Old Wineskins or Dry Bones: Becoming Uncool

I live on Queen Anne Hill, but I work in Ballard.  When I attended SPU, I checked out bus passes in order to get to work.  I like riding the bus.  Some time ago, I began thinking about public transportation.  I appreciate it.  Public transit provides cheap mobility for those who cannot afford a car or are not physically capable of riding a bike or walking.  As I reflected on the usefulness of the bus, I donned my anarchist lens, and I saw clearly the way in which public transportation, not in principle but in practice, represents gentrification. 

In Seattle, people commonly plaster environmentalist stickers all over their cars (even gas-guzzlers like Subaru Outbacks).  They feel superior or vindicated by doing this.  They make up the Martin Luthers of environmentalism.  If they believe environmentalism is good, the earth will be saved.  The next group of snobbish people come in Priuses and bio-diesel powered Volkwagens.  This group wants to reform cars and petroleum use.  They accept the basic construct, but the answer to the problems is fully attainable without abandoning the current system.  Another group of people either ride the bus or ride their bikes.  The bussers and bikers willingly sacrifice the expediency of the automobile for frugality and longer travel times.  A few of these people do this for environmental reasons.  Some bike to be cool (fixed-gear riding hipsters), some bike to stay in shape, and everyone busses in order to save money.  Herein lies the gentrification.  The upper and middle class in Seattle longs for environmental justice.  They want the earth and its inhabitants to not suffer in the way they currently do.  However, it rests beyond their imagination that the practices expected of them within their strata actually affect the deteriorating ecologic community.  How do we go about decoupling this worldview?  How do we begin critically observing our own activity, repenting of our inconsistency, and move into a life characterized by integrity and sustainability?

I begin by advancing a new philosophy of being.  I believe this philosophy already exists but only in small pockets and never holistically.  First, we must identify the root problems: ubiquitous neo-liberalism coupled with neo-conservatism.  Liberals themselves are people devoted and committed to “social justice”.  They talk about environmentalism, gay rights, women’s rights, and racism.  Accordingly, they vote to increase taxes so the government can create programs to aid those who struggle through life.  Liberals flock together.  They create certain identifying markers in order to recognize each other.  They love coffee.  Finding a poorly dressed liberal is difficult.  They put “Coexist” stickers on their cars and hang Indian prayer flags on their porches.  Their homes look like Ikea ads.  Everything matches.  Everything is expensive.  Liberals and neo-liberalism meet in the liberal need to be identified as proper consumers.  Consumerism marks out the liberal identifiers.  Resources, then, require requisition in order to maintain identity.  The government obliges by increasing taxation, utilizing taxes for neo-imperial outreach, and creating welfare systems that keep a working-class population from becoming like the upper and middle classes.  Meanwhile, they woo the consuming masses to sleep with debates about foreign policy (which looks more like Middle East policy than it does foreign policy), healthcare, and the environment.  The opposite, equal reaction resides in neo-conservatism.

Conservatives represent pietism.  They do not identify social injustices as the issue at hand; personal irresponsibility causes the problem.  Neo-conservatism, therefore, simply employs a different strategy in order to attain the same ends as neo-liberalism.  First, neo-conservatism convinces its adherents that they are good, righteous people who deserve material goods and prosperity.  In order to attain this prosperity, they engage in neo-imperialistic activity through warfare and opening free trade markets for multinationals in majority world countries.  Like liberals, they carry identifying markers.  These markers mandate access to overabundance.  The neo-conservatives woo their constituents to sleep with talk about piety: anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-drug, etc.  Major divergence between neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism comes in domestic policy.  Since the neo-cons are agaisnt so much, they cut taxes and devote the remainder to imperialism.  Hence, they appear more interested in wars for resource acquisition and neo-colonialism.  Neo-libs, when they enter office after the neo-cons do not alter this spending (hence, Obama’s expansion of military spending); instead, they spend on social programs in complement to their imperialistic, capitalistic agendas.  This keeps socially minded folks at bay while the real damage occurs beyond their vision.

I say all this to demonstrate one thing: the ways in which we orient our lives affect policy.  The need to look hip, to own throw-away possessions such as Ikea cabinets and cell phones that last one year, to own a car, to live in a nice house causes the government and corporations to organize themselves in certain fashions.  The U.S. does not destroy entire cultures and people groups simply for the sake of greed.  Greed derives from demand.  When people supply a major demand and make boatloads of money, they cannot (or do not), like the rich young ruler in Luke, give up their wealth simply to solve the issue of injustice, especially when they believe the true injustice is that homosexuals cannot wed.  Our main source of resistance comes outside the realm of this operating system.  Why?  How?  Since the system itself demands loyal adherents defined by consumerist cravings (if it did not, how would the government maintain its strength?), we cannot expect tweaking the system to achieve the desired result.  In the end, what is most important to them, profit, will win out.  How do we resist?  We get rid of the demand.  We become uncool.

Another group exists beside the saved-by-faith-environmentalists, the hybrid-drivers, and the bikers.  We are very few.  We walk.  As we walk, we mourn the death passing us by on the roads.  Our tears are for both the people in their cars, isolated and in a hurry, and for ourselves as we breathe in the carbon monoxide expelled by them.  Our mourning is for those who are exploited, oppressed, and killed for the sake of putting so many cars into our society.  More importantly, we represent a group who knows the way to sustainability comes in social justice tied directly to personal piety.  The problem is, this is not cool.

Our society prescribes worth and value through appearance and possessions.  The result of this value-system can only be seen in melting glaciers, growing deserts, famines, and economic disparity.  The answer to this cannot come by investing more trust into a government who wants nothing but the extension of this value-system that keeps them in power.  We need a new devotion to social justice that does not expect the government to care for the vulnerable.  We need a new value-system that relies on small communities providing services organically without the desire for profit.  We must become uncool.  We must refuse to partake in the systems that make cool what it is.  I do not think my thoughts on this are over, but I will leave them here. Peace!

-ben adam


About ben adam

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we might miss Armageddon because we're too busy watching MTV and CNN. Please, read a book, throw a ball, bake some bread, and for goodness sake, turn the TV off.
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