Yesterday I was talking to one of my best friends about her desire to know how to make things, to recover her ability to produce things, and to take on tasks that were part of the day-to-day life of her grandmothers and aunts – a day-to-life that, for her, has become so distant .
My friend is not alone. In fact, there is worldwide movement (albeit, without coordination) that to seems to intuit and follow in the same direction as my friend's. Even without knowing why, a huge number of people around the world, especially youth, feel the inclination and desire to reclaim basic human activities like cooking, sewing, walking, biking, educating children, planting and building. Like an uncontrollable urge, - and even though the masses has been pasteurized toward dehumanization and simple activities of consumption - it has become common to see people trying to make bread, cycling and planting something in their gardens. A distant memory, a kind of dull ache is calling, and many are seeking and finding here and there – in books, free courses, in informal conversations – a way to redeem their humanity.
As my friend spoke to me, I did “the challenge of three whys.” As always, I begin by asking "Why?" And with each answer, I reply with a another "why.” I don’t do it to be malicious, but rather because I know that from the whys come the answers and opportunities for conversation that generate learning.
Back to doing and making things.
This recent but widespread turn toward taking responsibility for key parts of life like food or self-transportation could – as with anything else – simply be a fad OR a hip thing to do that gets co-opted by the interests of the market for selling more books and recruiting students for more courses. It may even be a new way to distract us from the essentials in life, becoming one more commodity to be marketed in our world that turns everything into commodities.
ONE KEY REASON
One question I use to start talking about the whys is: What is the main difference between your house and the house of your great-grandmother?
After much thought, I usually get vague answers or a simple "I don’t know." From there I try to show most people that the difference is that our homes have become Centers of Consumption, while those of our grandparents and great-grandparents were Centers of Production. Food, clothing, energy, materials, decorations, gifts and objects were produced for use in homes. Almost everything the family needed was within reach of skillful hands, which not only produced, but also repaired, maintained and adapted things to new uses when something became permanently unusable.
Look at your home and at everything you use. Now, ask yourself: What is the percentage produced by you? What percentage of the food, energy, clothes, ingredients or the decorations is the work of your hands? How did these things come into your house? How did they become part of your life? What is your ability to maintain them without having a maid, calling a mechanic, buying a replacement or paying for a service?
To grasp how far we’ve come from our great-grandparents’s homemaking, just think about how our homes are arranged/set up. Formerly, a girl started to make her outfits while still in her infancy, taking years to accumulate sheets, towels, objects, painting, embroiderings and sewing. It was not just a question of the romantic and artistic side of things, but also a concern for practical in which there was beauty and uniqueness in what was produced. These tasks could take a lot of time, and they could be very costly. Many other activities were interspersed with this task, and so it was necessary to start early.
And today? Credit cards and shopping lists for wedding showers in department stores (or in exclusive stores) have replaced thousands of hours of thinking, preparation, living and acquiring skills, all centered around the home.
Currently, obtaining the means to have and equip a house requires a sacrifice, and what gets sacrificed is the home. Hours and hours of exhausting work, two working parents, insane traffic, and children away from parents all day. Why?
To obtain the only assumed means of access to everything that we need for our homes – money.
Meanwhile, our houses are cluttered with unused things, with time-saving devices, while we miss out on living. Our kitchens smell like Lysol, instead of being permeated with the aroma of wine, garlic, and fresh bread. Our expensive stoves are used only on the weekends or to warm up fast food.
If we want to have a why for reclaiming those skills that intuitively attract us, perhaps thinking of reclaiming our homes as a center of production and not simply as centers of consumption is a good starting point.
BUT ... AND WHY?
God created us to be fruitful/productive, not only in terms of children, but also to express the ability to create, produce and maintain the cycle of life and life in abundance. God made us to be producers – icons of God’s own life and fecundity. The human consumer, possessing the power to bring up everything that one needs without using one’s hands, talents and abilities given by God is the fruit/icon of a distortion of creation.
Initially only the powerful – through a lot of force and violence – had access to immaculate manicured houses with everything in order without having to work for it, or access to a food supply without thinking about production, or access to locomotion without walking. Only a Pharaoh, a Caesar, a king, or a noble – usually kept in power through some form of oppression – would have access to such things. What’s more, such nobility lived in fear, surrounded by guards, and were most often the victims of jealousy and betrayal.
Both aspects – jealously and betrayal – have today become part of ‘life as usual’ for a growing mass of people. Like the kings and nobles of the past, they consume, destroy, and remain fiercely attached to the power of ownership. Like the nobles of the past, they delegate their children to tutors: all day and for long periods, in order to get them back when they're older and ready to assume the role of those-in-charge, never the role of producers. Twelve hours of study, away from parents, with guardians and tutors–this was once the sole privilege of royalty. Today it has become an “universal human right.”
Just as this kind of attitude in the past created empires which, in turn, became ruins, our current empire of consumption and inability and deficiency is headed for collapse. If we are to survive, regain our humanity, and embark in another direction toward life, then it is vital that we know the way back to the situation for which God created us: as creative beings with great potential to produce and participate in the cycle of life. For this is one aspect that gives us the intrinsic dignity of being made in God’s image and likeness, participants in the creation and producers of food (comida), culture and cultivation, producing all of these things as an expression of the proper way to worship.
The environmental challenges we deal with every day are directly related to the transformation of our homes into centers of consumption.
Please note: Everything that comes into our homes does so with packaging; this packaging leaves our homes in the form of pollution. Nothing remains. Nothing is durable. Things are just thrown out, as if there existed a place in the world called “out.” For the many who speak of throwing something out, there must be something magical happening in the universe, since "out" would mean a kind of black hole where everything would disappear, when in fact what happens is that our "out" means that something we do not want must be launched at the head of another person, another system or another neighborhood. The result: we transform the Circle of Life into a Chain of Waste. And we imprison ourselves with these endless chains that end up poisoning our minds and bodies.
To have access to this Chain, we seek money. And to get money, we subject ourselves to more job hours/employment. We turn ourselves into objects. As Marx would say, we reify ourselves. In other words, we become pieces that fit into a gear and to deal with the situation, we go after more and better jobs. In doing so, our employment creates a lot of pollution. It also transforms our chains into golden handcuffs for a lifetime.
And to have employment/jobs, we have two cars per family, or we use a lot of public transportation. We eat fast food to save time, or we pack into the food courts of each and every shopping center–where an average of two huge containers per day of food debris will be produced and then rot in a landfill. With every meal we generate plastic bags, plastic spoons, plastic cups, plastic knives, excess paper, wasted energy and noise that accompany each employee or executive, while enjoying his daily ration. Our children go to schools and create more gridlock, more stress, more transportation, more snacks – packaging and more packaging. With life-on-the-go and away from home, the food has to be quick and easy. Ready-made snacks take place of fruit or bread, and with this there is always more packaging. Machines and more machines, store-bought clothes, and anything that helps us to consume more, to look better and to adapt our life to employment, ends up polluting and accelerating the system. And as payment for our effort, we earn money to buy more, spend more and pollute more. Employment pollutes.
And the reason we feel bound to employment is that we do not know how to do anything but make money to buy more and do less. Meanwhile, to obtain of the impression of rest, we entertain ourselves with something silly, so that consumption fills in our rest time as well. We have fun (i.e., diversion) so that our mind can divert itself from what is important. We go out in groups to avoid being bothered by our family members. We turn on the TV to turn our minds off from what oppresses us.
(N.B.:A good way to combat the extreme pollution that plagues our planet would be to check out The Right to Creative Unemployment by Ivan Illich.)
For these and other reasons, I can say that it is important that our agenda goes beyond a simple ecological consciousness, or our habit of buying organic, or our personal tastes. We need an effective why that gives us a reason to obey what our bodies and minds –intuitively one who gropes in the dark – are leading us to desire.
We have a reason: our dignity as human beings created in God's image – and not the fruit of a cosmic fluke – calls us back, to a kind of longing for what we’ve never known, so that we can move forward, loyal and hopeful in the redemption that will one reach us.
With much affection
Claudio Oliver - First Day of Southern Hemisphere Spring 2010
(With the help of my dear friend Sam Ewell that makes me sound clearer than I could with my English Language skills)