Sunday, October 24, 2004

Holistic Medicine for America

In reading another blog that I frequent I came across a bit, rather proudly written by an activist Green pointing out that corporations had taken over America causing everything from obesity to war. I wanted to respond to this myopic view, however the blog is member-only, so that was that. It did, however, prompt what I think is a rather nice little bit about the true causes of many issues which plague America today.

The major problem with the thought process of most activists is that while they note the symptoms of the disease they take what amounts to a centralized symptom and call it the illness. Large corporate power structures seeking to cut bottom lines are composed of members of our society. Therefore, they are part of the ailing body. If the legs hurt we do not necessarily amputate the legs. We must to seek a more inclusive diagnosis. If the ailments of the extremeties are caused by problems with the heart, we do not simply cut out the heart. We must seek a more pragmatic solution. What are the problems of the heart, and how do we treat them? In this case the legs represent everything from obeise members of society to malfunctioning electoral systems. They cannot simply be removed without damaging the body, so we must seek out the cause of the ailment. The heart represents the institutions which have driven our ascendancy as a nation (capitalism, democracy, corporate power, military might, etc.), so we cannot simply cut it away, we must reform it.

I would put forth that we have already begun this process, that one merely has to take a step back to see. For example, during the 80's we reached a tipping point in consumer culture. Americans bought everything that was pitched to them. All one has to do is compare 80's marketing to the marketing of eras previous and subsequent. Previously marketing had been geared more towards pragmatism. In the 90's marketing began to apeal to everything from pragmatism to artistic taste and spiritual satisfaction demonstrating a growing dissatisfaction with consumer culture. It is, of course, strangely ironic that only after the peak of consumer culture is nearly twenty years past (just ask any marketing exectuve) do we find ourselves with words like "consumerist" in the lexicon.

Throughout the 90's and 21st century we have seen a growing backlash towards irresponsible corporations, to the point that companies like Whole Foods (a supermarket chain devoted to organic/free-range/environmentally sound products) have begun to thrive in earnest. This is but one symptom that has begun to turn around. The natural tendency of activists is to note only the areas in need of change, not the areas that have changed. The frequent response among activists to any assertion that change has occoured is a "that's not enough" attitude. By putting forth that a process is under way one hardly presupposes that it is complete. By assuming a "We're on the way!" attitude activists are more likely to find support. Simply put, people bandwagon. Whole Foods didn't begin to thrive because activists put photos of caged pigs in newspapers. Whole Foods began to thrive because they provided an easy, fashonable, and well executed alternative to eating factory farm produce. Activists are important in the system because they spread knowledge of a flaw in the system. However, the flaw will seem to go largely ignored until someone, usually an entrepeneur or politician, presents another viable option. The test of a viable option is, of course, that it does not cause any dramatic change in a person's life. While being Vegan and growing one's own produce requires immense effort, shopping at Whole Foods simply requires the expenditure of more money. By making the interior of the store more attractive and the level of service superior to a normal super market Whole Foods provides a viable (indeed superior) option for almost anyone living at or above the median lifestyle. Using similar logic, I put forth that when gas prices (either through taxation or natural economic forces) rise very much beyond their present level (I'll state that any amount significantly over $2 a gallon should suffice). Americans will begin to purchase more fuel-efficient cars on a large scale, producing competition in that aspect of auto manufacturing.
Activists (both left and right) have already given America numerous reasons to reduce it's consumption of oil, however since Americans like SUV's and sports cars, until the cost of fuel is taxing to the point that these become financially impractical for Americans to own they will continue to purcase them, unless, that is, someone comes up with a fuel-efficient SUV. Hell, a lot of the sports car set has already defected to the Honda Civic. Why not? They all knew that it would save them on gas, and the market has provided a million ways to make your Civic cooler with bolt-on parts.

Activists are the system's natural response to ailment. They function like antibodies, attacking those things which infect the system. However, a healthy immune system functions better than an ailing one. It is my belief that activists need to be organized and educated. While in Europe most activist groups unite under the banner of political parties (forcing random counterculture elements to simply refer to themselves as anarchists, something I find most ammusing) in America our activist groups tend to be decentralized and lack any sort of focus. The result is that serious activists who want to drive change are absorbed by major political parties and organizations leaving perfectly good movements to fill their ranks from the afforementioned counterculture elements. As an examle, my mother supports almost every aspect of the Green platform, however there isn't much of an organized Green Party here so she gives money to the Sierra Club and volunteers for the local Democrats. I would like to applaud the Green Party's focus on seeing Greens elected to local office in areas with a heavy liberal bias. That is exactly the kind of grass-roots effort we need. In America we have a tendency towards top-down thinking, based on the idea that the head leads the body. While this system is not entirely flawed, a healthy brain in a body riddled with tumors and illness will hardly be able to repair the entire form. It is my opinion that it is better to think of the system as a pyramid. One must lay the foundations layer by layer before the capstone can be put in place. By strengthening the immune system thus, the Greens are helping to lay the foundations for a stronger body. Well, it's late and I'm rambling. Hmmm... fried peanut butter sandwiches... excellent....

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