What gives you hope?

When a word becomes a bumper sticker, a campaign slogan, or an advertisement, it becomes a caricature of what it once meant.  We forget what it really meant once and we begin to invoke all the other things that go along with the product it was meant to sell.  One particular word stands out in my mind as needing a revisit: hope.

I’ve been drinking a lot lately.  It’s not something I’m proud of, or would necessarily recommend.  Wine can be enjoyed in a healthy way but I’ve been drinking as a way of self-medicating.  It has become a less socially-accepted trend of late but it is an age-old endeavor. Even Jesus saw water had the good mind to miracle it into wine.  These days, however, wine is a less popular prescription when compared to Prozac, though, like so many other points of my despair, we can blame that on industrial civilization and its many terrible byproducts.  It’s not a big stretch to imagine that the pharmaceutical companies pushing pills and supplementing the masses is, by and large, a big money scheme that goes hand in hand with conglomerated food industry depriving the same masses of real nutrition.  I can’t believe that the rise of industrialized food and massive health and mental illness coinciding is coincidental at all. (As an aside, the occasional or often overdose of red wine probably wouldn’t be such a faux pas if it weren’t for the many assholes who get behind the wheel after imbibing.  So here’s a shout out for designating a driver.) Regardless of how a person’s despair is avoided or treated, that fact remains that despair is a very prominent feeling these days.

The infinite growth paradigm is killing this planet and those living on it in far more ways than car accidents and liver failure.  Between climate change, hunger and massive civil unrest, we are a generation between a rock, a hard place and an even harder place.  With more and more people having less and less access to healthcare and affordable, preventative medicine, the population is exponentially more exposed to complications and illness than in years prior.  Still, I don’t think that it will be the Bird Flu that will ultimately wipe out the human race, as the new movie “Contagion” would have you believe.  Total nuclear destruction seems more likely at this point but I’m less anxious about that than I am about hopelessness and depression.

The Obama campaign wasn’t stupid to capitalize on hope as a way to get the man elected to the presidency but the same rhetoric will not succeed in getting him reelected.  A person’s disappointment is only as low are his hopes were high.  And many people around the world are facing new lows as each day passes.

I feel this and yet I feel that I’m in a better place than most.  I decided to drop out of the infinite growth paradigm almost altogether.  It has been incremental. It started with getting rid of my television over a year ago.  Recently I took a lay off and moved to a self-sufficient, organic farm.  My partner and I are starting a 30-day spending fast.  I understand that buying into a system that preys on the success and ultimate failure of the middle and working classes, is a system that will eventually kill us. So I am for the system breaking down and failing.  I am waiting for the realignment, for the return to a time where people work for what they need, side by side with their family, friends and community.

Author, Journalist and Activist Michael Ruppert has recently begun encouraging a more radical approach to dropping out of the infinite growth paradigm, imploring people to get out of the stock market and to stop feeding the beast that is destroying this planet and its people. I couldn’t agree with him more.

I recently saw a bumper sticker on an over-sized, red truck.  I didn’t need to see the driver toss a beer can out the window to know that he was an ignoramus.  Next to the driver’s Tea Party sticker was a sticker that read, “How’s the hopey changey thing working for you?”  It was flip and ridiculous but it got me thinking.  It’s not that I think Obama has failed or that he was wrong to present the American people with hope.  It’s that I believe that, without real change, there cannot be any hope.

And that’s where I’ve been these past few weeks.

Like many Americans, I grew up believing that I should work hard, go to college and that one day, after more hard work at a good job, I’d buy a house and settle into happiness, a 401k and, eventually, retirement.  Well I’m 31 now.  Like many Americans my age and in this time, I used to own a house but the bank got it back.  I did go to college.  I had a nice job.  But even in all those marked successes, I knew the system was broken.

Now that I am actually subverting the paradigm, dropping out of the machine that feeds the beast, I feel safer, calmer and happier.  I no longer lie awake at night wondering how to pay the mortgage, worrying that a tree might fall through the roof, fearing my alarm won’t go off and that I’ll be late for work.  The many anxieties that go along with the rat race subsided for my almost immediately after I got out of the rat race.

But change is difficult.  My entire mentality and sense of self-worth has had to completely shift and, at times, and to my dismay, resists doing so.  Like so many of us, I had been indirectly measuring my worth and my future in monetary quantities.  I took trips to target to buy my way into happiness.  A new rug here.   A vase there.  Candles.  Placemats.  Kitchen utensils.  When I finally started to go through all the stuff I had, I came across a toaster-oven still in its box, several ornate wine openers, picture frames without pictures and enough crafting supplies to chronicle the complete history of the Roman Empire in decorated scrapbooks.  I would look at my 401k balance and dream of a cushy retirement, a large collection of furniture and wine, a nice garden, some travel and lots of reading…meanwhile hoping for a promotion at work, staying home most nights and never managing to find time to do the day to day things that I wanted to accomplish.  I had goals.  Long term goals.

My giant collection of useless stuff never brought me happiness.  It just brought the need for more stuff, which is exactly what the infinite growth paradigm encourages.  And I have to laugh at myself, thinking back.  Even within my massive consumption binges, I would bring my own bags to the store.  I was an avid recycler, rode my bike to work and only bought organic.  What a joke.  I know now, that that’s just not enough.

Knowing what I know now, that the cycle of perpetual indulgence promises the earth’s total destruction and needs to be stopped, that the damage already done is irreparable in places and, as a result, severe plant, animal and human suffering is eminent and unavoidable and that those who are still part of the machine are accelerating the severity of the situation, gives me pause.  I take pause and understand that it is okay to mourn.  Our situation is very sad.  The infinite growth battle cry of the baby boomer generation falsely ascertained that their spending and collecting was an investment in my generation when, in actuality, that mentality has served to destroy even the minute possibility that people of my generation and younger would have the opportunity for even the simplest standards of living that our parents had.

On the one hand, I am amply skilled and well positioned for the coming hard times.  I can garden.  I have tools available to me.  I have land that’s accessible.  I feel well connected to people and organizations that are equipped to weather the coming storms.  I can’t wait for factory farms to fail, polluting chemical plants to fold and for people to start walking and biking because gas is unaffordable and scarce.

On the other hand, I miss having lunch with my old co-workers, my computer is on the fritz and I will not be able to afford a new one, I will miss my music collection once my iPod fails, I love the convenience that Google and the information age provides and will likely find my reference collection inadequate when those things start failing and my family lives some ways away and will be much harder to get to without a car.

And (in a particularly sheepish confession) I am a huge fan of Disneyland.  It’s a guilty pleasure.  There are so many things about the Disney Corporation that grate against my soul but it is also a beautiful display of art, artists and performers.  The care and attention to detail that has gone into the creation of each space in the theme park is truly magical.  It is something that, as an adult, I have come to appreciate.  I could go on and on.

And here is where the sadness creeps in.  There are those things, the romantic and aesthetic art for art’s sake, those things whose entire energy use and raison d’etre is for pleasure only.  Maybe for you, it is a fountain in the back yard or some restored classic car, fancy shoes or an exotic fish tank.  There are things that we allow ourselves the expense of for one reason only: we like it.  These are the things that are hardest to remove ourselves from.  And as we come to let more and more of those things go, either by choice or because we can no longer afford them, we will find ourselves grieving those losses.

We are entering a new era, an era where will not be judged by what we have but what we can do.  We are facing a time when we will need to reach out to our neighbors and help others.  We are at the dawn of an age where reuse and sustainability will be practiced because it will have to be.  We are about to embark on something beautiful.  But even when the change brings blessings, change is hard.  (Ask anyone who has children.)

Wine production and its occasional overuse are nearly as old as human civilization.  When wine making can no longer be an industry, it will likely still be a practice.  And, as long as wine is available, there will be those that drink it and those that drink it in excess.  As we continue down this path to a place that will ultimately be healthier, we must allow ourselves to grieve in a healthy way.  I’ve decided to give up wine for the time being in order to focus on the sadness I feel for things I know have passed.  I’m learning that avoiding grief sends it into a spiral of hopelessness.  I believe in real change.  So I must believe in real hope as well.  The desolation that is present when hope is absent can do more damage to the human race than all other forms of destruction.

If you are feeling depressed, know that you are not alone.  I’m struggling too.  And I’m working on it.  I’ve been reading, writing and gardening in order to maintain cheer.  What are some of the things that bring you worry?  Sadness?  What are some of the timeless activities that you engage in, in order to fight depression in these depressing times?  What gives you hope?

Inertia

Inertia.  When do we feel that we’ve prepared enough for disaster?

I awoke. Sweaty.  Wide awake.  2am.  Tuesday.

Inertia.

There are things that propel us into motivation.  Sunday night.  Monday morning.  Due dates.  But how do we stay motivated to dance the tides of what we know is coming but don’t have a due date for?  This was the problem that I faced last week, last month, last year.

I had a moment a month ago where I proclaimed : I’m an adult!”  I finished putting flares in the car along with my jumper cables and water.  I was on top of the world.  And then I looked around, thinking, “F*#%!  This is not enough.”  What if the emergency I faced wasn’t a flat tire?

In my last blog I said, “Make no mistake.  All hell is breaking loose.”  It was published over a week ago.  Since then, the market crashed, Philadelphia imposed a curfew due to violence, riots broke out in London and a couple left their baby in a dumpster in the south of Spain.  Riots and infanticide are not new to this country, almost to the point of apathy in this country.  It happens every day.

I remember the Columbine shooting like it was yesterday.  I remember my exact place on earth when the 2nd plane hit the twin towers and we knew that America was under siege.  In the last decade, if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that when it comes to emergency, local, concerted efforts are the efforts that are most efficient.  But between family gatherings and daily life, how does one come to grapple with emergencies on any realistic level?

My partner and I have 30 days of food stored.  Medicine.  Tools.  Water.  Books.  Musical instruments.  If the shit hits the fan and the grocery stores are rushed, I could feed myself, play a ditty and still read Melville’s Moby Dick.  But I don’t know that I feel safer.  In fact, I don’t feel safer.

I am paralyzed by fear.

I’m not trying to be depressing.  I’m writing this down because I know that there are others that feel this way.  I know that I am not completely unprepared, but every time something comes up, I feel completely unprepared.  I think for all of us that try and prepare for disaster, we always feel unprepared when disaster strikes.

Inertia.

This is a question piece.

Is there a way to find solace?  Is it enough to know that you are not completely unprepared?  If we can feed our families for 3, 7, 30, 90 days, is that enough to sleep peacefully at night?  If not, what is?  How does a person get to that place?

Women and the New Paradigm

I look good in a dress.  I love to cook.  I find a sweet triumph in making jam.  I swoon for a bouquet of flowers and stop to smell scented candles at any opportunity.  These may not be the initial attributes used to describe a feminist but I am that also.  My mother was a feminist before me.  Growing up, she made sure that I had met a female police officer, firefighter and member of clergy before I could read.  She wanted me to believe that I could have any job I wanted.

I mowed the lawn today. I can use a power drill. I can fix irrigation and am handy with a pipe cutter. I own a staple gun, a ratchet set and a saw.  I can dig a ditch.  Despite my upbringing, my relationship with power tools is new.  Though I was sure that I could be/do anything, I majored in English Lit in college, took a few women’s studies classes and joined an employment sector dominated by women: social services.

I often wonder what my mother thinks now that I have no job at all.  At least, not in the traditional, paid-work sense.  When she was trying to arm me with the attitude that I could have any job I wanted, no matter that I was born a girl, she didn’t know that, when I grew up, there would be no jobs and that, not just women, but men as well, would have to learn to develop through that.  As a strong woman, with feminist values, I think my mother saw an opportunity and duty to instill in me a sense of opportunity so that a next generation of women wouldn’t have to back track on all the victories women of her generation gave to the women of mine.

Still, for all the trail-blazing done by past generations of women, women today are still under-served, under-represented and suffering. A study published by the Boulder Community Network, a service sponsored by the University of Colorado, reveals that, of the 14 million AFDC (more commonly known as welfare) recipients, only 4.5 million are adults and of those 4.5 million adults, 90 percent are women.  As our government officials, a strong majority of whom are men, debate our national debt and kick around the idea of cutting social programs (which the Elite Right has dubbed “entitlement programs”), I fear more for the women and children of this country above all others.  If other nations can shed light on the current plight of this country, I have reasonable cause to worry.

For many, the initial reaction to this opinion may fall somewhere between ambivalence and outrage.  I believe in social programs and understand why they exist.  I also know that if there is no money to fund a program, that program can’t get funded. I am sad for the little future astronauts that went to space camp last summer but I understand why NASA won’t be making another space mission anytime soon, if ever.  Space exploration is incredible but it won’t grow food for the people starving in this country. As further programs are cut, more sadness is to follow.  And I doubt, wholeheartedly, that when our elected officials make deep cuts to our nation’s budget, they will have the real interests of women and children at heart.

I know that women are not the only ones suffering through this economic downturn.  At the worst of this past decade of recession, the collapsing job market affected men at a higher rate than it did women. A Reuter’s report highlighted that, “US data show men’s employment as a share of total population fell by 2.7% from the end of 2007 to the end of 2008, while the ratio for women eased 0.8%. As of December 2008, the unemployment rate for men was 7.9%, up 2.9 percentage pointsfrom a year earlier, while the rate for women was 6.4%, up 1.6 points.” However, the report failed to mention that the job decrease for men put America’s employment force at a near 50/50 for the gender gap for the first time in our nation’s history.  Reports since have highlighted that, because many of the jobs affected by the recession were in sectors disproportionately dominated by men, specifically in all aspects of construction, men were disproportionately affected by the losses to those sectors.  Now, however, as we are seeing a blip in the economy, a momentary upturn, men are once again the benefactors of this ray of prosperity.  The Christian Post published an article earlier this year on July 11th noting, “A report by the Pew Research Center shows that in the two years since the recession ended, men gained 768,000 jobs and reduced their unemployment numbers by 1.1 percent, while women lost 218,000 jobs over the same amount of time and actually saw their unemployment increase by 0.2 percent.”  I have no illusions about the economy and will in no way ascertain that the so-called recession has ended.  What we are witnessing is a long, overdo, worldwide attrition.  But the current trends are clear about who will come out on top as the shit continues to hit the fan.

The collapse of industrial civilization is a process, something that we are watching the constant unveiling of.  It is something that we are witnessing in this lifetime. Mystics may call it a realignment. The religious may call it the rapture or end times. Progressives have called it a transition. Doomers call it collapse.  I go back and forth depending on my mood.  Whatever a person calls it, however, the attrition of the excessive consumption of the past few decades is no longer something any sane person denies.  Common people all over the world are learning to live with less.

But how does a person live with less when less is all that they have known?  That is a question faced and answered by women each day.

Reaching the post-petroleum era may actually take decades.  In both the novel, “A World Made by Hand” by James Howard Kunstler, and in the TV series, “Jericho,” the post-petroleum era happens almost over night, after a series of nuclear events.  For a young woman witnessing collapse, brought on by decades of over-spending, mass consumption and a male-run military industrial complex, I have to ponder the possibility that collapse may be a long-term relationship and the ripping-off-the-bandaid moment, to propel us into the next leg of the journey, may not actually be a quick and painless instance. It may actually be a movement, one that is happening now and one they may continue for a long while.

What makes the collapse movement particularly significant for women, is the other movements that women have historically been a part of.  A completely watered-down (and, albeit somewhat offensive) history of the feminist movement goes like this: The initial movement, prelude to the later, perhaps more radical movement of the 1960s and 70s, was characterized by the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century.  Decades later, taking place parallel to the broader civil right’s movement, what became known to the general population as the feminist movement, but is now known by scholars and historians as “2nd Wave Feminism”, is distinguished by the women’s fight to enter the work force in meaningful, paid employment and to have control over one’s reproductive health and choices.  The current popular movement is known as “3rd Wave Feminism” and takes the foundation of what came before and builds a more inclusive movement, taking into account the unique experiences of women of color, the gender defiant and the international experiences of women to create a whole-systems, more-balanced approach to women’s experiences, wants and needs. While the 2nd Wave ascertained that women can enter the work force, the 3rd Wave advocates that women should be honored for whatever meaning contribution is made, and moreover, societies and nations are better when they take that step.  But we are dawning on a completely different way of life, where traditional terms of employment will be null and void for everyone, not just women.  We are on the horizon of a time  where the items of convenience (dishwashers, air conditioning, cars) will be unaffordable and unavailable to the general population. Our country’s poor (i.e. women) are already experiencing this.  The feminist movement faces unprecedented challenges.

Without industrialized society, the modern feminist movement may not have been realized.  While women, for centuries preceding industrialization, were feeling angst about the roles that they were handed, (I can cite ample evidence to this affect but I will spare you,) for the majority of women, there was no time to explore other possibilities, more or less form a movement around those possibilities.  The age of petroleum gave women a lot of time to consider things that they otherwise might not have. When the modernized washing and cooking machines came on the scene, women, who had by and large been delegated such tasks, and spent entire days carrying out those tasks, suddenly began having time to think about doing other things that might have more meaning to them.  (Conversely, and more recently, men have also now had the opportunity to think about a career at home.) Women have openly fought for a century to be recognized for their equal ability and, now that we are sure that that ability exists, the fall of industrialized society cannot take it away.

For women in the new paradigm, ovens and washing machines will be a thing of the past. But feminism is a movement. One cannot stop knowing what one already knows.  And while the post-petroleum age will require that much more attention be paid to home, garden, family and community, the hard lessons learned by women in the past century, will come with them as we all learn to live simpler.

Women have always known resilience in a way that is unlike that of our male counterparts.We have cooked and cleaned in worst circumstances than now.  Many of us have done so while also holding a child in our arms.We are practical and resourceful and the current world situation calls on us to be substantially more so than we ever have been before.  The social constructs that have kept women from the true equality that they have fought so hard for, will dissolve along with industrial society.  The initial and present suffering that women are experiencing is terrible but promises a new soeciety, where the work of all people is honored and relevant.  Women cannot just sit back and watch industrialized society collapse. If any of our fellow man is to survive, women’s involvement is imperative.  All our lives depend on it.

For me, the post-petroleum feminist is someone who can cook and clean but who can also filet a fish and build a fire.  My commitment to learning and practicing skills not traditionally adopted by women is less about my feminism than it is about my survival.  While I advocate that women learn to weild a fire arm, for their protection and their safety, I have declined to adopt the skill because it is my belief that killing another, in any circumstance, is wrong. For me, the preservation of my soul is more important than the preservation of my life.  But that is my own dogma and I am completely aware that it coincides with the reality of the violent world we live in.  Still, I am completely for women taking feminism to the survivalist level.

The post-petroleum feminist will need to be physically healthy and strong–not the gym-rat version of strength, but the type of strength that can carry a bucket of water up a hill or walk several miles.  The current advocacy of beauty involving lipstick and augmentation is already detrimental but will also be irrelevant.  As women who are already living without a car know, an hour at the gym is needless.  The post-petroleum feminist will need to know how to grow food for herself and her loved ones.  We are all already witnessing the prices at the grocery store skyrocket.  With budget cuts threatening food stamps, and climate change preventing millions of acres of grains and produce from being planted, the small home garden is no longer a novelty, it is a necessity.  The post-petroleum feminist will need to know how to barter.  Women often take a passive role when it comes to money or trade.  We know we have been left out of financial opportunities and decision-making.  Now is the time that we all learn to play hard ball.  Our skills and goods are not worth less because we are women and we need to start practicing that fact in all that we do. The post-petroleum feminist will need to know how to fix things.  Not just the poor, but many middle class families as well, are watching their appliances break with no means to buy new ones and no skills to fix the broken ones they have. People are trading in their old dryers for clothes lines and giving up the old clunker car for a single shared automobile or public transportation.  Women have never had equal access to knowledge when it comes to mechanics but it is time we demand it and seek it out.  During WWII, women were called on to build war ships and airplanes and did so with so much skill and attention to detail that many of those vessels are still operable today.  Each of us needs to get back to that legacy.  Take classes.  Find a trusted person to learn basic skills.  Form cooperative learning groups.  Knowledge is not just power.  It is freedom.

Lastly, and by far most important, the post-petroleum feminist will need to know how to defend herself.  With budget cuts to law enforcement, cut backs to emergency services, jail over-crowding and a broken judicial system, the likelihood of having any sort of protection when it comes to things like abuse, assault, battery or rape is slim to none. There is strength in numbers but each woman can defend herself by herself and should be armed with the skills to know how.  If a woman finds herself in a situation where she is being harassed, mistreated or worse, she needs to be empowered with the ability to correct the situation.  Many communities have self-defense classes.  If you are in a rural area or cannot get to a self-defense class, there are online resources that you can use right now.  YouTube has several videos on the subject.  When all hell breaks loose women are the first to suffer and suffer the most.

Make no mistake. All hell is breaking loose. But for the first time in history, all hell is breaking loose with women having a collective consciousness and basic understanding that they are worthy of equality and respect.  The post-petroleum era will take away our cars, our appliances, access to food and many basic services but it will not take away our dignity or power.

Many women already live on their own. Many women are raising children on their own.  Self-sufficiency is not a giant leap. All women are on the edge of post-petroleum feminism. We can all take the step into the new paradigm.