Tag Archives: Societal Change

The Only Effective Protest

I’m not a big believer in protests, particularly not in the United States. They rarely accomplish anything, and what they do accomplish is often just some small appeasement to make everyone shut up. Protesters are basically like flies on a cow. They swarm around the massive government and corporations and get lazily and easily swatted down.  I am, however, a big advocate of movements. And what moves people in this country? Money.

I thought that the whole “leave your bank” movement within Occupy had promise. If you’re pissed off about something, the best way to protest now is by not financially supporting it, if you can help it at all. I think that it should have extended beyond banks to all kinds of corporations. Had there been a more organized effort, wouldn’t it have made more sense to just say “hey, a-holes, we don’t like what’s going on. And we are not going to give any more money to corporations that have shipped most of the jobs overseas, or are making greed-based layoffs,” or whatever your grievance may be.

The economy, as far as I can understand, is still supposed to be pretty circular. Businesses can’t bring money in if they’re not putting money out (in the form of wages). Well, our current economy shows that they CAN do that, at the cost of private citizens.  They can do it because they can get cheap labor elsewhere, and people will still pay the same amount for the final product. This is how our country got so top-heavy: people (individuals – don’t even get me started on corporate personhood!) getting richer and richer without actually contributing anything to society. So, if you feel truly passionate about putting this country back together, stop putting money in to businesses that aren’t functioning like good citizens. You can yell all you want, but nothing talks as loud as money. If you cut the money off, they’ll get the picture eventually.

So, this is where we get back to the generations analysis. People in American society really like their “stuff.” For various reasons, we have a really difficult time with the idea of not having a lot of stuff, or using stuff until it wears out, or putting any real thought into what kind of stuff we buy. The last generation in this country that really had to pull together, or really knows what it’s like to live without a lot of stuff, is still around, but is slowly passing on. My grandmother (of the Greatest Generation) knows how to make almost everything she needs to survive, and she knows how to fully use the things that she does purchase. She only purchases items that have real value to life, and ideally they are high-quality items that will last forever. My dad (baby-boomer) retained some of her values, in terms of quality of items, but is mainly interested in convenience, and bigger-better-faster-more. The boomers really created the culture of stuff, and began molding that mentality into self-worth: “you are nothing without your stuff.”

Gen Xers I think are a little less interested in convenience than the boomers (they’ll go the extra mile to recycle, or whatever), but still have enough of the boomer values in them to crave “stability” – a certain level of comfort that is directly related to owning a home and the correct furniture, car, techie gadgets, etc. We still have a bit of the bigger-better-faster-more mentality, and a lot of it is wrapped up in image. We’ve continued to press the agenda of stuff.  Now, of course, generation Y is completely obsessed with image. They have grown up entirely indoctrinated into dependence on corporations. How can they create an image if they don’t have stuff? Who would they be? How would they make themselves special and unique?

I guess I went into all the stuff with the different generations as a way to better understand why the hell people don’t just act on their anger. People prefer to bitch, not act, because acting is too hard (and I am not excusing myself from this behavior!). It is inconvenient. It is uncomfortable. It is scary because we might have to actually face ourselves and each other has human beings, rather than image projections. It is scary because we don’t know what to do with ourselves without our stuff. It is scary because we have never lived without. But the totally irrational piece is that there are still people living, like my grandmother, for whom none of the above was ever a problem! It is demonstrably true that we won’t die from the act of financial dissent! Furthermore, unlike my grandma’s time, there are now lots of businesses that make totally cool, totally ethical STUFF! You wouldn’t even have to totally give it up! All you have to do is think before you buy. If you can’t afford the ethical stuff, than just don’t buy the stuff.

This is what I mean by “financial freedom.” It’s not just getting out of debt, getting out from under the thumb that holds you down; it is also the ability to have a say as a citizen (because if you think that our political process works, you have on glasses so rosy you can barely see). I am still hoping that I will see a time where the members of each of the currently-living generations get over their disparate and selfish reasons for not acting, and actually decide to do some serious rebuilding of the country from the ground (individual) on up. You know – old-school American style.

Of Food and Freedom

A new state bill is up concerning raw milk sales. I first heard about this via MPR, so I went to the MPR website to find out more. Here is MPR’s coverage of the issue. But first I have to point out that when I searched “food law” and sorted by date, this gem of a news blip came up: Freedom to Eat.

The fact that these two articles (and proposed laws!) are so close together strikes me as kind of hilarious. The raw milk coverage heavily leans against having freedom to choose your own health risks, and the freedom to eat article is about a bill that proposes personal responsibility for obesity.  I just want to point out that the MPR article attributes to raw milk approximately 1,700 illnesses and 2 deaths(nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)) between 1998 and 2008 (that is, for the record, 10 years). Even if this statistic is accurate, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal when compared with the full scope of foodborne illnesses (quoted from the CDC’s 2002 report on Foodborne Illnesses, bolding is mine): Foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. The 2006 (the most recent full survey that I could find on the CDC site) report doesn’t even include dairy in the top offenders: the most common food commodities to which outbreak-related cases were attributed were poultry (21%), leafy vegetables (17%), and fruits/nuts (16%).

Now for the other article. How many illnesses and deaths are attributed to obesity?  Well, I couldn’t find a direct statistic (probably because obesity is related to so many different illnesses, it’s hard to nail down an exact number), but here’s the CDC’s most recent obesity report, and here’s how much obesity costs in this country. Funny that this obesity problem showed up in the U.S. right around that time that there was widespread food processing. Funny that milk pasteurization didn’t start until around the turn of the century, with the appearance of industrial feed lots, but is now  a must for all dairy farmers, big or small.  But, I digress…

I’m not going to go into some drawn out argument on why I think raw milk is good. I believe that the details of the raw milk argument are more or less beside the point. The point is personal liberty. People should have the right to choose what they purchase and eat. If the government wants to hold us responsible for choosing to eat foods that are known to make us obese (or cigarettes, or booze for that matter!), why shouldn’t we be granted the responsibility (AKA, freedom!) to choose foods that may carry some risk, but definitely carry some benefits (and, based on the info above, we legally choose foods that carry risk, anyhow!)? Why should the government regulate some choices, but not others? Think about it. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The Old American Dream

Related to last Thursday’s post, I am aware of the source of some of the anxiety that I’ve been having about this move. It is rooted in choosing to live in a way that is different from the way that I was raised to live. I was raised in the suburbs. I have one brother. My parents worked opposite shifts so we never had to go to daycare. We certainly didn’t have a lot of money as a family unit, but I always had my own bedroom, even when we lived in a trailer. We went to Catholic grade school. We went on annual vacations (even if it was just camping most of the time!). We had plenty of toys. Plenty of stuff. We had very little awareness of what a struggle it was for our parents to provide all of this to us. In our minds we weren’t spoiled. We were just “normal.” Now I look back at what my parents sacrificed for us (They never had new clothes. They always drove crappy cars. They never got to get away alone together. Etc.), with a mixture of awe, gratitude, and horror.

At the time, mom and dad were just doing what they felt they were supposed to do. Get married. Have kids. Buy a house. Accumulate stuff; mainly for the benefit of their children. They were raised under the idea that their role as parents was to provide a better life for their children than the one they had themselves (even if it meant going into debt to do it). The American Dream. I still think that this ideal rings true; I think that most young parents still want to create the best life possible for their children. I hope so, anyhow! I just think that “a better life” is in the process of being redefined. The idea of “the good life” in American culture is very stuff-centric. There are prescribed steps that, when followed, are supposed to lead to success. Success is a nicely decorated house on a big lot, with lots of fancy appliances and electronics, new cars every couple of years, vacations, etc. In my parents’ generation, and for a couple generations before and after theirs, everyone strove for an approximation of this image of success.

My generation may have been the last where the majority of us were raised in some approximation of the American Dream. The middle class. We were raised to believe that the culture of stuff is normal, and even necessary. Now the middle class is disappearing. There are the rich (we’re talking Oprah and the like, here), the wealthy (aka, anyone that can afford to live the way that my generation was raised to live), the poor (what used to be blue-collar middle class), and the very poor (those that can barely afford, or can’t afford, basic needs like food, shelter, etc.). My friends and I represent the new middle class. Educated, but without any of the money or stuff that has historically been associated with being educated. We simply can’t afford it – our incomes are not commensurate with our education, or with the amount of educational debt we carry.

Roughly 90% of people I know in my age group (I’m thinking of a group of about 100 friends and acquaintances) went to college. A good chunk have advanced degrees as well. The majority of us are married or permanently coupled. At age 30-35, only around 5% own their own homes. Almost everyone I know still rents. We all buy our clothes at discount stores. Some of us have some fancy electronics, etc., but they are in apartments or very modest homes. Many of us are thinking about starting families, but are worried that we can’t afford it, particularly when we are so mired down with student loans, and aren’t yet making enough money to comfortably pay on them, live life, and support children. For us, the old American Dream just simply isn’t really available.

What I think, what I hope, is happening, is that many people, particularly in my generation, are readjusting their ideals for “the good life” to look a little less like their parents’ ideals, and a little more like their grandparents,’ or great-grandparents’ ideals. To be happy, we don’t need a lot of stuff. We can’t require a lot of stuff for happiness, or happiness would literally be impossible. We can still have families. We can still experience life. We just can’t do those things AND own a lot of crap. For many of us, it has to be a choice. I think that for those of us that are on the cusp of this change in ideals, the transition can be emotionally difficult. It has been for me, anyhow. It is difficult to be raised in one value system and to then adjust to another value system. Pieces of the old value system still come back to haunt you, as unreasonable as they may be. My old value system comes back and whispers in my ear that, even though I make a relatively decent living and don’t hate my job, I’m not as successful as I should be.

The reality is that I simply can’t afford to live the same way that my parents did, and neither can most of my peers, despite the fact that I took full advantage of all of the opportunities that they gave me; I took all the right steps. That reality feels a little bit backwards, and my emotions rebel against it (as do those of my parents). But the truth is that I know that the way that my parents ‘ generation, and the generations around theirs, lived has caused massive destruction on this planet, and in the health and well-being of billions of humans. I don’t really even want to live that way. The simple truth is: of course I can live in a small space and still raise a child well. Of course I can be happy and experience life in that same small space. Of course I can get by with fewer outfits. Of course I don’t need every updated gadget that appears on the market. Of course I don’t need to buy my children gobs of toys. Of course I don’t need to eat out all the time. And so on, and so on, and so on. My grandmother did it. Her mother did it. Everyone turned out just fine. Everyone turning out fine and happy is the true mark of success. Not stuff. My family and I will be just fine, too.