Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Arnie Cooper’s writing has appeared in Wired, The Atlantic, and Poets & Writers. He lives in Santa Barbara, California, where he teaches English as a second language.
I think that there is a small-d democratic spirit in people that rebels against plutocracy, or rule by the rich, which is what we had from the robber-baron era to the 1920s and what the New Deal was designed to eliminate. Now here we are again with this increasing concentration of wealth. It’s not that people resent wealth; they resent greed.
A key belief of cybernetic totalism is that there’s no difference between experience and information; that is, everything can be reduced to “bits.” When you don’t believe in experience anymore, you become desensitized to the subjective quality of life. And this has a huge impact on ethics, religion, and spirituality, because now the center of everything isn’t human life or God, but the biggest possible computer. You have this cultlike anticipation of computers big enough to house consciousness and thus grant possible immortality.
We can’t solve the problem of corporate irresponsibility by imposing volumes of laws and regulations that try to restrain the system, because the system is designed not to be restrained. I believe the solution lies in redesigning the corporation itself to build in some self-restraint.
Jews jumped from the burning buildings of Europe and landed, unintentionally, on the backs of the Palestinians. Because our pain was so great from the Holocaust, we didn’t notice the pain we caused them.
This year farmers started to commit suicide in Uttar Pradesh, the richest agricultural state in India. Some of the most fertile soil in the world can be found there, and the region has never had agricultural problems. But the first rule of globalization says, “Don’t grow food for yourself; grow export crops.” So the farmers there all grew potatoes. And then potato prices collapsed. The potato-chip makers have walked off with super profits, and the farmers have been left with huge debts.
When we focus on regional production and regional distribution, the issues around the use of chemicals and other materials resolve themselves. It’s as simple as standing across the table at the farmers’ market from the person who’s growing your food. Ultimately the basic health of the food system is not about laws; it’s about relationships: interpersonal, ecological, and biological. The people who eat my food don’t need a legislative act to know that what I’m providing is safe to eat. They know me, and they know my farm. That, to me, is the best form of certification. It’s based on outdated ideas like honor and trust.
There are two kinds of really powerful, transformative spirituality. One is mystical spirituality, or the full, inner awakening from egoism to transpersonal awareness. The other is engaged spirituality, working for the public good or collective welfare, out of a deep sense of solidarity with all sentient beings. The problems in the world today are so immense, grievous, and dire that we need both kinds of spirituality, not just an individual, inner mystical spirituality.
Simplicity lies at the intersection of spirituality and sustainability. If you put spirituality, or the inner life, together with sustainability, or the outer life of maintaining things, what you come up with is the simple life.