Local Culture-Beyond Taking Sides

There may be beliefs worth dying for, but none worth turning against each other. Many false dichotomies are prevalent nowadays, putting pressure on us to take sides. Mainstream media is rife with identity politics conflicts, pitching one group against another, but we rarely hear about the class conflict. I believe this is the one which breeds all the other conflicts. Financial stress is tailored to keep the class system neatly arranged with few at the top and the majority bound by debt, consuming to self-medicate their stress, not by some evil conspirator, by part of our own nature. Classism is the consequence of past atrocities which are normalized today. To remain unaware of our own self-justification, denial and laziness is to enforce systemic inequality. Two days before the 2020 presidential election, I feel it is important to bear in mind that we all have a responsibility to cultivate within ourselves the qualities we would like to see in the world. If only something so easy as casting a vote would make injustice go away, like popping a pill. This election is like being given the choice between Pepsi or Coke. The two candidates aren’t different, yet neither is the solution to the major problems we all face. When it comes to true happiness and lived experience, government does not get us off the hook from doing our own dirty work, nor that of our ancestors.

Problems which took generations to develop cannot be eradicated by putting on a band aid. Take for example, vaccines. Band aids may be all well and good, but just as we can easily outsource responsibility for the problems that concern us by believing democracy will solve them, it’s tempting to believe that the lesson of the pandemic will be learned once everyone accepts taking vaccines. The underlying causes still need to be addressed, even while we deal with crises. Centuries of bad habits led to the complacency we have today of longing for a quick fix. I propose that the same solution would solve all three problems, corrupt legal system, an economy designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer (Democrayc=Capitalism), and vulnerability to global pandemics. Localization. Local culture does not have to be limited to ethnic traditions. It is about caring for and including what is in our immediate surrounding. Of course, in a free world, returning to living more locally may seem unrealistic. Action (karma) stems from desire and intention, so there’s no harm in imagining at least.

The world-wide efforts to contain this pandemic show how people can be mobilized. But why were we not mobilized to slow global warming? Alleviate poverty? Suicide and drug epidemics? War? Human trafficking? Obesity? Chronic stress? Why is the world coming together now, and not at other times when scientists and researchers sounded urgent alarms? This pandemic should be about barter and family values, but instead we see a consolidation of wealth, not because of “them,” because of consumers’ inertia. A ‘novel’ virus could be calmly studied if people’s lives were inspired, activated and localized. It would be easy to lock down infected areas without plunging entire nations into further dept. How much travel is recreational, compared to the migration, commuting, shipping and general transportation that is driven by Capitalism? Those consolidating wealth would gladly give power back to the people, but who wants it? Who honors those worthy of honor? It would be easy to point fingers at those who stole money and land from others to build the global economic networks, and continue to do so, but at what point do we stop and notice who funds them, wishes to be like them?

A global pandemic is one very predictable and natural consequence of the consumer economy, one of the messes humanity has created, humanity, meaning me and you. Doing business with all parts of the world comes with benefits and costs. We have the world at our fingertips, convenience and cheaper prices, yet, in addition to the stressful lifestyle that international commerce forces on workers, “free trade” makes survival dependent on big monopolies, eliminates local systems and decreases access to and dependence on the land, manual work and community. Multinational corporations evade national laws, and Capitalism as we know it ensures dominance of the dollar. As the world “gets smaller,” it is important to ask ourselves, what is the impact of the dollar dominating economics? What are the unintended consequences of choosing the cheapest and most convenient products available? What is lost when replacing traditional products and customs with peddled trends? Who suffers by de-regulating marketing and manufacturing, (not to mention campaigning and lobbying)? Everybody, and those of us who outsource dirty work are to blame. Especially relevant today, how does dependence on international trade impact our ability to contain the spread of a lethal virus? How does worrying about things happening far away impact how we treat this, here, now?

Here is a photo of Father Jim from Texas washing the feet of a Mayan gentleman in Guatemala in 2009.

Each moment we can envision what happiness really looks like. We can ask, “Do I have enough, or is there something more I need to consume?” This attitude of having enough is akin to fostering local culture, not to say there should be bans on travel or working and buying things internationally. There is no should I mean to imply, simply an inner shift to protect the innate urge to appreciate what is near to us, what we encounter every day. This inner shift towards gratitude, rather than craving things that are for sale, can reveal creative more authentic versions of what contentment could look like. The problem with this idea of localization is not only that it is overly idealistic. It turns a blind eye to privilege. Living local is more expensive than commercial alternatives and is cost-prohibitive for many people. The other major historical strand occurring simultaneously with the election and the pandemic is the Black Lives Matter movement. Again, I hope we can arrive at a both/and approach and remain open minded. Getting stuck on privilege is another form of pointing the finger. Privilege and injustice are real. AND we are all free. These are opposing facts of which both are true. Racism is largely a symptom of an archaic class systems. The class system in the US is a direct correlate to the American Dream, that if you work hard enough, you can hire others to do the hard work. The value system behind this attitude needs to be questioned, not enforced on people. If we inquire into what makes us truly happy, physical work is joyous, as is relying on others and relating face to face over virtually. Consumer culture involves exploitation. Local culture involves nature. In an industrialized, mechanized or technological society, physical work is repetitive and dreadful. As I repeat in almost every post, the body and the mind cannot be separated. Sensing the physical results of our choices helps realign us with nature, even though the laws of nature are hard. At any moment any of us can evaluate for ourselves if our suffering is caused by ourselves or by someone else. It’s up to each person to see the oppressive cruelty, and the inherent lie, that Capitalist success is available to everyone. Obviously, it is not good for the economy to remind consumers that the best things in life are free. When we are done pointing the finger at others, or at ourselves, we may begin reckoning inwardly with our ability to be content. It is ethical to take precautions to protect one another and collaborate for the sake of harmony, AND it is ethical to think for oneself.

Anyone who has tried to free themselves from consumer culture knows how almost impossible this is. People do not want to cause harm, thus higher salaries are offered for work which destroys local culture. Work that nourishes the conscience often yields insufficient pay. Trapped in this paradigm, it is tempting blame someone, but no one is in a position to judge another. Any side we take is a projection of vicissitudes within ourselves, for we do not know what we would do in an other’s situation. Taking sides is merely a incomplete thought process, a lack of awareness of the full self, pushing one other to extremes. Power-mongers and insurgents exist because of each other, for each other. The urge to defend “me and mine” is a defense against our own withdrawal symptoms from whatever bad habits still enslave us. This is understandable when the addictions are strong. Does it matter if thousands of conspiracies scheme against us? At the end of the day, we are here together. We can trust military and industry to bring balance, or we can search within the mandala of our own experience. It is impossible to buy security, nor to invent powerful enough weapons to quell the conflict of our own intentions, such as greed vs renunciation interacting. We must focus on this link between intention and action and become trustworthy ourselves.

In fight or flight mode, people can no longer think clearly. It’s common knowledge that the US is a military superpower threatened by other military superpowers, like in the Simon and Garfunkle lyric, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.” With robust local culture, this would not be the case. Like healthy gut flora, diversity is mutually beneficial. I’d be policeman of the world rather than get invaded by a foreign regime, if I had to choose. That is my point. I DON’T. To overcome black and white, us and them, thinking is the lesson here. We don’t have control over anything, except, with training, what we think. When we think an enemy threatens us from beyond our reach, we are on a train speeding towards the edge of a cliff, mass extinction. In fact, inside and outside the train is all part of us. Consumption speeds us up. Contentment slows us down. Taking sides with all the identity politics in the corporate media, (me, me, me, what is different between us, how we collide) is a distraction to avoid the job of learning to be the brakes. Even if there is a right or wrong view of a situation, it doesn’t matter, unless we address the problem and make an effect. We would be the problem if our enemy were someone we never met. We are the solution embodying acceptance, respect and kindness. Everything is connected. We are not helpless. We can stop causing harm within our own physical sphere.

Living locally, life does not follow our concepts of it. The concept of “progress” is not always taking us in a better direction when we open our eyes and look around. The senses, and the heart, confront us with a reality other than our fictional concepts. Directing attention away from beliefs, tuning into our observations of right now, we can mend the fragmented world. Coming into direct contact, even imaginatively, with another, we encounter the tender vulnerability of their basic goodness. Observing freshly and subjectively, we emerging from fantasy into the miraculous, vast and transient moment. The world of our awareness pops like a bubble in the air of a world of uncertainty and interdependence. We cannot know for sure what reality is, who another person is, even who the self is, but our contribution to the collective changes when we honestly inquire. When we put down preconceived notions, our frequency changes from being a victim to being a companion. This practice of taking our inner and outer experience seriously allows us to meet the “enemy” face to face, in our local community, or in the field of our mutual interest. Then we discover enmity cannot exist on a small scale, unless we de-localize, avoid meeting. If someone tries to gather enough people on their “side” to hopefully eradicate the enemy, it is likely that they have already lost connection to their local culture. It is unbearable to hate someone you see regularly. Some assistance may be necessary at times to ease wounded interactions, but eventually contact leads to understanding. The problems in the world originate and must be solved within by doing something about our ignorance. Change happens from within. Beauty is within. Morality is within. Every person must arrive at decision from within and then align inner and outer worlds collaboratively. Education plays a part in this, and by education I do not mean only formally in schools. Culture comes alive, and education is ongoing, when we dare to keep learning from the fellow beings in the radiant, and spiritual, mandala of personal experience.

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