Originally Published in the Autumn 2008 issue of Black Oak Presents.
"Culture generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Cultures can be "understood as systems of symbols and meanings that even their creators contest, that lack fixed boundaries, that are constantly in flux, and that interact and compete with one another."
Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art."
-Wikipedia, the anarchistic online encyclopedia
My goal in this short space is not to define culture or debate its merits. Rather, I will use the broad quote provided in the epigraph as a launching pad to discuss where the dominant culture has led us (negative) and where we can take it (positive). A close associate often reminds me that it is important to define my terms. With that in mind, I will provide the following definition for dominant culture
"Whereas traditional societies can be characterized by a high consistency of cultural traits and customs, modern societies are often a conglomeration of different, often competing, cultures and subcultures. In such a situation of diversity, a dominant culture is one that is able, through economic or political power, to impose its values, language, and ways of behaving on a subordinate culture or cultures. This may be achieved through legal or political suppression of other sets of values and patterns of behaviour, or by monopolizing the media of communication. (A Dictionary of Sociology 1998, originally published by Oxford University Press 1998.)"
There are many signs that the dominant culture is failing. A quick glance at the Earth Policy Institute’s Eco-Economy Indicators warns that world grain stocks are falling, the world fish catch has hit it’s limits, and that the world’s water resources face mounting pressures. The website for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a section dedicated to failed banks. There have been 38 bank failures since October 1, 2000. The Worldwatch Institute has a great program called Vital Signs Online, and their section on Fossil Fuels notes that, "North America and Asia remain the world’s leading oil users, at 25.3 million barrels and 21.4 million barrels a day in 2006, respectively. The United States drained 20.7 million barrels of oil daily—24 percent of the global total. Yet U.S. gasoline use dropped by about 1 percent from the previous year as consumers reacted to higher prices. Other top consumers include Europe at 16.1 million barrels daily, China at 7.2 million barrels a day, and the Middle East at 6.5 million barrels daily. (Fossil Fuel Use Up Again, May 6, 2008)"
All of the trends are disturbing, but what does this have to do with culture, not to mention a culture crash?
Each of the referenced indicators noted “patterns of human activity” and “symbolic structures” that are unsustainable. As the Water Resources Indicator notes, “rivers are running dry, lakes are disappearing, and water tables are dropping,” but unfortunately that doesn’t deter the University of Arizona’s Turfgrass Research, Education, and Extension (TREE) from finding better, more “efficient” ways to irrigate the desert. A webpage titled “Keeping Desert Golf Courses Green” notes that TREE is working on testing “heat-hardy grasses that thrive on salty water and only need irrigation every two weeks.”
Shifting to the governmental and financial realm, Doug French outlines the FDIC’s role in failed banks by reviewing Irvine H. Sprague’s Bailout: An Insider’s Account of Bank Failures. Sprague was a Chairman and Director of the FDIC. While there he witnessed over 374 bank failures. Isn’t it interesting that the FDIC only lists 38 bank failures on their website? Why did they choose October 1, 2000 as a start date?
Vital Signs includes detailed reports outlining the results of various “patterns of human activity,” and instances where the dominant culture is driving us to the brink of extinction, or to a morbid wasteland are many. This may excite the Rapture crowd, but it should be scary to any rational, thinking being. Jesus isn’t going to make all of the believers disappear. If, however, He were, what is the point of turning the planet into a wasteland before He comes? Unfortunately, that’s what is happening
Obesity is on the rise. Suicide rates are high. More people are on anti-depressants or psychotropics. The pharmaceutical industrial complex is developing new drugs and then developing new diagnoses to go with them (research the connection between Ritalin and ADHD/ADD). Potable water sources are being depleted so people can golf in the desert. Food is being turned into gasoline.
In many different aspects of life – from bank failures to overfishing to water depletion – the dominant culture is failing. The worldwide monetary system is in a state of flux while the US mortgage crisis has spread throughout the world. All the while our “leaders” are saying that we might be facing a recession. Unfortunately, the solutions are always the same: tax cuts, more technology, clean power, or make do without.
Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If that’s the case, then it should be clear that the dominant culture is insane. But what can we do?
The good thing about living in the heart of the empire is that even small changes can have a large impact. The important thing is that we do something. The Back to the Land movement in the 1970s encouraged many people to live simpler lives. Many people are looking to recreate this movement. That’s a great start. Buy Local and Fair Trade Campaigns also have a huge impact. With that being said, I propose to take it further.
In an earlier article, I briefly outlined a vision for a more sustainable future. This vision was composed of a serious of autonomous communities freely associating with each other. This is the pure definition of the free market. The interesting economist Murray Rothbard described the free market as, "a summary term for an array of exchanges that take place in society. Each exchange is undertaken as a voluntary agreement between two people or between groups of people represented by agents. These two individuals (or agents) exchange two economic goods, either tangible commodities or nontangible services." ("Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics," 1956)
Samuel Edward Konkin III (a.k.a. SEK3) broke it down further. In the New Libertarian Manifesto SEKIII explains that, “the Market is the sum of all voluntary human action. If one acts non-coercively, one is part of the Market.”
A network of autonomous communities based on free association is the best chance for a sustainable future. I believe it is possible to make this a reality in our lifetime. Join us in making it a reality.