Monday, April 18, 2011

Structural Change

I just finished watching series 4 of The Good Life, a 1970s sitcom from BBC that aired in the US as Good Neighbors. The library system only had this last season of the show, so I requested that to see whether I would like it. I enjoyed it very much and so will probably purchase the set that contains series 1-3 at some point and then donate this to the library when I have watched it. It is about a these neighbors, both of whom were corporate suburban couples until one of the couples decides to drop out of the rat race and become self-sufficient. Some of it brought me back to my own corporate suburban 1970s childhood. Some of it was pretty laughable--like when they worked for a sheep farmer in exchange for fleeces which they spun (with a drop spindle), dyed with nettles, wove the yarn into cloth, and then sewed into a suit--presumably by hand, since the woman was always seen sewing by hand. This seemed to happen in a remarkably short period of time! All in all though, it was quite entertaining. At one point, though, it struck me how difficult (impossible?) it can be to be truly self-sufficient in a society where that is somehow held up as the ideal, but is structurally set up to make this very, very difficult. At some level, of course, none of us are self-sufficient, and indeed even in the show, they had to barter with other people to get their needs met. This has always been the case, I would venture to say, throughout human evolutionary history. Cooperation was a part of our evolutionary process and no one truly goes it alone. So, although we can strive to meet as many of our needs as possible on our own, we can't ever meet all of them. Still, having the knowledge to grow food, cook with what you have, and make do in creative ways with things you have just makes a lot of sense to me. When she cut up one of her husband's pullovers and made herself a tabard vest and leg warmers, I chuckled to myself. In the last episode she was wearing a patchwork shirt that looked like it had been cut out of other old shirts in different shapes and sewn together, seams outward. Now this is something I want to try myself. In any case, there are parts of this kind of lifestyle that not only do I find attractive, but that I actually do in my own life. There are limits--I know that unless I am doing container gardening, for example, I really don't care for it. So I will plant a few tomato plants in pots, but I have also joined a CSA and will support a local farm family that way. Brunswick happens to be a place where I can do that. In Fairbanks, we lived without running water for a couple of years. This was pretty painless, although it took organization and planning, because Fairbanks was set up for that kind of thing. There were places we could go to buy water and pump it into our containers. That's the thing--the system has to be set up in such a way to allow and even encourage people to make these kinds of changes in their lives. Clearly the system we have now does not work and millions of people know this and try to make positive changes in their own lives. This needs to happen because we need these individuals to turn into groups which will turn into larger groups that will eventually be large enough to force cultural, societal, and structural change. But these pioneers do have it a little harder--they are trying to build alternative lifestyles within a structure that is often not supportive and may in fact hinder them. So we all do what we can. One of the things I was happy to see in the show was the expression of the joy that such a life can bring. The more I have tossed aside all the trappings of a consumer lifestyle the happier I have been myself. There is little joy in shopping--I can think of few things more mind-numbingly boring. But there is satisfaction in taking a bunch of string, manipulating it with my crochet hook, and ending up with a pair of socks or a shirt. Bucking the system at any level requires creativity. I think we need as much of that as we can get.

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