Connection: A state of empathy with, and understanding of our critical dependence on the natural world and other human beings. This is the natural state of human beings.
Disconnection: The inability to relate to, or understand the natural world and humans’ critical dependence on it. This is the normal state of civilized humans.
Tool of Disconnection: A device by which humans are disconnected from, and prevented from being reconnected to, the natural world and other human beings.
Tool of Disconnection 1: Reward Us for Being Good Consumers
The rewards of life are manifold: love, a feeling of belonging, happiness and pleasure, a sense of well-being from having done good things – all of these arerewards in themselves, and ultimately, as I showed in Part Two, such rewards arethe reason we do things, for better or worse. Beyond the biological need toreproduce, our main aim, as a human being, is to gain rewards such as thosementioned above. It seems obvious, then, why people try to earn money or takepart in lotteries, or even carry out robberies – so that they can use this money tobuy things that give them a sense of well-being.
Which, of course is a complete fallacy.
The ‘happiness’ that comes from holding a new piece of technical wizardry in your hands is something created by the system that needs you to feel happy in buying that piece of technical wizardry; because if you didn’t feel happy then you wouldn’t want to buy it. The sad fact is that there are few real rewards to be had from following the consumer dream, apart from the initial flush of excitement that raises our endorphin levels – the same hormones that make childbirth more bearable – and thus leave you with a chemically-induced sense of happiness or well-being. This then leads you to associate buying things (or taking part in other artificial ‘experiences’ for that matter) with good times, so you do it again, and again, and again. If all this sounds like a circular argument, that is precisely the point I am making – you, the consumer, are stuck in a positive feedback loop which is growing increasingly urgent: “Buy now, while stocks last!” “Hurry, closing down sale!” “Limited edition!” “Special offer!” And all the while the economy keeps growing, and the amount of carbon dioxide being thrown into the atmosphere keeps going up.
Victor Lebow, a leading retail analyst, encapsulated the desires of the consumer economy – the economy that most of us are a part of – in a startlingly candid manner, and one that is so much more relevant today than it was back in 1955:
Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, or prestige, is now to be found in our consumption patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives is today expressed in consumption terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats . . . these commodities and services must be offered to the consumer with a special urgency. We require not only ‘forced draft’ consumption, but ‘expensive’ consumption as well. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing pace.
Our reward for being good consumers is the ability to consume more, and feed the economy so it can keep growing. That’s it. And yet, we keep doing it because we continue to believe it makes us happier, more content, and better people.
Tool of Disconnection 2: Make Us Feel Good For Doing Trivial Things
Last year I reduced the amount of energy I consume in my home by around a quarter: that made me feel good because I knew that by doing this I had reduced the amount of carbon dioxide I put into the atmosphere. I had to do the ‘feeling good’ for myself because no one else was going to do it. No, what I would have had to have done in order to be told I was a good person was lots of recycling: certainly my local council like to tell residents that they are good people because they are recycling more than they were last year, but when I called them up to ask whether they would tell people to stop buying goods, so that the council would have to collect less rubbish overall, I was met with cold silence. The reason was simple: if you buy less stuff then you will stop the economy growing; whereas, you can recycle with abandon while still buying more and more things. In fact, the more you buy, the more you will be able to recycle – result!
‘Doing Your Bit’, is the clarion call for a new light-green generation. We can all do our bit and make a positive difference for the environment – apparently. Turn your thermostat down (for heating) or up (for air conditioning) a degree; change a conventional light-bulb for a compact fluorescent one; buy organic vegetables rather than non-organic . . . take a deep breath; I want you to read this list produced by the car manufacturer Lexus:
- When remodelling, consider sustainable materials like bamboo flooring.
- Instead of sending someone cut flowers, give them a plant.
- When redecorating, use latex paint instead of one that’s oil-based.
- Keep your tyres properly inflated. You’ll get better gas mileage.
- Next time you have a dinner party, use cloth napkins.
- Don’t toss out your old cellphone; donate it to a charity.
- Keep a canvas bag in your car so you’ll have it handy when you go grocery shopping.
. . . and so on. None of these things is bad, as such, but they are trivial: nowhere in the list do Lexus suggest that you should get rid of your car, or even drive less, which is not surprising because the idea of the list is to make the Lexus owner feel good about their purchase. The internet abounds with lists like this; some produced by businesses, some by local authorities and governments, some by wellmeaning environmental organizations that are naively regurgitating the same ideas as the businesses and the politicians. The whole point of praising people for carrying out trivial activities, however worthy they may be, is so that those people carry on living in almost exactly the same manner as they did before: you have to expend only a little effort in order to feel better, while the businesses and politicians that depend on a vibrant economy for their existence can continue to carry on operating in almost exactly the same manner as they did before.
Tool of Disconnection 3: Give Us Selected Freedom
What is meant by freedom? The most obvious answer would seem to be, ‘the right to live your life in whatever way you choose, whilst not interfering with the right of anyone else to live in the way that they choose.’ This is fraught with problems, not least because – taken to extremes – you would have to account for the impact of all of your actions, however trivial, on everyone else.
In fact, freedom is one of those things that has to be taken in perspective.Earlier in the book, we saw the Greatest Good coming into play – the idea that we should strive towards something that benefits the greatest number of people in the most effective way – alongside a number of rights that no human should do without: clean air, fresh water, shelter, food and a basic level of mental and physical stimulation. No one can reasonably deny anyone those rights. The sum of the Greatest Good along with these basic human rights actually leads to a mutual respect and care for the natural environment. The millions of people breathing in the rancid, choking air of Mexico City, Beijing, and countless other towns and cities around the world have had their rights curtailed; as have those people who drink polluted, toxic water; as have those people who had their native food sources taken away from them by mining companies; as have those people whose homes were destroyed to clear space for agriculture and commercial expansion. This is not freedom.
What we are actually given are those ‘freedoms’ selected in order to ensure minimum disruption to the continued business of making money: voting is a perfect example. I am often struck by the sheer brilliance of the phrase, “If voting changed anything, it would be illegal.” This is often attributed to the social reformer and anarchist Emma Goldman, who may not have said these exact words, but most certainly railed against the pretence that voting was something worth doing; and in doing so made herself extremely unpopular amongst those who were fighting at the time for the right of women to vote. As I write, the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe is still refusing to reveal the outcome of the presidential election after two weeks of waiting. The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the election, which is why the result is being withheld, and there is nothing the voting public can do about it within the laws that Robert Mugabe put in place – they have cast their votes, they have expressed their democratic right, and a dictator remains. Think about your options in the country in which you live – how much change can you really make by casting a vote, while all the time the millions of people around you cast theirs?
Forget the politicians – they’re an irrelevance. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice.
The next Presidential election in the USA will be won by either a Democrat or a Republican, and nothing will change beyond a little tinkering around the edges and the type of rhetoric being spouted by the new President. It is sobering to note that before George W. Bush came to power, Al Gore – joint Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the poster boy for the new light-green generation – had already terminally weakened the Kyoto Protocol that Bush subsequently refused to sign. As Vice-President, Al Gore realized that not including poor countries in the Protocol would be a vote loser, and thus ensured – through his influence on the negotiating table – that rich countries would be able to, by trading their emissions with poor countries, buy their way out of any potential punishment when the emissions were added up. Funny, the difference a bit of power makes to people.
So, go and protest, make some noise, wave some banners, sign a petition: just make sure you stay within the law. I mean it – protest of some form or another is permitted in most nations, but the severity and the type of protest allowed depends on the legislation that is in place; both standing legislation and the widely used ‘state of emergency’ which, in fact is simply an extension of the existing laws. As the Zimbabweans ponder their electoral fate, the Mugabe regime has imposed ‘emergency’ laws to prevent any form of gathering that may threaten the government. What the Mugabe regime knows only too well is that in Zimbabwe, as with many other African, South American and Asian states, protest often takes an entirely different form from the kind that the people of the industrial West have become accustomed too. The Mugabe regime knows that real protest is capable of overthrowing governments; whereas in the USA, for instance, it almost goes without saying that protest will lead to nothing more than a warm feeling in the hearts of those taking part:
One will find hundreds, sometimes thousands, assembled in an orderly fashion, listening to selected speakers calling for an end to this or that aspect of lethal state activity, carrying signs ‘demanding’ the same thing . . . and – typically – the whole thing is quietly disbanded with exhortations to the assembled to ‘keep working’ on the matter and to please sign a petition.
Throughout the whole charade it will be noticed that the state is represented by a uniformed police presence keeping a discreet distance and not interfering with the activities. And why should they? The organizers will have gone through ‘proper channels’ to obtain permits. Surrounding the larger mass of demonstrators can be seen others . . . their function is to ensure the demonstrators remain ‘responsible,’ not deviating from the state-sanctioned plan of protest.
Laughable, isn’t it, that such a well-controlled event – and this is the way every official rally I have ever been on works – should be considered a ‘protest’ by the organizers? The laws in each country are tailored to suit the appetite of the population for change: a country full of people that want to fight for change needs to be kept tightly controlled; a country full of catatonic, drip-fed consumers can march all it likes, be given a well-controlled soapbox on TV – and the voltage on the tasers can be turned right down.
That is, unless someone decides to break the law.
This is an extract from “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis” by Keith Farnish. The author considers the Tools of Disconnection to be so critical to the understanding of civilization’s destructive behaviour that all of the Tools will be detailed on the Chelsea Green Blog over the next few weeks.