Thursday, February 19, 2009

For the Love of the Land

I recall a cross-country flight of about a year ago that left its mark on me. At the same time that I was awestruck by the beauty and majesty of America's varying landscape as we flew west, I was also disturbed here and there by what I saw. I do believe my response was more intuitive than conscious--a sensation versus a thought, that is to say. What I sensed when I saw various sorts of open-air mines, roads cuts into ridiculous, impossible landscapes, and other "insults," was insistence, domination of an otherwise contented land. I felt as though I were feeling for the land, experiencing first hand the tortuous contortions it had been asked--without being asked at all--to withstand. Here and there, it felt to me as though the earth had been, in a word, abused.

It is one thing to utilize the earth's provisions, to avail ourselves of its bounty and wondrous capacities and its wealth of resources while respecting and appreciating its greatness and dominion. It is another thing entirely to take over, to relinquish the partnership in favor of power.

So often this line is crossed in intimate relationships does it start there? It's a fine, subtle line. We move from "Gee, isn't this great? Look at what a treasure I discovered in you" to "You are mine, and you had better act that way" or some such, without even noticing it. Suddenly each partner presumes to have a say in the other's life, and the interference, or at least attempted interference, begins. I know better for my partner: "I know the right way to speak, to spend, to make the bed!" and vice versa. At the least, this is the privilege of partnership gone awry.

It is the same with the land. Somewhere along the way, we have gone from stewards to sovereigns. Power over has usurped cooperation for mutual benefit. Developers don't ask permission of the land before they tear into it. I expect the average developer would find that notion quite amusing at best. The earliest settlers of this land knew and honored the importance of such a dialogue, such a collaborative relationship with the land, and the benefits of that way proliferated. Exploitation on the other hand, no matter its context, can only end badly. We are paying dearly these days for the disrespect we have shown, for the injury we have inflicted on our earth and sky.

I have long been amazed that anyone anywhere takes the bait of the marketers. That "choosy" mothers will, say, choose Jiff peanut butter because the advertisements tell them it's the better food for their children's PB & J sandwiches. Yet, advertising works. Consumers do listen in great numbers, buy the name brands, retire last year's perfectly fine garments to replace them with the latest styles, and even fall for "new and improved," replacing good old stuff with "better" stuff! I don't get hooked much by this, as
I am not much of a shopper; comparatively speaking, my consumption is rather low, my "footprint" smaller than average. Perhaps that predisposes me to some degree of immunity from the "spell." Nevertheless, it has not escaped my notice:
things don't last a long as they used to. I thought this was due to the rising costs of production and such, coupled perhaps with a drop in the pride of workmanship (after all, so much is computerized now, and computers take no pride in their work). I was appalled to learn that this trend was no trend at all, but rather a marketing strategy conceived by economist Victor Lebow. What was Lebow's strategy for post WWII economic recovery? He said that what we needed was to:
...make consumption our way of convert the buying and use of goods into rituals...[to] seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption...we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.
I was shocked to learn that it was so thoroughly intentional. Sad, but true--at least according to Annie Leonard's important and enlightening video, The Story of Stuff. If you haven't seen it, watch it. In its entirety. Visit her blog. Check out the EWG's Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Data Base.

But whatever you do, please help turn this ship around! We can start (or continue) by taking responsibility for our willing, however reflexive, collaboration in creating our current
conditions. Then, we can set about transforming them. Perhaps we'll see the day when rabid consumption will be passe, when tossing good stuff to make room for the shiny, new, improved models will be stigmatized, when the old standby will be coveted. I do think we'd have a full-scale revolution on our hands, the likes of which would even put age spots, creases and wrinkles in demand!

And a last word about where all the "stuff" goes. I would venture to say that the average rabid consumer doesn't think very far beyond his or her own curb or dumpster. "Power over" got us here. Reinstate the dialogue, the partnership, the collaboration with this land, and the ship will turn.

Not to mention that the earth will love us for it.


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