I’ve been mulling over Al Gore’s movie, and the way we faced food shortages in WWI and WWII, and the energy crisis of the 70’s, and life as a hippy, and Numenism and its Bounty Ministry, and life as we know it today, and I wonder. I wonder just how we got from the united purpose of the World Wars and the dedicated activism of the hippy era and even the more recent bonding of the Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City to the disenfranchisement and isolation of now – the “I can’t do it” attitude so many people now espouse, and the willingness to let “specialists” handle all of our affairs outside a narrow range of things we feel competent to do.
I’m not a social scientist to pinpoint when this decline began, but I have dedicated my life to studying patterns. The earliest ripples may well have seeded themselves all the way back at the founding of this country – or earlier still. When it began isn’t anything we can change and knowing the beginnings won’t alter how we proceed into the future. The pattern itself is the issue here – the fact that we did change, and the knowledge that having changed, we can change again. “Change Is” and “Everything She Touches, Changes” are two chants frequently sung among the Pagans, yet it doesn’t seem to have sunk into the psyche of the Pagans. Or maybe it did, but the zeitgeist overrode the message.
The point is, we have changed. We’ve become specialists. We produce one tiny thing (whatever it is we do for work) and we consume a great many things. Occasionally, a few of us vote. We depend upon a lot of other specialists to meet our needs and desire: the wheat farmer, the doctor, the teacher, the film industry, the music industry, and so on. Maybe we have a hobby that lets us expand our one tiny thing – maybe we knit caps for preemies, or play the guitar, or bake our own bread. We’ve severed our connections with so many things to build a society of innate specialists. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – specialization has given us computers, cars, and Fair Trade coffee. Specialization freed us to concentrate on one thing at a time. Specialization allowed us sell our skills far outside our local community, making us wealthy. Specialization allowed us to sell our skills far outside our community, destroying that community and severing our ties with our neighbors. Specialization allowed us to sell our skills far outside our community, taking away any personal responsibility for how we destroyed our communities.
Maybe specialization is a good thing, but it comes at a very high cost to us.
What made specialization on this scale possible was cheap energy. It allowed us to pay distant others to provide all sorts of things for us, from entertainment to food to problem-solving. It’s inconceivable to us to live without energy – how will we eat, what will we do for entertainment, who will heal us, who will make our decisions for us? We’ve become so specialized we can’t imagine doing things for ourselves – we wait for a specialist to come up with a solution – a politician or a scientist. Hopefully the solution will be elegant and easy and not cause us to change our lifestyle very much. We’ve put our faith in market-driven solutions on the presumption that those same market-driven solutions got us into this fix in the first place so of course they will get us out.
I was so frustrated at Al Gore’s movie because he presented us with a wide-sweeping problem and then told us in the closing credits that we could “change a light bulb” to fix it. The puniness of what he asked against the enormity of the problem told me clearly that Al Gore was a dedicated specialist. His mind could not conceive of the average American being able to do anything more. His is a mind divided and reliant, compartmentalized, and unimaginative. That is the curse of specialization – the inability to think beyond one’s specialties.
I can, though. See, I’m a Numenist and deeply involved in our Bounty Ministry. Our goal isn’t sustainability, nothing that paltry. No, we’re striving for a thriving, bounteous environment. We can have it, even if we must go through a Little Ice Age or a Long Drought. We can do much more than change a light bulb. We can plant seeds. Real seeds, as in planting radishes, and tomatoes, and strawberries, and seeds as in ideas and suggestions and inspirations.
The specialist mind looks at this huge, overwhelming problem and it freezes up. The problem has so many parts, is so wide-spread, so large, they can’t fit into any of their compartments, can’t imagine any single thing they can do to change things. Someone else will have to take responsibility, and they go back to their lives, convinced that by having thought of the problem, they’ve done all they can do.
We Numenists are people of patterns, of change. And we say we can all do something. Yes, even Al Gore’s little “change a light bulb” thing – it’s a start – a seed. If you change just one thing today, you can influence others to change that same thing. By changing one thing, you open the way to add another little change. Maybe this time, you’ll be influenced by someone else’s change. Over time, those changes will add up. This is a viral social change. If we all pick just one small thing to change – maybe we choose to eat less meat, or use cloth and net bags for shopping, or to ride our bike to work or out shopping or to the park or the movies instead of driving, or to unplug things that are energy vampires (how many clocks do we really need in one room anyway? – the kitchen has one on the oven, the microwave, the refrigerator, the toaster oven, the coffeemaker, etc. Only one needs to be accurate – I pick the refrigerator – unplug the rest when they aren’t in use), or to pick one day a month or a week where we don’t go shopping, don’t drive anywhere, don’t use anything electronic, where virtually everything we do is powered by our own muscles. One thing. One seed to get the others all going.
It’s easy. I know you can do it.
We’ve also been advocating locavorism and growing your own food. Putting in a garden is easy. Our ancestors did it without all the nifty tools we have now. We have better information on soil testing and amendments, and easier methods of getting good plants growing without a great deal of labor or expense. If you plant it from seed, nourish it from your compost and don’t need too many drives to a garden center or nursery, you can grow a free lunch! Not only that, but you’ve grown the freshest tastiest food you can eat with a carbon footprint so small it hits the negative numbers – meaning you’re actively healing the earth and making things better. Your compost is reducing the bags of garbage hauled away from your house even as it feeds your garden – a double positive! You’ll get free exercise, too, and reduce the trips to the gym – that means you’ll be healthier, stronger, get lots of good Vitamin D, and still reduce your carbon footprint. And when you’re in the garden, you won’t be depending on other people to entertain you – a further reduction in your carbon footprint.
If you live in an apartment or condo or hi-rise, you can garden in an abandoned lot, or on the roof, or in window boxes or join a community garden or work with your city council to get gardening land allotted to people who want to claim it (like Germany does).
More importantly, by planting and tending a garden, you will heal not only the earth, but your community and yourself. You’ll meet your neighbors (maybe for the first time!) and form bonds with them (zucchini bonds!), and you’ll gain personal power through your increasingly diverse abilities. You won’t be trapped into a specialization mindset, but will become the creative problem solver who can provide for yourself and your family not only without diminishing the world about us, but by actively increasing the bounty of the earth. Our relationship with the earth is not and should not be a zero-sum game – and gardening is proof of that.
Pick your seed. You can do it. We can do it.