As the politicos and corporate leaders argue over what needs to be done to fix the economy, to create jobs and get America consuming again, my prayer is that the situation will improve but not return to the pre-recession status quo. Easy credit, sub-prime mortgages, unchecked urban and suburban expansion and corporate dominance are not what I long to return to. I am not so naïve as to think that these ills have gone away, but the global financial meltdown has certainly sobered me into acknowledging the frailty and unsustainability of the current industrial economy and allowed for time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re headed and where we want to go.
As Americans have lost millions of jobs and billions of dollars over the last couple years, the food, entertainment and energy industries have only grown stronger. Apple Inc. now has more cash on hand than the US Government, energy companies are having their best years ever and big agriculture companies are raking in the money. With every swipe of our card, we are voting for these companies – not only for their products, but we’re giving them the capital to do everything they do. They cannot operate without us and they’ve convinced us that we cannot live without them. We’ve followed them to the next big thing – the next super-fast, solve all your entire multi-tasking problems shiny gadget, to the low-fat, no calorie, no guilt brownie, to the car that runs off coal-powered electric, so you don’t have to feel guilty about the next oil spill. We’ve been following them for a long time, but as they’ve gotten richer, we’ve gotten poorer. As we ponder what’s next, I ask simply: Do we want to follow the same multi-national corporate conglomerates into the next generation or can we take back some control over our lives, our communities and our destinies?
We’ve created a society where we look to a few multi-national conglomerates to provide all our food, energy and entertainment and in doing so we’ve created a monster. We’ve created a three-headed monster, what the ancient Greeks called a Chimera—a fire-breathing she-monster that has the heads of a lion, a goat and a serpent. (Chimera has a second meaning of an illusion, a fabrication of the mind, which also applies to this extended analogy.) What we’re dealing with in America is a corporate three-headed monster that is propped up by the government, and one which also has the money (private and public) and power (ditto) to create illusions through advertising—existential illusions that everything is okay, that we’re working toward a better future and that with our next purchase our problems will finally be solved (even those caused by our last purchase). In the past few decades, the American people have mostly ignored the three-headed monster in the room, in part because we invited her in.
The American Chimera has been successful in many ways: job creation, mass food production, providing millions of entertainment choices and cheap energy. But while everything has become more affordable for the average American, our communities have disappeared; our local cultures have been homogenized and corporatized. We’re less nourished from our food, we’re increasingly dependent on energy for our routine activities (energy that we did not make and we know almost nothing about), and we’re emptier than ever from the eight hours of television, video games and internet that we casually partake of on a daily basis.
Chimera has come into our neighborhoods and replaced neighborliness with loyalty programs and sales as reliable as the seasons (named after them too). She’s convinced us that cheap and varied products at jaw-dropping prices are what we should spend our weekends searching for. She’s taken our water, carbonated it, sugared it and sold it back to us for a hundred times what she paid us for it. She’s given us food – fast, fried, and almost free. And all we’ve had to do is not ask any questions and ignore any negative news. It should not be surprising that we are almost completely and entirely at the mercy of her, and with each product purchased, each hour of entertainment consumed, every show watched and each mile driven, we are continuing to feed her.
The fix is in and we’ve all been grouped, stereotyped, polled and categorized so that Chimera knows what we want and she just so happens to have it in stock. Right now it’s being manufactured, shrink-wrapped, customized, and ready to be shipped overnight to each and every doorstep in America. We’re free to order as many as we want and the more we order, the cheaper they will be, so we’re finally making money, by spending money, right?
With Chimera at the reigns, it’s laughable to hear Democrat and Republican alike talk of freedom. The fact is, if we don’t take responsibility for our water, our food, our land, energy, and culture (entertainment, arts, etc.) then we are not free. If we think we’re free, then in what and where does that freedom lie? Are we free at the grocery store? Are we free to know whether our food was created in violence, in violence to the workers, to the animals, or both? Are we free, as we consume energy, to know by which means our energy has been created? Are we free, in flicking on the screens, to know that ‘artists’ will not poison our minds and our children’s with their politics and worldviews? Are we even free in our own minds? Can we escape from the Corporate/Hollywood/Government ideas long enough to have encounter any true or good thoughts? I have more questions than answers, but my answer to those questions is obvious.
We have, without much resistance, given almost all of our responsibilities as people and as a society to the American Chimera and have decided that our only skill is to consume. As American consumers, the only thing we’re free to do anymore is to choose between products on a shelf or in an online catalogue and, as more and more power is consolidated into fewer and fewer companies, we’re finding that a once vibrant, free-market of goods and services is looking more and more like a Soviet corporate-government store .
Unfortunately, this is where we are right now, this is the sober reality, but this is not the table we need to prepare for our children. We don’t need a three, five, ten or twenty year plan to make us feel good about that time down the road when everything will be “okay” and “all good”. What we need is true change right now. We need to focus on the small, impactful things that we can all be doing today in our cultural watershed. We have to go toe to toe with Chimera and do what’s right because we know it’s right and not because the celebrities she paid or the government she bribed told us to, but because if we unplug Chimera long enough, we will begin to see more clearly what’s right living and what’s undoubtedly wrong. The road ahead is hard, but if each person can take responsibility for them and theirs, then we’re headed in the right direction.
In the coming years, we’ll measure progress in gallons of water not used, socks sown and shoes resoled, kids homeschooled, letters written, family meals enjoyed, unplugged televisions, Colas undrank, poems memorized, books read, prayers said, and especially true friends made, helped and kept. My prayer is that this is not a fad, but a movement that turns into an awakening from the spell of Chimera. I have recently awoken from the spell and I will continue to seek out those in my cultural watershed until more have awoken. Join me on this path toward true freedom through responsibility, action, love, and hard work.
May God bless and keep you always…