Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Small Communities As Combining Ecological, Political, Economic, And Cultural Solutions, Or, Gandhi On Basket Weaving

So a number of years ago I thought about capitalism as a way to occupy people's time. People need something to do. If you let them just sit around and do drugs and hang out they will go nuts and start doing bad things. Right now I have all kinds of half baked ideas going around in my head. But they are all revolving around this central fact that people need to have their time occupied, they need to have a pastime that occupies their days.

These reflections have been spawned by my reading of Chris Hedges's Empire Of Illusion. In that book Hedges talks about how American's have lost faith in their means to subsistence, how we have turned from genuine social interactions to a culture of illusion that helps us feel better about ourselves. I am too tired to write coherently right now. But the problems that Hedge's addresses are simultaneously cultural and political. With the cultural often informing or creating the political.

But it reminds me of a few things. It makes me think about how there must be some sort of solution to all these different problems. How the healing of the cultural and the political needs to go hand in hand. I'm so frustrated at how hard it is for me to think of this stuff clearly. So let me just bring Gandhi right into the mix.

Gandhi said that basket weaving would be a good occupation for people. Mainly because it would give people something useful to do, and because it would keep people grounded in small communities. He thought that villages were the best way to organize people and their relationships. Small communities. He thought that these small communities were valuable both because of their political and cultural tendencies. Politically, they lend themselves well to a small and non-interventionist government. Culturally, they lead to small and close knit communities.

It reminds me of how these cultural and political problems are present in America: we have a huge nation that is so diverse that we don't really relate to one another very easily, and we are so culturally disengaged that we don't feel politics to be a very useful approach to things. We don't engage in the cultural or political world because they seem so fucked up.

Another issue I think about, ever so vaguely, is ecological issues. The problem of the planet falling apart because of over consumption and the intense emission of greenhouse gasses. I wonder if global warming is real, or what the deal is with all these ecological issues.

One thing I heard friends talk about is the idea of walkable communities. How what we need is social organization that doesn't require cars and oil and stuff.

So wouldn't Gandhi's ideas on village communities based on basket weaving be a similar thing? We could somehow ground ourselves in local communities that would subsist with other villages. This would solve the cultural problems that come along with belonging to huge imagined nations like America. It would solve those political problems that come along with huge nations. It would solve those ecological problems.

These are half baked ideas. That should be obvious.

But when Benedict Anderson talks about the nation as an imagined community, and Hedges expresses frustration with the American culture of illusion we need to see some relationship. We need to see that the country has become too large for individuals to accurately imagine one another. We are so large that we can only stay connected by engaging in a shallow collective culture. This is so reminiscent of Collingwood's concerns about amusement in culture.

I'm trying so hard to bring things together. Hedges' work is going to have huge implications for the things that I am thinking about. In this brief post I am only touching on these things that I will hopefully be able to address in AZI.

But the core issue is this: America has a huge tension between politics, culture, and ecology. And I wonder if the solution to all three of these problems could be found in smaller, walkable communities. It would shrink the world of our imagination to let us experience social relationships in a realer way. It would alleviate our tension about these huge political processes. And it would free us from this huge world of cars and boats that is ecologically unsustainable.

These are the most half baked ideas. But when people like Gandhi and Hedges talk about fundamentally restructuring our political, economic, and cultural institutions, I need to push myself. So this is what I'm trying to do. I'm wondering what type of social organization would solve our political, cultural, economic and ecological problems all at once.

And gosh, I didn't even mention economies this entire time. Chris Hedges is so focused on the impact of economies. Since I read David Harvey's The Condition Of Postmodernity I have been so swayed by economic analyses. But I didn't mention them. But let me just say this: Hedges is fully convinced that the American culture of illusion has been brought about by our economic system, and that Gandhi endorsed basket weaving as a source of livelihood because of its function as an economic system.

The solution to these problems needs to be seen as a whole. We need to grasp social organization in all of its complexity. And clearly it involves politics, culture, economics, and ecology. All of those things need to be factored.

Oh! The half baked thoughts! Oh the time for sorting!

I feel like these are serious thoughts. I want so badly to be on to important things. And oh it is so hard. But I am so pleased with what Chris Hedges has been able to tell me.

Oh I vow to work so hard.

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