Communities, Ecology and Economic Success

Over the last few days, Baloghblog has written several great comments to my last large post (Upstate Identity and the Upstate Environment). I thought it would be worthwhile to bring these questions to the front page for discussion. The first comment was in response to a call for local answers to local problems, which would hopefully integrate ecological and economic solutions:

"My point is this: If you took a economically depressed area, such as Rome, NY after the air force base closed, and asked residents if they would support a large non-enviromentally friendly company to come in and replace the relatively high paying jobs associated with the AFB, how do you think the residents would have voted? Would they choose to protect the area for future generations and forego the business development? Or would they rather have jobs and security to protect their family's financial future?...don't underestimate "the locals" to make short term decisions that negatively affect the environment to protect their family's way of life either."

Bahloghblog then moves on to discuss the big questions:

"How do you convince people to have faith in local government again, when many feel that the leaders of the past have made decisions that have affected the state and region negatively over the past 40 years? or how do you convince others to begin participating (and voting) in local elections?

how do you convince someone that is living in the lower middle class to middle class not to purchase progressively cheaper goods from China, or abroad in order to support the local economies?

what steps can upstate New York take in order to reshape and revitalize communities, while working towards a sustainable future - in order to provide jobs and preventing "brain drain"?

how do you "brand" or make sustainability enticing to the 50-75% of the population that is struggling to make ends meet in our communities?"

And the most important question, perhaps: "How can you do it on a budget of $0.00?"

The first step, I believe, to bringing about a more sustainable, local society, is to begin questioning. Our society today is based upon drives that are anything but sustainable: consumerism, the culture of fear and dominance, the philosophy of "bigger is better," a fetish for the new and a seemingly insatiable desire for the appearence of convenience, speed and efficiency. While all of these factors have material and political sides, inevitably, they are products of our minds. They are ideas, plain and simple, and ideas, even the most powerful, can be defeated.

For me (though perhaps not for Natalie, she's got her own mind), that is one of the great purposes of this website. I want to bring forward ideas that run directly counter to those I mentioned above as an attempt to bring forward other options. Localism and the joy of idiosyncrisy stand against homogenization, a love of history and art are values that you cannot buy and are available to all and community empowerment and awareness stand directly opposite to domination, hierarchy and oppression.

Once we begin to recognize, as we are doing today, that these curses are just ideas in our heads and that there are other options, we can move onto the second stage of community revitalization: building institutions. This doesn't mean that we abandon questioning and creativity, only that they are supplemented by more obvious action. Our social institutions, like corporations, big government bureacracies, brands and logos, banks and political parties, are part and parcel to the philosophy that we reject. When profit is king, community will only be tolerated where it brings in a buck. Some of these institutions, perhaps, can be converted over to the cause, but that will only occur later. Before conversion, we must instead attempt to create new institutions. Local credit unions to replace banks, cooperatives to fill the roll of corporations, unions and community organizations to fight centralized authority. The beauty of these actions is that when they are properly planned, they not only help to make our lives more meaningful, but they also can bring us social stability lacking in modern America and ecological revitalization.

When we have a coherent ideological answer to our problems and the framework of institutions to offer as an alternative, can we begin the true struggle: for the hearts and minds of the people. Of course, public education is continuous and part of our own education, but many people will only be convinced to look outside the box when there is a viable alternative for them to look at. People will only give up on Wal-Mart and Chinese products when we can offer them a different, and more healthy and meaningful, way to live. In the end, the institutions of environmental and social destruction will wither as their true power, the faith of the people, is sapped away from them.

I know that what I write here is perhaps the most radical post I have yet written on this blog and that many people will not be willing to embrace its ideas immediately. In fact, I may be wrong about some of the particulars, though I have strong faith in this framework. I believe that the way we treat the environment is mirrored in the way we treat each other, and vice-versa. Upstate New York will have its golden age only when it recognizes this and, once again, becomes the American frontier, this time ideologically instead of geographically. The fact that we have been so poorly treated by the "powers that be" is only an asset in these conversions. Our weapon is our rust and our path is down our snowy streets where only the hardened locals dare to drive. The only other option is a continued slide into oblivion.

Posted by Jesse


joseph wheelbarrow said...

Wow, you said we can have some sort of future 'golden age'. Other than that this is right on, if peep are given the chance to take part in something local and idiosyncratic, something that they feel they're apart of, then stuff will start to change for the better.

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baloghblog said...

time to active verification on your posts, you've been spammed.

Great post. I'm sure that this is just the beginning of great future dialogues. Off on vaca for the weekend, so no time for a comment. Have a great new year's everybody!

Jesse said...

What a shame, but I guess I will have to activate the verification feature.