Saturday, February 05, 2011

Thoughts about equality

The average American will trade freedom for security in a heartbeat. A desire to maximize our lifespans, even at the expense of liberty, seems to be deeply ingrained in the traditional American psyche. The reason, I think, is that the assurance of long-life helps compensate for a psychological insecurity. Americans want so much to be thought well of. To be liked, to be included, accepted. (Notice this is the language of Facebook.) So we strive to be responsible citizens. We strive to not offend, to keep up appearances, and fulfill the expectations of our peers.

This is all well and good, but the problem is in the vast discordance between those we consider our peers and those who are physically our neighbors. It’s safer for us if our bubble of peers contains only those with a socio-economic or educational background relatively similar to ours. We feel secure there--even if it means ignoring our neighbors or the people living in the communities we pass by everyday on our way to work.

We live in a deeply fractured society. The distribution of wealth is nowhere near equal, but the greater issue is that we are losing our ability to shape our environments. Only 30% of Americans are placed in a position where they can conveniently enact changes within their community. These are the comfortable, well-paying jobs--doctors, engineers, lawyers, upper-management positions. These 30% are seen as “winners”. Another 40% of us believe we’ll be there soon--another year, another 5 years, another 10 years. These still believe and try hard, even under complete awareness of how much they hate current situations. The other 30% are escapists, having sought refuge somewhere else, somewhere other than the American Dream and economic promise of power and privilege.

So what does it take to reclaim our ability to shape our communities? What's the best available approach?

Permaculture is the idea that plants, and especially plants we eat, are an integral part of a sustainable culture, and that by outsourcing the growing of these plants to industrial farms, we are losing a potentially invaluable part of healthy community life. The social bonds that develop through the growing and preparation of food can bring great benefits to the psychological health of those involved. And here’s the great thing: involvement is dependent only on physical location and no other requirements. Urban farming makes it convenient for us to treat our literal neighbors as peers--to burst that bubble of distant but socio-economically similar acquaintances--and to reap the improved self-confidence and increased emotional support that comes from increased face-to-face interactions with those around us.