate it by turning off the TV set and getting down to work alongside fellow community members.


John Andersen said...


Thank you for making the point that the energy that is currently wasted in rage against politicians and the collapsing system, needs to be channeled toward positive, local, non-political solutions.

Hopefully more people are realizing this, and beginning to discover or rediscover a way of life post dependency.

Tschäff said...

That's a bit too cynical don't you think? I personally want to reduce oil dependence, so I've switched to an electric scooter, train and bicycle for 99% of my driving. However all I've done is made my life less convenient. Braving Chicago's winters on a bicycle is not for the weak willed. The nation still continues its unsustainable practices. However if government were to fund large scale infrastructure upgrades, there could be widespread support. It would provide jobs, and ensure future prosperity. It would be an easy case to make. Even the right wingers would enjoy the jobs and energy independence aspects of it. It's not happening because of the reasons you mentioned, but the only two solutions I can think of is either science inventing some cheap, clean energy source or government intervention in the economy. Once oil prices rise, I think we'll hear the calls for new infrastructure grow much louder, corporations will want in on the action. No need to be so pessimistic.

The North Coast said...

The childlike mentality we have regarding our government and its ability to solve our problems bedevils even those ostensibly dedicated to relocalization, down-scaling, and the revival of survival skills.

I am a loose participant in the local Transition Town chapter, and at our meetings, when we propose local solutions to things like "renewable" energy and growing our own food, someone ALWAYS suggest that we seek government funding or tax credits for doing things like installing solar panels or wind turbines, or to acquire land for community gardens.

You hear this, and you feel like saying: lookit, folks. When oil becomes critical and prices for absolutely everything spiral up into the stratosphere and the systems we depend on for our very lives start to wobble and topple- things like clean municipal water and emergency response and food delivery- the authorities are going to be in no case whatsoever to help out with your back-yard wind turbines or your roof panels or whatever. Part of transitioning means learning to do for yourself, and doing it with much less.

The best thing we could do to prepare our population for the vicissitudes to come is to start to roll back government services. We simply will not have the means to provide everyone with the latest and greatest in health care, or to help them build and buy houses of any type, or teach them how to grow their own food. We won't be able to support a whole population of people on one form of welfare or the other. We will barely be able to pay and equip our fire and police depts so that someone will come to put out a fire in your house, or keep you from being murdered by a home invader.

We need to end the Entitlement mentality now, and grow up.