Friday, April 22, 2011

Stuff, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Devan Malore

I do carpentry and construction for a living, so I think a lot about human shelter.

Sociologists call the complex system of relationships required to keep our modern world spinning along, organic solidarity. In the village, we had a butcher, baker, candle stick maker. That simpler system of work and relationships is referred to as mechanical solidarity.

After lifetimes spent in caves, dark leaky huts and walled-in castles, organic solidarity feels great. It’s a pleasure to live in conformable spaces, paint walls any color, not worry about rain or cold. However, organic solidarity tends to be consumer driven, so lots of us these days find ourselves dealing with too much stuff to pay for and care for.

Today, somewhere in rural China a factory is producing components for a phone that is smarter than last year’s. On better days this seems a good idea, one that promotes innovation, peace and prosperity through commerce. On bad days, it seems like relentless production of an avalanche of un-needed things, all clamoring to be bought and taken home. I mean, who doesn’t get tired just from imagining cleaning the garage, basement, storage sheds.

Consumer choice is an important mantra of our times. Yet why we need fifty kinds of ketchup in the supermarket is hard to understand. Of course, ketchup companies do employ good folks at their factories which are often located in struggling communities, and I do realize that our economy is almost hopelessly complex. Yet, for my own peace-of-mind, I still chose l to live by this alternative to consumerism as it’s practiced today – something from the popular Buddhist Monk, activist and writer, Thich Nhat Hanh, which he calls “Mindfulness trainings,”

It goes something like this. First I become aware of the suffering created by unmindful consumption. This might be debt, stress, poor health or negative environmental impact related to buying and consuming. Next, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental for myself, family, and society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming of all material goods. I’m also asked to consider what news, advertising and media I expose myself to, because I consume lots of information these days that has an effect on how I view life and how I act.

Thich Nhat Hanh

This simple, but not easy, training doesn’t ask me to do the impossible: It doesn’t ask me not to consume. All I’m asked to do is mindfully consider the impact of what I consume on myself the environment and community.

Imagine a culture built on an “economic system” where we place greater value on creation of healthy relationships, good health, peace, love, happiness, consciousness, and intelligence. All those simple not-things that use fewer resources, yet are often difficult to create.

Sure, our sacred stuff would still get made, but hopefully we’d create, use, and pass on that stuff in a more mindful manner.

I, for one, am convinced we’re much more than what we produce and consume. Why shouldn’t each of us consider becoming more, rather than buying more? Surely, mysterious force “the economy” will eventually shift to meet out greater needs.
 -- Devan Malore lives on the Maury River, wondering what stuff will float by in the next flood . . .

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