Archive for December, 2008

Holiday Spirit(s)

Sharon December 24th, 2008

I picked this piece up from a link on Rod Dreher’s blog, and while I know I’m supposed to be working, I thought I’d take five minutes and offer it to any of you who haven’t seen it.  It is just a lovely piece - I don’t usually do Christmas stuff, but this is special:

I want to spare my daughter this. I want to instill, to whatever extent a father can, the high and driving Spirit, the sanguine craving to restore. Of course it is too late to change everything, and always has been. Everything is too big. But each of us can do something where we are, and there are millions of us.

We could look at the world’s troubles and sink into grief, as we could when a fire sweeps through a forest or a flood wipes away a city. But forests and populations generally come back, sometimes better. We can mourn for the already extinct species, lakes and forests as we mourn our dead, but as long as we remain alive we are greater than grief. Nature will return, and with our help can return in time for our species to appreciate.

And for most of the world, it is not too late. Just a few years ago peak oil and climate change were obscure ideas, and they rapidly spread until they broke into the mainstream. We are trying to return to a simpler life, and so are millions of others – the largest movement ever, happening in every part of the world. I want her to know that we are not trying to turn the tide, for tides are natural. What is happening to the world was done by men, and will be undone. I want her to know, as Tasman McKee did not, that she is not alone.

Do read the lovely whole thing!

I don’t have a solstice piece, I’m afraid to match it, but I’m also including my own Chanukah riff on Wallace Stevens, which is not as good as the above.  And whatever holiday of lights you may be celebrating, I wish you a good one! (And yeah, you get to yell at me for posting now ;-).)

With Apologies to Wallace Stevens…
Not Quite 13 Green Ways of Looking at a Menorah

1. The Shammash (this is the candle one uses to light all the others)

Among the snowy houses
There was only one
Candle lifted to light another.

The essential message of Chanukah is anti-assimilationist. The Jews were ordered to assimilate into pagan society, including eating pagan foods and worshipping pagan gods, and the Maccabees resisted. Their tiny and overmatched force won a long war against terrible opposition. It is a reminder, that every revolution starts with a “No,” a refusal to bow down, to accept the loss of identity into the mass culture. We too can and must begin with a “No,” or a series thereof, in which we decline to participate in the consumer culture and the destruction of justice. The changes we are undertaking are a revolution. And our hope of transforming the world is precisely the same as that of the Maccabees - faint, and yet we must succeed, so we will.

2. The First Candle.

I said three brachot
On first nights, we begin again.

There are two traditional brachot, or blessings, for the Chanukah candles that are said every night. But on the first night, we add a third blessing, the schecheyanu. This prayer translates as “Thank You G-d for sustaining us and bringing us to this particular moment.” It is a prayer that Jews say whenever they do something special for the first time in a long time - the first time they see flowers bloom, or celebrate a new holiday in the cycle, come together with family they have been parted with or put on a new item of clothing. It is reminder that life is cyclical and seasonal, and that this is our natural state. We are supposed to experience joy and pleasure when new things come to us, and then put them aside, until they come again in their own time and season. It is easy to forget in our society that cyclical life is what creates much of our joy. It is no pleasure worthy of G-d or delight to eat strawberries when you can have them every day. There is no way to seperate feasts from ordinary days if you eat each day the way our ancestors feasted. It is not loss to live simply and in tune with the seasons, but a gain.

3. Second Candle

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman igniting fire
Are one.

In our prayers, Jews not thank G-d for the light itself, but for giving us the job of lighting the candles ourselves. We are grateful for being given an act, a route to meaning, a way of doing good and serving another. I do not expect all (or even most) of those who read this to be Jews or even theists, but this is worth considering even if you aren’t. Perhaps we should be more grateful for honorable work, for the chance to do good by our own hands. It isn’t that G-d didn’t make the light, it is that G-d was generous enough to share the labor of creation with us. In the stories, we are made in G-d’s image, and so how could we not find satisfaction in creation, just as G-d did? Whether you believe that or not, it says something that deep in our collective narrative is our need to do something that matters, work creates something. In the end, everything we create for ourselves, instead of buying, strengthens us, if you will, makes us more or perhaps, more like G-d.

4. Third candle

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The child singing
Or the silence after.

Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it is easy to get caught up in the orgy of buying and spending. One of the arguments against doing so for us is that we’ve tried very hard not to overstimulate our kids. We want to keep the focus on the singing, and praying, friendships and special foods, and generally, we do. When we add too much more, it often ends with a child in tears or conflicts, because as nice as things are, too much is simply too much. The difference between children and adults, is that children often know when enough is enough, and simply stop going forward. We adults often don’t know when to stop. We keep raising the bar to what makes things “special” when we should be lowering it. Instead of more gifts, and more events and special foods and things, perhaps we should ask ourselves “if the ritual, and the beauty of it, and our time with each other isn’t enough, why not? How have we failed?”

5. Fourth Candle

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know,too,
That Light is involved
In what I know.

Why do I insist on bringing G-d into this at all? Why not simply talk about how to dip your own candles, or why we shouldn’t buy giant plastic menorahs? I bring G-d in because G-d among other things represents the limits of our knowledge, the things that exceed our grasp no matter how hard we reach. There are plenty of other good ways to articulate that we are not omniescient - this is mine.  But however we come to the notion of limits, particularly to the notion that what we do always, always has unintended consequences, often harmful, we must begin to recognize it as a central part of human actions. Jews have the concept of pe’ah, the marginal parts that are the transition between the self and G-d - the hair that some Jews leave uncut, the margins of the field we are commanded to leave for the poor to glean, they all derive from this same root concept, that the edgees of ourselves are not solely our own, and our own interests are not always paramount there. Perhaps we need a secular equivalent, one that would enable us to grasp the inevitability of cost to others when we are excited by this new thing or another. Perhaps we need a secular theology of limits, one in which we see the spaces where our interests conflict with one another not as sites of trouble, but as a place for us to be greater than we are.

6. Fifth Candle

When the candles burn down and flicker
The light pools
In intersecting circles with the light
From my neighbor’s tree.

If anti-assimilationism is the central message of the history of Chanukah, we should remember that we are not the only people who celebrate the restoration of the light. If there is a single work to be done in the next decade, it is to build community in every sense of the word. We need not assimilate, in fact, we should not, because we cannot afford to lose any more diversity. But we cannot close the doors on one another. It is always easier to build community with people who are like you, with the same values and the same ideas, maybe people from the same family, or with the same experiences, and there is nothing wrong with that. But we have lived the last decades as though the people we cannot see, the people downstream from us, out of sight or in other nations, do not matter. So at the same time that we strengthen the ties with those who are like us, we absolutely must strive to create a new recognition of the other, a new way of connecting, of at a minimum, doing no harm, and just possibly, joining some of our pools of light.

7. Sixth Candle

He rode over the coutryside
In a mighty coach
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook the shadow of his equipage
For darkness.

The original form of this poem was written before the invention of the SUV ;-). The SUV, is, among other things, a graphic symbol of our fears - we buy them in part because they are big, and seem (however falsely) to be secure, and to make us powerful when we are doing a scary thing, racing metal machines at each other at high speeds. The SUV is a bad guy, the public face of greed for many environmentalists, but it is also an easy target that masks some basic truths. Push all of us environmentalists hard enough and you’ll find the things we are not willing to give up, even though they are not unadulterated goods. We aren’t willing to give up our job serving some appalling corporation or our investments in the same, because doing so would mean giving up our insurance or hope of retirement. We aren’t willing to let go of our appliances because we’re afraid we couldn’t manage without them. We are not willing to have fewer children, because we fear we might be alone someday. We are all afraid that of the dark, and sometimes the dark is cast by the shadow of our equipage, the literal and metaphorical stuff we carry around with us. Let us remember, that even the driver of the SUV is often merely afraid - just like us. So there is hope.

8. 7th Candle

The candles are flickering.
The latkes must be frying.

One of the traditional festival foods of Chanukah is the latke. It is a simple enough concoction - shredded potatoes, eggs, salt, onion, fried in copious oil. For poor Jews in the northern hemisphere, they were fancy enough to be celebratory (all that oil to remind us of the miracle of the lamp, and eggs that must have been carefully saved up since the hens laid only little in the dark season), but simple enough to be accessible even for those who had little to spare. In the same sense, the traditional food of the sabbath was sweet bread, rather than a large roasted animal. It was not always possible to have meat, but one hoped that everyone could have bread, and that the bread could be especially soft and sweet. Many Jews keep kosher, which means we seperate milk and meat, and after eating meat, we wait a while before eating milk. It was commanded that our sabbath bread must always be pareve (that is, containing neither meat nor milk, and thus edible by anyone), lest an unexpected guest who had just eaten a meat meal arrive at our dairy sabbath and not be able to partake. No one, under any circumstances, must be denied access to the basic staple food of our culture, Jewish law tells us. The same principle holds in our culture. We must find a way to make access to staple foods a basic and universal right. We must ensure that no one is ever excluded from our table.

9. 8th Candle

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow
The menorah sat
On the windowsill

The deepest miracle of Chanukah is not the miracle of the oil, or the miracle that a small force overpowered a great one. Nor is it even the miracle of the return of the sun cycle or our power to make light in darkness. Or rather it is all those things. But it is also something else.

At passover, in the spring, we sing the prayer, “Dayenu” which means “it would have been enough.” We tell ourselves that it was a wonderful miracle that G-d led us out of Egypt, but it would have been enough if he had not, if he had only given us the Sabbath, or the Torah, or merely our lives. And too, here is the real miracle of Chanukah. It would have been enough if the Maccabees had only resisted, but not succeeded. We would have endured, and gone on, and resisted again and again for as long as it took.

 It would have been enough, had the oil in the temple menorah lasted only the one day we could have expected. We would have prayed imperfectly, and our prayers would have been heard.

It would have been enough, had we never discovered the modern miracle of the oil, and had we never created our industrialized society. We had enough.

I do not know if we still have enough, or if, in our rush to delight in our modern miracle we have caused such harm to the earth we were given that we cannot restore it. But as things change, and we concentrate on what is now lost, let us not forget that it is not the miracle of the oil that mattered most, but the ordinary miracle of sufficiency. It would have been enough had the sun only returned, and with it, the spring. But we were also granted the opportunity to light the candle, to sing the hymn, to stand in the circle, to express our gratitude, to reach out to the other, to share a meal, to give a gift, to do good work and to praise our gifts.  And it may be enough.

Must. Stay. Off. Net.

Sharon December 20th, 2008

Ok, book is due on self-imposed deadline one week from today - and if I don’t get it done by then, I’m going to lose my set aside vacation time before I start up my classes (still spaces in all three classes, btw, if you want to register).  So that means I need to get the hell off the net, and stop writing posts just because something that happened catches my eye or I’m teed off on some subject, or whatever. 

 So I need your help - as I said, I’m bad at self-discipline.  I need you all to promise to yell at me if I post in the next week.  I have this problem with self-imposed deadlines - I do best with externally imposed rules.  So I’m asking for some external reinforcement from my kind and loyal readers.  1. If I post anything between now and the 27th, other than announcement that the book is done and in the hands of my publisher, yell at me.  And 2. If I don’t announce on the 27th that the book is finished and sent to the publisher, yell at me.  I need the vacation, but I can already hear in the back of my head the little voice saying…well you could….  Nope, I need to feel that there are loyal and supportive readers out there with baseball bats threatening me into completion ;-).

 Thanks everyone!


Best Food Preservation and Storage Internet Resources?

Sharon December 20th, 2008

So I’m winding up Independence Days (Hallelujah - ok, 3 books in less than 2 years is too much!), and working on the appendices, and hoping to draw on your expertise.  Since I’ve got slow dial up, I don’t always do as much web surfing as I probably should - far too sloooooow.  So I bet there are some great sources out there I’m missing.  I was hoping you’d offer up your suggestions for the best sites on:

 Bulk food suppliers: I’ve already got a few obvious ones like and - but what else?  Who else is out there?  Are there niche suppliers you recommend for special diets or particular needs?

Farmers who sell grains and beans directly off the farm in many regions - sources for local products.  Got a favorite place to get soybeans, rice or buckwheat?  Let us know.

Good fair trade sources of spices and herbs

Great recipe sites that emphasize cooking with food storage or with basic whole grains, legumes and mostly storable ingredients.

Food preservation recipe sites: They might specialize in one kind of preserving - lactofermentation, or jam making without sugar.  I’ve got my favorites, but I’d like to add more.

Because the array of available tools and manufacturers for food preservation equipment changes so frequently, if you know sites that review these tools, I’d love to include them - that way, the tools that don’t even exist when the book goes to press might get a fair shake.

Food storage guidelines - I have the LDS calculator, Alan Hagan’s wonderful Prudent Food Storage FAQ,  and several other sites, but I actually think in this case, more information is better. 

Your favorite blogs that emphasize storing and eating from storage, home scale preservation and local, seasonal eating. 

I really appreciate your help!


How Low Can I Go?: Balancing Cheap and Sustainable in My Pantry

Sharon December 20th, 2008

I don’t know about you, but it seems like it is getting harder and harder to keep the grocery budget stable - and given the economic times we’re in that’s a tough thing to swallow.  I could, of course, stop buying storage foods and start eating down our reserves more, but I don’t quite feel we’re there yet.  So the question for me becomes how to balance the need to keep plugging the holes in our storage, to keep the grocery bills in budget, and also, to make sure that I’m voting with my dollars as much as possible for things I actually support.  Because the money I spend in the food system either reinforces industrial agriculture and the status quo (when I buy industrial food, whether organic or conventional) or it helps build a better food system (when I buy locally, direct from farmers, though coops and institutions I value, and fair trade for imported goods). 

So, for example,  we only eat animal products that are local and sustainably raised.  That costs, although raising our own helps a lot.  We buy goods like spices and tea from fair trade producers, and our produce locally whenever possible. We also keep kosher, so there are some foods we simply don’t eat, and others that have to be bought at higher prices.  That makes it hard for us to take advantage of low cost menu models like The Hillbilly Housewife’s (I like her site a lot, btw, and think her ultra-low-cost menu is really excellent: which often use pork products and processed foods to provide flavorings.  I can and do work around that, of course, but I’m not going to be buying my teabags 100 for a buck - it just isn’t feasible.

And yet, keeping my grocery budget low is important to me for several reasons - when we stay under budget, we make larger donations to charity.  We also are able to do more to build up our food reserves that way.  And if, as we fear, Eric loses his job in the crashing of the New York State education budget, we’re going to have to get by for a while (assuming no easy job solution) with savings, unemployment and/or  what I make writing, farming and teaching - last year my total earnings from all sources ran a bit under 14K.  That would be challenging.  So the more we build our reserves, the better off we are.

I doubt I’m the only person who wants to keep their food budget low, while still buying food that supports their principles. And in fact, this is one of those things that becomes more, not less urgent in a crisis.  Because the premium most of us pay for organic food from local farmers, for our CSA baskets and grassfed meat is something that most of us feel we could compromise on if we really had to.  The problem is, of course, is more and more of us decide not to get the CSA share, or to just this week buy the industrial ground beef, the local farms will be casualties of the Depression.  Walmart is already seeing an improvement in sales - because people are shifting from higher priced merchants to them.  And if we all go back to shopping at Walmart, when the final dust is settled, and Walmart’s just-in-time model and its heavy use of energy no longer function, we’ll find ourselves without Walmart *or* the local food systems we need so badly.

So I thought I’d start a new series on this blog about my own attempts to keep the budget down, your suggestions for how to eatly cheaply without compromising on principle, and if we have to compromise, how to make the least painful choices.

The first step for me, and I hope for all of you, will be to sit down and figure out exactly what we’re spending on food for week by week usage, vs. storage.  I really should know this already, but the last few years we’ve been lucky enough to have a small margin of flexibility in our budget- not enough to throw caution to the winds, but enough that I’ve not been carefully dividing our storage and “to eat this week” stuff up. I have an overall sense of how much we spend on food, but, for example, haven’t sat down to figure out the amortized cost of the 20lbs of local, dried cranberries I bought last week over the year it will last us.  I also need to do a full scale analysis of our food budget, including animal feeds and seeds in the total calculation. 

The next project will be to set a challenge budget for ourselves, to ask “how low can I go” while still buying my food from local and sustainable source.  Can I use less of something (ok, no question I can drink less tea!), can I use it more wisely?  Can I find lower priced options in our budget?  Try new recipes that will help reduce costs?  Make more things from scratch?  Change my habits so that I’m eating more of inexpensive and seasonal things?  Could I help the kids use less of things (toothpaste - check!)?  Are there places where I’m buying things that could be cut out all together? 

Anyone else want to work on figuring out just how low you can go, without compromising on the systems we all are going to rely on?


The Ponzi Scheme As Way of Life

Sharon December 19th, 2008

I’m sorry, I’m having a bit of trouble getting all outraged about Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme.  Yes, I’m shocked.  Shocked and appalled.  You mean, someone was offering a scheme in which you pay present day participants with the funds of those who come in later, and then it fell apart.  Gosh, that seems so unprecedented.

Yeah, I feel bad for those who were taken in, particularly for charities that lost their funds.  But no worse than for those who lost their 401Ks or their pension funds on the stock market, for cities and states that can’t sell municipal bonds, and I feel far worse for the poor, who never had a glimmer of getting to participate in the get-rich-quick ponzi scheme that was a stockmarket that everyone said could have perpetual growth forever. 

Madoff may be a criminal, but he’s a criminal in large part because he’s engaging in a particular form of ponzi scheme that we look down upon, one small enough to be called illegal.  In general, we’re pretty comfortable with ponzi models -we live, quite happily, in a ponzi economy, one in which the concept of perpetual economic growth is sold, divvied up again and resold.  We live in a Ponzi ecology where we borrow constantly against the future to pay for our present affluence.

Is this truly a Ponzi scheme?  I think the answer is yes - a Ponzi scheme never really generates new wealth, it simply relies on a constant stream of new money.  And since the eco-Ponzi economy relies most of all on reducing the capacity of future generations to live well - because natural resources and associated wealth are already drawn down, I think that it does meet the criteria at both the economic and ecological levels.

 Most of us have been putting our money into 401Ks and Mutual funds,  and now that money is disappearing - and it is disappearing again, because we live in a Ponzi economy, one in which new funds can, for a while, conceal the bankruptcy of a society that draws down its natural resources and leverages both its ecology and economy past bearing.  Thus we get the mantra, as Bob Waldrop wisely observes, investing is saving that we all belong in the stock market:

“Lie the First: Money in the stock market is “savings”.

Reality: Money in the stock market is “speculation”. You buy a stock on the speculation that it will go up and you will sell it later at a profit and in the meantime, maybe get a regular dividend. It can also be considered casino gambling. It is not savings as we generally define the term, since it can be here today and gone five minutes later.

Lies the Second and Third: Everyone should be in the stock market. You can’t afford to NOT be in the stock market.

Reality: The stock market is only for people with money to gamble. People with debts and small savings should not be in the stock market. The former should pay the debts, including their mortgages first. The latter should wait until they have substantial savings before they decide to risk a small amount of their assets in the stock market.

The stock market game is rigged against the average small investor. With the way accounting rules and etc are these days, there are lots of ways that corporations can hide important information. Just ask some of the Lehman’s stockholders about that.

Lie the Fourth: Buy and hold is the smart strategy. Over time, the stock market always goes up.

Reality: That’s not the way the rich make their money in the stock market. They buy stocks when they are cheap and sell them when they are expensive. The “always goes up” comment is usually coupled with a comparison of two dates and the stock market index values on those dates. Compared to the history of economics, there is no way that we can say with total truth that the market over time will always go up. Where are the investments in the stock exchanges of the Roman Empire these days? And a rise in a stock market index may have nothing to do with the performance of individual stocks or mutual funds. Ask the stockholders of Enron about that. Or the stockholders of corporations that made horse-drawn carriages.”

I don’t blame people who were constantly told that they’d need X million dollars to keep living into their old age, and if they didn’t have it, would find themselves freezing and starving for believing this, but it is how the Ponzi economy works.  It relies on the idea that you are doing something good by feeding your dollars into corporate coffers, and that your money is still really yours.  Those are both false truths.  And they are built on ponzi model they pay out to the earliest investors (why, for example, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of older folks) while offering nothing to those unlucky enough to get in late.

I had one of those “duh” moments yesterday as I was doing a radio show - I made a point I’ve made many times before - that growth capitalism in general and the real estate bubble in particular depended heavily on the idea that we can’t live together, that everyone has to own their own separate household.  So the rise in average material living space from 250 square feet per person in 1950 to 850 square feet for each warm body in 2000 was in part a product of the constant message that living together with one’s family or friends was a measure of failure. 

This point I’ve written about a number of times - but somehow I’d never quite fully grasped the corollary point, which I found myself articulating on the fly - that the Ponzi economy depends on an endless supply of laborers, laborers who wouldn’t quit because they can’t.  And that means that the cost of living - of basic needs like housing, food and transportation have to be kept high - because otherwise people might notice that serving corporate masters isn’t the best or only way to live their lives.  Those 850 square feet, and the costs associated with them, and the problems of housing the ordinary stuff we “require” for daily life in 250 square feet means that the cost of housing for ordinary people is dramatically  high - so high that we must devote most our time to the corporate economy, so high we then have no time to do work in the informal economy, so high that we can never, ever think about whether there are any better choices out there.

We’re going to try and rescue the economy with another Ponzi scheme - with borrowing against our children’s future wealth to protect financial institutions and invest in some good things and some bad ones.  This, of course, is the oldest ponzi scheme of all, and you can make the argument that some human societies have been playing this game for a very long time.  We’ve been doing it with natural resources and are continuing to do so, and we’re also expanding the share of our children’s wealth we’re willing to borrow against.  After all, what have future generations ever done for us?  They might as well serve some purpose - to pay off our debt.

And of course we’ve got the best possible reason for this - we’re in a crisis.  There’s always a good reason for taking just a little more of what belongs to the future - to bring people out of poverty, to resolve this or that crisis.  Of course, the crisis was caused by borrowing against our children’s inheritence of natural resources, but more of the same is now necessary.  A good Ponzi scheme always needs new investors - and if none are going to volunteer, well, let’s volunteer them.  We’ll use the to prop up the stock market and today’s version of the Roman chariot business.

Our ecology and our economy all fundamentally are built on a Ponzi scheme in which we can never make enough to keep up - we are always losing ground, always having to steal from further down the line of our posterity.  At the same time, we justify their forcible participation in this speculation by saying that we are protecting them - we have to protect them from a Depression, so it is worth risking their future.  But, of course, if you actually care about your children and grandchildren, you don’t ask them to make sacrifices you aren’t prepared to make.  Fundamentally, we’re covering our own asses, and asking our kids to do it for us.

And that’s, well, evil, to put it bluntly.  It is precisely the opposite of what parents are supposed to do for their children, and what present generations are supposed to do for the future.  As David Orr observes in his superb essay “Loving Children: A Design Problem” living in a world in which we do not act as though we love our children (despite our endless assertions that we do) does them deep, moral harm.  It lessens us, but more importantly, it doesn’t just physically impoverish our children, it morally impoverishes them too.

“The Skymall catalogue, conveniently available to bored airplane passengers, recently offered an item that spoke volumes about our approach to raising children. For a price of several hundred dollars, parents could order a device that could be attached to a television set that would control access to the television. Each child would be given a kind of credit card, programmed to limit the hours he or she could watch TV. The child so disciplined, would presumably benefit by imbibing fewer hours of mind numbing junk. They might also benefit from the perverse challenge to discover the many exciting and ingenious ways to subvert the technology and the intention behind it, including a flank attack on parental rules and public decency via the internet.

My parents had a rather different approach to the problem. It was the judicious and authoritative use of the word “no.” It cost nothing. My brother, sister, and I knew what it meant and the consequences for ignoring it. Still, I sometimes acted otherwise. It was a way to test the boundaries of freedom and parental love and the relation between the two. 

The Skymall device and the word “no” both represent concern for the welfare of the child, but they are fundamentally different design approaches to the problem of raising children and they have very different effects on the child. The device approach to discipline is driven by three factors that are new to parenting in the postmodern world. It is a product of a commercial culture in which we’ve come to believe that high-tech gadgetry can fix human problems, including that of teaching discipline and self-control to children. Moreover, the device is intended mostly for parents who are absent from the home for much of the day because they must (or think they must) work to make an expanding number of ends meet. And, all of our verbal assurances of love notwithstanding, it is a product of a society that does not love its children competently enough to teach them self-discipline. The device approach to parenting is merely emblematic of a larger problem that has to do with the situation of childhood within an increasingly dysfunctional society absorbed with things, economic growth, and self. 

We claim to love our children, and I believe that most of us do. But we have, sheep like, acquiesced in the design of a society that dilutes the expression of genuine love. The result is a growing mistrust of our children that easily turns to fear and dislike. In a recent survey, for example, only one-third of adults believed that today’s young people “will eventually make this country a better place” (Applebome, 1997). Instead, we find them “rude” and “irresponsible.” And often they are. We find them overly materialistic and unconcerned about politics, values, and improving society. And many are too materialistic and detached from large issues (Bronner, 1998). Not infrequently they are verbally and physically violent, fully adapted to a society that is saturated with drugs and violence. A few kill and rape other children. Why are the very children that we profess to cherish becoming less than likable and sometimes less than human? 

Some will argue that nothing of the sort is happening and that every generation believes that its children are going to Hell. Eventually, however, things work out. Such views are, I think, fatuous because they ignore the sharp divide imposed between the hyper-consumerism of the post-modern world and the needs of children for extended nurturing, mentoring, and imagining. It’s the economy that we love, not our children. The symptoms are all around us. We spend 40% less time with our children than we did in 1965. We spend, on average, 6 hours per week shopping, but only 40 minutes playing with our children (Suzuki, 23). It can no longer be taken for granted that this civilization can pass on its highest values to enough of its children to survive. Without intending to do so, we have created a society that cannot love its children, indeed one in which the expression of real love is increasingly difficult.”

Our love for our economy leads us to seek any path out of the crisis we are now facing - whether it will work or not, whether it does harm or good.  We say we are doing it for our children - but much of what we have done mean that their own Depressions will be deeper and they will be poorer.  The Ponzi scheme is coming to an end - we have drawn in generations at a huge remove from us.  500 years from now, when no one remembers our names, our descendents will still be living with the consequences of climate change, will still be paying the debt from our overdrawn ecology.

It may well be the case that we will have to borrow against both resources and wealth to adapt our infrastructure - but we shouldn’t put a penny of borrowed money into anything that won’t serve the next generation, as well as us or better.  That means not a cent for Detroit to keep building gas guzzlers and personal cars.  Not a penny for highways that they won’t be driving on anyway.  We cannot afford to waste what’s left of their inheritance - we need to leave our children buildings worth occupying, that will last long enough to house them, and energy resources that will serve them, and some accessible oil in the ground for the things they may not be able to produce without it. 

I was born in 1972.  By the time I was six or seven, it was well known that we desperately needed to take action to address future needs for energy, economic and climate stability.  In 1979, Jimmy Carter’s Year 2000 report identified Global Warming as a major threat, and the need for growth in renewable energy as a primary national project.  Some nations, including Sweden, took their posterity as a priority and began seriously investing in alternative energies.  And in the US, we had morning in America, and the decision to offer some temporary prosperity at the price that my generation, coming of age, with children on our knee, would face the coalescing problems passed down to us.

I don’t blame the baby boomers as a unit - many I know did their damnedest to make it happen, but they were not the majority.  I admire and respect all of those who fought the good fight to keep priorities straight.  But that said,  our parents and grandparents failed us, they passed the problem down to my peers, and those younger than us.  And those same people (because most of the powerful are baby boomers still) are planning on passing the problem down to the children we hold at breast or watch play at our knees.  They will impoverish their grandchildren to keep the Ponzi scheme going.

The question is whether we, and the baby boomers and older folk who had it right from the beginning, actually love our children and grandchildren enough to stop the buck here?  I don’t minimize how difficult that is - and I don’t doubt that trying to live on a fair share, and get through the necessary economic crisis so we can start better next time will be difficult for children as well as adults.  And yet, passing the buck again ensures them a darker, warmer, more bitter world with fewer natural resources, and a crushing economic debt.  Sometimes when there are no easy answers, one has to move to “what is right.”

The burden of addressing our world-wide Ponzi scheme falls, I fear upon all of us who are adult enough to demand it stop, to refuse to participate to the extent we can, to work to end it, and most of all, to shield with our bodies the children and grandchildren we do love, and in whom we must reposit our hopes, our endurance and our courage.


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