Thursday, September 15, 2005

Anna Quidlen suggests we actually think

Anna Quidlen in this week's Newsweek suggests we actually think ahead. So does Carl Schaad at Accuweather(see the entry from Thursday, "Preparedness"). Neither of them is saying anything particularly new: noticing that resources have limits, and that people need each other on small scales, well below FEMA and national policy (which implies they also need one another on large scales, and the time of rugged individualism had passed by the time Laura Ingalls (Wilder) grew up).

But they are saying these things outside of the Green Fringe of Mother Earth News and the Nature Conservancy and Rodale Press, so I hope these will become mainstream ideas. "Mainstream" in a way that includes more than white people with graduate degrees and overdeveloped senses of irony and exhausted outrage (I am one. Many of my friends are. We are aware of the absence of everyone else).

Does anyone who actually likes MacDonald's or Wal-Mart or lawn chemicals have enough time to listen? Are we all already too busy trying to keep up with (or reach up to) the way things are supposed to be now (Home: Safe, comfortable, luxurious?; car: running, economical, made unnecessary by adequate public transportation?; health care: any, some, preventive, holistic?; schools: safe, clean, actually teaching anyone to read and cipher, nurturing, exciting?; clean air, clean water, food: any, balanced, sustainable, healthy, tatsy, organic, perhaps vegetarian?; clothing: any, clean, attractive, natural fibers, climate-appropriate?; tv, press, live music, single-malt scotch, exercise ...) to do anything about the way things need to change?

I am concerned that we are all involved in a culture where we are each on variously-priced treadmills trying to get the brass ring we think is the reasonable desert of people like us. Thanks to Katrina I know, if I had forgotten, that some people's goals are so modest we should be ashamed as a nation that they cannot attain them. As more of the middle class slips downward I might hope that there would be less blame on the poor for being poor, and more of a sense of solidarity, but I haven't noticed that happening.

I entirely agree with Quidlen that we can't go on consuming like this. But I haven't seen any signs of finding a way to make sure those who aren't in on the over-consumption get their share of the necessaries. "Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir," the charity agents said to Scrooge. It seems a pity that we need to be knocked back to poverty before we consider the poor, and knocked back to pre-industrial times before we reconsider the costs of modern life. And threatened with looting before we make common cause with our neighbors.

SOO profound. And well, let's see, I know one of my neighbors, she commutes four days a week from Boston and has very nice horses. My across-the-street neighbor is well-known for literally miles for being a rude, crazy sorehead, and his wife looks scared all the time. I have quit going to church since my marriage and my parish collapsed (yes, I think they were keeping each other going), and that was back in north-of-Boston. I have thought about going to the local church but the problem with being an adult convert is that when all the things that drew you in collapse, there's no bone- deep urge to go make things right with the Lord. I did move up here partly for the people I know; we drive from 45 minutes to an hour from different directions to get to the archaeology lab in Concord, roughly the same length of time it took my parish's families to go from our suburbs to our absolutely not gritty city parish.

A knitting guild would be nice. So would a productive garden. Going to cultivate it is a cop-out, but I don't know how to solve the other stuff.


Cassie said...

"It seems a pity that we .... need to be knocked back to pre-industrial times before we consider the costs of modern life." This is exactly what I've been thinking about all day. For weeks, actually. It's exhausting, depressing, and utterly true.

Norma said...

Picture me on the other side of the table from you, wine glass in hand, tiredly nodding in agreement. With the occasional deep sigh, grimace, and resigned shaking of the head. And tomorrow I will go back to the garden.

Helen said...

I thought of these things often after 9/11. How would we survive if things got much worse? I truly believe that survival could be done by some, but not many. We are too consumed with getting "things" to make life seem complete and not being happy with just "being".

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