Post 1: Where I'm Coming From, and Where We're Going to
This blog arose out my discomfort with modern Western society and the subconscious unease of the people around me, particularly the college students I teach. I recognized in them both a feeling that their world wasn’t right and a confusion about the best means to address the issues they were facing.
Integrity of Life identifies institutions and habits in our current culture that are based on distorted and dysfunctional views of human nature. It addresses what readers can do in both their personal lives and in the larger society to reshape these institutions and habits to fit who and what they are. I examine what is intrinsic to being human, analyze what is wrong with our current ways of doing things, and suggest both simple and radical changes we all can make. I hope to offer both encouragement and exhortation to readers, who have a new understanding of what a sane society should look like.
This blog calls for readers to examine and change their lives and ways of thinking. One reason people are afraid to change their lives is that they can’t imagine what their future would look or feel like if they did. Many books, blogs, and speakers do a good job of speaking in abstract terms, of providing statistics and predictions, but I have lived the life I’m recommending and in many ways am living it now. I know what it’s like to make do with less, on locally available foods, material, and energy. The reforms I’m advocating are not a disaster but actually fun and will make life better in all the ways that matter, even as the post-industrial world gets more difficult. These posts will provide, in addition to abstract and statistical information, narrative that appeals to the imagination as well as the mind; my goal is that readers will find the changes I’m recommending imaginable and therefore achievable.
There is much that I would like to see changed in our world. However, I’m not an ideologue; mostly I just observe and try to understand what I see. I hope you won’t find it baffling that I am not advancing a political position or an organizational vision. I’m not a conservative or a liberal, I don’t belong to environmentalist groups or to any chamber of commerce, and I’m not trying to sneak in some kind of agenda concealed in the Trojan Horse of this book. I have an agenda, of course, but I don’t know if it’s a movement or has a name and I will be completely overt about recommending it.
Whenever we praise or criticize something, whether it’s a whole society or just a recipe or outfit, we start with often unconscious assumptions about the way things are supposed to be. I know not everyone shares my assumptions, so I need to explain them if not justify them. This book rests on my assumptions about two things: the limits imposed upon us by nature, and who and what are we as human beings.
First, nature’s limits: they exist. No amount of human ingenuity and blind desire can avoid the exhaustion of non-renewable resources. I am expecting a post-industrial future. By that I mean that the lifestyle that we’ve built on vast amounts of easily available, concentrated energy will change as that energy begins to run short. There are many excellent books and websites that deal with post-industrial issues far better than I can; I’ll mention them and provide links from time to time. I’m not going to argue about when the transition into a fully post-industrial world will happen or what it will look like; but I am assuming that, like jetsetters running through their trust fund, we will eventually realize that we cannot consume resources as thoughtlessly and voraciously as we have been. We’ll need to be flexible, to make changes, to accept limitations that we are currently scornful of. These changes will require technological innovation – or renovation, in some cases – intellectual honesty, and humility. We don’t want to be like one of my college students, who, when asked whether he accepted the concept of future scarcity of fuel, said, “That’s a load of crap. People have to drive to get to their jobs. There obviously has to be gas.”
And not only will we run out of non-renewable resources; we are altering and have altered our planet’s climate in a way that perhaps can be controlled but cannot be avoided. It would be nice to think that we would moderate our consumption in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but even if we don’t, nature – and whatever human society emerges in the future – will perforce achieve some sort of balance, because that’s how the universe works. The universe has no obligation to support the current lifestyle of the wealthy minority of humankind, and I don’t expect that it will.
However, I don’t want to come across as a prophet of doom, and I caution readers about the kind of apocalyptic thinking that’s so popular these days, which is really just another way of avoiding hard choices. I have hope that our post-industrial future in many ways will be a good one. The transition could be –will be – hard as people scramble for increasingly scarce resources and struggle with the impacts of climate change, but the result may well be a lifestyle that is more suited to our natures and our environment and is no longer an exercise in hubris. That’s a good thing. None of us will be alive to see it, but I still find it encouraging to imagine a better way of life and to live now in a way that mitigates the hardships and advances the benefits of the post-industrial world.
My second assumption has to do with who and what we are as human beings. We have to know who we are in order to create a lifestyle better suited to our nature and our environment than our current one. What would it look like? How can we design all aspects of our culture to fit true humanity? Because our culture does not fit us now. The proof of it is all around us, in the increase in suicides and mental and emotional illnesses; in challenges of waste management and the tidal wave of pollution we have created; in the disparity of wealth and the dearth of meaningful work; in failed educational systems; in violence, extremism, and a nearly constant low-grade fever of war. It’s apparent in the spiraling consumerism of things and entertainments that harm our minds and bodies.
The institutions and relationships our Western society has built around its citizens fit us so badly that we are all chafing, blistered, and sore. It’s as if all the shoemakers made nothing but three-inch square shoes, because those were the most efficient and cost-effective to make, and then wondered why everyone was so disgruntled and why no one ever got anything done properly. A revolutionary shoemaker would buck the establishment and draw around an actual, living foot, then make shoes to fit. That’s what I want to do: draw around an actual human being and see what institutions, traditions, and communities would fit. I won’t be making the new shoes, but I hope that you might get started on it. At the least, I hope I will encourage you to imagine that things could be different from how they are now.
So whether you are new to the fearful and wonderful world of sustainable living in the post-industrial future or further along the path, Integrity of Life offers encouragement and ammunition for your struggle.