Saturday, January 19, 2008

My crazy reading binge continues. Since I moved to Snyder two and a half years ago I’ve read one hundred eleven books, not counting children’s books—eighty-six of those just last year! I’ve just now finished my seventh book of 2008.

It was called World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred And Global Instability, by Amy Chua. Her point was that when there is a market-dominant minority (especially of foreign ethnicity, such as the Chinese in the Philippines, or the Jews in Russia, or whites in many African countries) who represent only a tiny percentage of the population but control the bulk of the nation’s wealth and resources, and then democracy and universal suffrage is introduced more or less overnight, it is a recipe for disaster. The angry, disenfranchised majority, whose hatred has been seething for a very long time, suddenly find themselves politically empowered, able to elect one of their own, thus turning the tables on the market-dominant minority. In many places this has led to violence, outright genocide, atrocious human rights violation, forced expulsions, seizures of land and assets, and so on.

I feel like the universe wants me to figure something out. All of these books seem to be leading me somewhere, trying to guide me to make some kind of novel connection. Amy Chua’s book is just one among many that’s pushing buttons in the back of my mind, trying to help me grasp something, trying to get me to the insight.

I think it centers around my need to understand if there’s a way the human race can save itself at this point. Our problems seem so enormous and intractable—yet is there a way to evolve through this successfully?

Another book I read this week annoyed me from almost the first page. I was having a hard time figuring out what exactly was rubbing me the wrong way—after all, here was a woman discussing how to empower ourselves both individually and societally, to explore our full human potential—an issue I believe is being sorely neglected in these times. It should have been refreshing to read a book on this subject. I think what bothered me was her oversimplistic optimism. She would only mention our global problems in passing, hardly giving them any attention because in her belief instantaneous change is possible. She has the New Age belief that if enough people are doing their own private inner work we’ll soon reach critical mass and the whole world will suddenly be transformed. She cited all of these rapid shifts that have occurred evolutionarily in the past, and yes, of course she’s right. I don’t deny that it often works that way or that it could work that way this time. I just also believe there’s likely to be death (maybe a massive die-off) and anarchy as well as, and in advance of, a full transformation.

She was ignoring the major issues and problems—Amy Chua’s example being one of them—that make her utopian transformation laughable. It seems like she is too immersed in our elite American culture to grasp what we are actually facing, globally, as a species.

Let me try to put down some of my thought as to what’s bothering me, what I’m trying to sort out. My thinking is kind of cloudy today, so I don’t know how helpful this will be.

This consumer paradigm bothers me. Globalization bothers me—corporations going into foreign countries, raping the land, destroying what should be left to sustain the people. Huge profits made by the elite few—an instant gratification that pillages the future. Indigenous people are rightly angry. Outsiders do not have respect for local lands, people, and resources.

The whole concept of profit and acquisitiveness feels like a totally off-base paradigm. I think it is evidence of a deep insecurity in the human psyche. It is that urge to hoard—that deep survival instinct, the self-preservation instinct of the ego. We think of ourselves as so civilized, but I see us as still caught up in a barbaric quest for individual survival at the expense of all that is Other.

I am about to start Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel, which I’m hoping will help me sift through my thoughts more thoroughly. I believe that his premise in this book is that geology, and the unique features of a region, help to shape culture and explains the vast cultural differences throughout the world. I don’t expect he will go into the spiritual dimension of the land, but I’m thrilled to at least have found a Westerner willing to address the issue of the effects of land on culture, however superficially.

See, the land is actually what I’m suspecting underlies consumerism and the exploitation of third world countries and Amy Chua’s whole discussion about the rise of market-dominant minorities. People who have lost their connection to the land become those who are obsessed with materialism and those who are likely to exploit the land, particularly on foreign soils where they don’t have to see the damage they do. Amy Chua found that when market-dominant minorities were driven out of a country the countries often collapsed economically because the majority who remained didn’t possess the business skills and financial acumen necessary to keep the country going. What occurred to me was that this was not a failing of the native people but simply demonstrates a very core difference in cultural values. Business skills, financial acumen—those are skills valuable to people who have no connection to the land. They don’t possess the land in their hearts or their souls, so they seek through transacting and exploiting to possess the earth physically. Indigenous people, however, still at least to some extent are part of the land, inseparable from it. Capitalism has little appeal to them. There is not motivation to become materialists, brilliant entrepreneurs, leaders of industry. Manic capitalism, manic materialism, represents alienation from our true identity. Indigenous people are often thought of as lacking in intelligence to succeed in business, or as plain unmotivated and lazy, when in fact they still remember how to live in harmony with the earth.

Harmony might be possible on this earth if everyone reconnected with the land. But in this global society where people have become so rootless, how is that possible?

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