The Anti-Career Manifesto #4473[1]

 

Career?!?

 

Thoughts of bourgeois, Adam Smith misquoting, moderate investing, Must See TV watching America claw at what soul I have left. Careers sit on couches and articulate zombie-logic spoon-fed by BBC’s dirty conveyor belt. Careers are Big Brother sanctioned and come with your very own Newspeak dictionary. Careers fall victim to the steel Sisyphean labyrinth-cage of practicality. Good intentions always falling short. And they will always fall short, because it is the same essence inhabiting both Career and The Problem - the essence of the Corporate-Military-Reductionist-Literal Thoughtsystem/Worldorder.

 

No, the Poet-Superhero-Hobos will have no Career. And in its place, they will have Life. Real Life. An existence outside of the acceptable spectrum of American culture, because when culture is out of balance with humanity/nature, one cannot exist in balance with both.

 

But how will you possibly manage not to starve?!? The Capitalist Vampires of the University have difficulty imagining survival without indulging in the feeding frenzy of the dollar economy - rooted in the neo-colonial pillaging of the brown black yellow peoples. But within bartering economic circles there exist many people who farm, or write, or work with wood, and do so trading local a currency - one without interest, inflation, or collusion with the Globalized Monetary Worldorder[2]. 

 

So this I say. And I will live out my days basking in spontaneity with low-impact technologies and manual labor. I will roam free over the wide-open landscapes of what was once called Turtle Island[3] with a clear conscience and manuscripts. I will free the world by becoming free myself. And I will have no Career…

 

Digging Out the Roots

Tim Desmond & Rebecca Reeder

 

We left six months ago on a journey that has taken us from one side of America to the other - seeing so much in between. It happened that the two of us found ourselves as recent college graduates who had no interest in following the mainstream path of joining America Incorporated and dedicating our lives to the pursuit of newer cars, bigger homes, and designer clothes.  In fact, for a myriad of reasons to be detailed below, we felt that both those institutions and those values were spiritually bankrupt as well as responsible for enormous violence. We had each spent a good part of our lives trying to reform the SYSTEM, and concluded that making someone else change means controlling them, which is the very root of exploitation and violence.  

 

So we packed our things, and we hit the road. We traveled across the country from east to west hopping from organic[4] farm to organic farm, through an organization called WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). We have been staying at each place anywhere from a week to a few months, trading a good day’s work for three square meals, a place to sleep and an incredible experience. In fact, we have been able to live without spending or earning nearly any money – living almost completely outside of capitalism.

 

The first farm we arrived at was in Kentucky, high in the Appalachian Mountains. And our first task was to research and design a composting toilet for the farmhouse. We read the Humanure Handbook[5] (a wonderfully humorous and informative text that is considered by many to be the best book on the subject) and two weeks later we had a design as well as a new appreciation for human “waste.”  What we learned, in fact, was that there is no such thing as a “waste” in Nature; there are only resources, because every part is indispensable to the whole.  When an onion is peeled, the scraps are only kitchen “waste,” if they are not recycled. If they are composted and used for garden soil, then no “waste” was ever created. This mirrors an ecosystem, in which every “waste” is the food for some other organism. However, people create “wastes” by building systems of organization that are out of balance with the Earth. For example, we take a few gallons of drinking water, crap in it, and then send it out into the rivers and oceans where it becomes a horrible pollutant. However, it is very possible to save that drinking water and relieve yourself into a compost bin, where after a year and a half of careful management, you are left with high quality topsoil (specific designs are available in the Humanure Handbook).

 

Furthermore, composting is not only environmentally sound - it can also be a remarkably Spiritual endeavor. American culture is a throwaway culture. We create more trash per person than anywhere in the world. So it was deeply moving to realize that there is really no difference between garbage and anything of value. Everything has its beginnings in the Earth. In fact, everything is the Earth - it is the Earth transforming itself into countless manifestations, always changing from one to the next. Nothing is born or dies, because every “thing” is merely a unique and transitory formation of Earth and energy.

 

This is all very apparent on a farm where the soil turns into a plant - part of which is eaten, and the rest is thrown into a bin where we watch it become soil again. It is then returned to the field to become a plant once more. In order to complete this cycle, composting human feces becomes necessary, so that the portion of the plant that you ate is also returned to the field from which it came. From this perspective we are able to see everything, including people’s bodies, as deeply interconnected parts of this cycle. There is no part of your body that did not originate as soil, and there is no part that will not become soil once again. When this idea sounds beautiful, life becomes a miracle, because you can really see yourself as part of a larger whole.

 

However, not all of our experiences in Kentucky were so positive. Before long we found ourselves working long hours - sometimes from the time we got up until the time we went to sleep. And we began to realize that although what you are doing may be alternative; how you are doing it can be completely conventional. For example, while we were spending our days in Kentucky building composting toilets and growing organic food, we were often stressed out and were not able to really celebrate this wonderful alternative lifestyle we had found.

 

Don, the farmer who lived there, would constantly invent projects for the farm. He had a grand vision of how his place should be - an example of perfect environmentalism, completely self-sufficient for all basic needs, and a community arts center where people would come from all over the country to learn traditional Kentucky folk arts. In reality, however, the garden was overgrown and barely producing at all, environmentalism was all but ignored because he could not yet afford alternative technologies, and only about 20-30 people came to his art camps each summer. Don was over 50 years old and lived alone, so it seemed to us that there was a good chance he would never actualize all of his dreams. However, he would work almost continually with the belief that if he worked real hard for just a little bit longer that the project of setting up his property the way he intended would somehow be done, and then he could relax. He told us, "This year is the last year I'm going to work so hard. Of course, that's what I said last year."  This attitude made it difficult for him to enjoy his family, friends and all that he had created, because his focus was always on accomplishing some goal. It was also difficult for us to enjoy our time there. No matter what we did, each day's work would be seen as a failure, because we were never going to "finish."

 

We would stay up late at night and talk about how we hoped that we would be able to enjoy our lives.  We asked ourselves, when living and working are synonymous, how do you know when to stop, relax, and take time for yourself, especially when you’re on a farm where there is always something that can be done?  We felt pretty pessimistic until we realized that never being “finished” was the reality of farm life and any life where you were deeply embedded in the Earth’s cycles.  Each year there is planting and harvesting to be done in the same way that each day there is food to prepare and eat. Living with the Earth’s cycles became beautiful to us when we gave up measuring ourselves by the amount of “goals” we had completed.  Repetitive work has usually been associated with women and undervalued; however, living on the farm helped us realize that these kinds of work are what sustain life. We began to believe that the lifestyle we were trying to find was much more encompassing than we had first suspected. From that point on we decided that how we will work should be just as important as what we will do.

 

The next stop on our journey was in Missouri at the Dancing Rabbit eco-village[6]. D.R., as it is commonly called, is an intentional community of people who all seek to live without the use of any product or resource that they consider environmentally unsustainable.

 

For the ten days we spent there, we mostly helped them build their houses, but these were not houses of the conventional sort. The walls were made by stacking up whole bales of straw (normally a waste product of growing grains) and covering them with a plaster of mud and clay. Straw-bale houses[7], as they’re called, not only require fewer resources than walls using wood beams and fiberglass insulation, but they are also remarkably well insulated so that a house can be kept at a comfortable temperature year-round with almost no heating or cooling. This becomes quite understandable the first time that you see one, since the wall of a straw-bale house is nearly one meter thick. However, the most significant aspect of building this type of house might be that it does not require very much physical strength or skill, so a whole community can take part. Most of the people working with us on the house were young women who had never before even picked up a hammer. Yet because they were willing to explore new ways of engaging old problems, they were able to take part in building their own house. When we all danced in a pool of mud and clay and water until the plaster was just right and then smeared it in huge globs until the whole wall was covered, the line between play and work completely disappeared.

 

It was also at Dancing Rabbit that we learned about renewable energies. We learned that just as every-thing comes from the soil, all energy (aside from nuclear) comes from the sun. Even fossil fuels like oil began as plants taking in energy directly from the sun; later the plant was eaten and became part of a dinosaur (which might have been eaten and become part of a larger dinosaur), who died and decomposed under enormous pressure, to turn into oil, which was drilled up and burned to release the energy that originally came from the sun. The only problem is that this is a pretty roundabout way to use the sun’s energy, since it takes millions of years for a plant to become oil that is burnt up in a matter of minutes. Burning wood is slightly better, since it may only take 100 years to grow a tree that would burn for a whole hour. The good news is that solar panels, windmills and small-scale hydroelectric turbines (the kind that do not require damming) are able to produce electricity in ways that do not harm ecosystems. They are unique because they can use the sun’s energy without really interfering with the sun’s light, the wind, or the river (again, only hydroelectric systems that are far smaller than the river do not cause large-scale damage).

 

Although Dancing Rabbit was able to live with such a small impact on the environment, there were also some problems. Many of the full-time, long-term workers had developed tendonitis, a chronic pain in their arms due to overworking.  They too had a very definite idea of what they wanted their eco-village to become and so they worked long and hard in hopes of getting there quicker.  But because their bodies were not yet ready to handle such physical stress, they ended up with bodies that couldn’t work at all.  One young man was not even able to brush his own teeth or wash himself because of the pain.  And after a few long days of construction we began to see clearly how that condition arose.  We were told that tendonitis is something that just seems to happen all of a sudden.  One moment you’ll feel fine; in another there will be a deep pain, and at the point it is too late. You have already developed the condition. 

 

We heard someone say, “I try to listen to my body but it doesn’t speak the same language I do.”  We also saw ourselves trying to control our bodies and willing them to do what we wanted them to, until we began to realize that we too had not been listening to our bodies. At Dancing Rabbit it was almost as if the mind and body were in opposition to one another, with the mind dictating what the body needs to be capable of doing. Even when the body did successfully communicate a message, the mind would quickly, almost unconsciously, rationalize that message away, saying that it shouldn't or couldn't be tired, thirsty, hungry, sick or hurt. It was then that we starting working six-hour days and we felt proud that we were able to trust the messages that our bodies sent us. And while we made sure that we were contributing more than we were costing (in food, etc.), we also made sure that the experience was enjoyable, or at least pain-free.

 

After leaving Dancing Rabbit we stopped at Bountiful Earth farm on the opposite side of Missouri. There, Cindy and Dan Lutz were beginning to convert their farm from conventional to organic. When we got there, only two rows of capsicum (peppers) and two rows of tomatoes were being grown organically, while they still had over 300 acres of corn and soy beans that were not. Here we were able to see how most of the food in the world is grown, and it was quite disturbing.

 

Dan was the spitting image of the stereotypical American farmer - six feet tall, 300 lbs., and the words “BIG MAC” printed in red on his denim overalls. He spent most of the day riding a huge green tractor which spit black clouds of exhaust into the sky, and from that tractor he sprayed poisonous pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers onto nearly every one of the plants he grew - there must have been millions. We could not believe that poisons and oil made up most of what was sprayed on food crops in America; however, what was even more surprising is that all of the corn and beans that they were growing were for cows. We asked Dan whether any of the corn and beans on any of his neighbor’s farms was for people. He told us that over 95% of the food grown in the US is used to feed animals, which are used for meat.

 

Before too long, Cindy and Dan started treating us more like their employees than volunteers. They began asking us to work harder and faster by giving us at list of chores we couldn’t possibly complete in a day. At times they would even give us orders. It seemed that they were taking volunteers because they could not afford to hire regular workers, rather than any desire to share their lifestyle. After a little while, they began to act as though all they cared about was how much work we would do for them. Amazingly, the relationship we had constructed felt just as oppressive as the traditional employer/employee relationship. Although Cindy and Dan had no real power over us (they were not paying us), they were acting like our bosses, and we were obeying them. We even found ourselves looking to them for approval, because we felt unable to decide for ourselves whether we were doing a “good job.” Once we recognized what was happening, we decided that we should do something to transform this relationship. When we began to decide for ourselves when and how much we would work, there were a few confrontations, but with clear communication we were able to reassert a relationship of partners. After that, their entire tone changed, and they began to invite us to go work if we so chose. So we decided to go on our own free will, at our own pace, in our own time and without the pressure of an overworked mentality.  Suddenly, the experience of being outside again became grounding and joyous, like it should be. No one was anyone’s boss, we were all partners.

 

When we left Missouri, we came to a farm in New Mexico that related to food in a very different way than Cindy and Dan did. Paul has been living at Ojito Farm for over 20 years, and in that time he has developed a rather unique style of growing food. Inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka[8], Paul is attempting to become a part of his garden rather than its master.

 

Paul lives alone, a five-mile hike from the road. He begins each day by waking before dawn and practicing yoga and tai’ chi[9]. He then takes his breakfast and proceeds to fumble around the land for a few hours. Nothing that he does receives any sort of special effort, or even any forethought. He just responds to what he feels the land would like him to do. Since his farm is in the middle of a desert, most of his work is irrigating, using the water from a small stream that runs through his property. All together Paul has over 100 fruit trees, an acre of grapes, an acre of raspberries and strawberries and a small vegetable garden. Despite all the food he is growing - or rather, all that is growing itself where he lives - Paul does not sell any of it. He plants without effort, by merely throwing seeds onto the ground (sometimes covering them with clay so that birds won’t eat them). Because of this, he can easily plant far more than he needs, allowing birds, bugs, and any other guest to help themselves. As long as one quarter of his crop survives, he will have enough. This allows him an incomparably leisurely lifestyle; he works only about three hours a day and spends the rest practicing meditation.

 

The reason why there was so little work on Paul’s farm, and so much on all the others, was that Paul trusted Nature. He told us that whenever he tried to control something, whether it was a tomato plant or a child, they would always resist, and he would have to react to whatever new direction they tried to go. However, when he started just leaving things to take care of themselves, he found that not only was there no work to do, but things ended up turning out better.

 

At Paul’s farm, we learned what it meant to truly live in community. Upon our arrival, Paul told us about his schedule. He said, “I get up when it’s still dark. I’m over by the Cottonwood trees, if you’re looking for me then. But I’m out in the fields by first light, because after three hours or so, it’s too hot. So I’ll be in my shack then.” He never told us, or even asked us to do anything. And because of that, we probably worked harder for him than anyone else, and we always felt free to stop and rest whenever we wanted, or even stop and watch the birds.

 

And it was here that we finally were able to truly relate to our work in a way that felt fulfilling. All the small and seemingly insignificant chores - shoveling horse manure, moving the irrigation pipes, untangling the grapevines - all began to add up to make the whole.  And that’s the significance - to be working in harmony with the land and with each other.  No “important” goals to accomplish, nothing to prove or control. Finally we felt like we had found what we were looking for. This felt like Swaraj, because not only were we not dependent on anyone else for survival, but we felt free from the struggle that has characterized “work” in industrialized cultures.

 

We have come a long way from the values and aspirations of our culture, and we each have our own story of how we came to start this journey.

 

Rebecca’s Story:

I clearly remember the time in my life when I first began exploring different sets of social rules and other possibilities for existence. It was my freshman year at the University of Rhode Island when I took my first cultural anthropology class.  I didn’t even know what anthropology meant at the time; I just saw a book with people on the cover who looked different from me, wore different clothing, and lived in a different environment. I decided that I had to take that class. I was very eager to learn how a different culture was living and to see what other perspectives existed, in hopes of understanding many of the feelings I had about my own culture. In a way, I felt that I had no culture, because most of what constitutes "culture" in modern America is MTV (Music Television) and Disney. There are no values promoted other than appearing very rich, and even that changes with the whim of fashion. However, I learned that there still lived many people who respected and lived in harmony with the natural environment, and that some of these people spent their lives caring for their basic needs. Their school was the outdoors, their community and their elders. How different this was from my own experiences! I felt relatively little connection to the earth, a community, and especially elders, for most of them live tucked away in nursing homes[10]. To me, food came from a supermarket, clothes from a retail store, water from a sink, and a house from a real estate agent. This feeling of alienation from the earth, people and even myself resulted in what I can only describe as a great loss, a big hole in my being. And I no longer had any interest in filling that hole with cars, clothes, money, success or addictions like I saw so many around me doing. I only wanted to heal that wound and reestablish a connection to something sacred. I saw the study of anthropology as a way to understand how I’ve been conditioned by my society, as well as an opportunity to explore different perspectives.

 

Fortunately, I was able to study abroad in Central America. While I was there, I began to explore a deeper level of how America and western civilization have affected me by looking at their effects on the indigenous people of Belize. The experience that influenced me the most was a visit to a village school. This particular village was a small isolated community that subsisted off the food grown from the lush soil of the rainforest surrounding them. There were no stores here, and I was moved by how the people would help each other get whatever they needed.

 

There was one small school that taught math, science, reading and writing as well as some social studies. These were the same subjects that I was taught when I was younger. And although some people believe that more education is the answer to solving world problems such as poverty, disease, and violence, I was beginning to feel that at least in this village, the school was the problem. I found a social studies textbook from 1974 donated by an American missionary group on the shelf. When I opened it up I saw pages upon pages of pictures with the corresponding English word. There was a picture of a large white house with a picket fence that said “Home,” a bunch of giant gray skyscrapers that said “City,” and a group of Caucasian people that said “People.” None of these images reflected life in this village at all. They lived in small grass huts, were very far from any kind of populated area, and they were all dark in skin color. Yet they were reading and learning this as a textbook. While I felt this to be completely inappropriate for these young children, what seemed even more shocking was the chapter on money, because I couldn’t see how what it said was appropriate for any environment. It said “we need money to give gifts on birthdays and other holidays to show our love to our family and friends”. It became clear to me what the values of America are - objects and things. And it angered me to see this type of indoctrination, as though these people who had lived without money for so long had never been able to show love. For whose benefit did this school exist? I wondered if it was purposely here to degrade their self-esteem, because it certainly appeared that way. 95% of the young children were nearly failing their tests. It saddened me greatly to see something as beautiful as children’s poetry graded so harshly, with a frowning face next to the child’s name.

 

There was another school I went to, in a different village, which stood in contrast to the first. There I began to learn about the issues that another group of the same tribe were facing. These people, who had traditionally lived a subsistence lifestyle, were relocated to an infertile plot of land so that some major corporation could drill for oil underneath where they had once lived. Of course, the profits from this oil were not for them. Instead they were forced into producing oranges as a cash crop, because this new land could not take care of their subsistence needs, thereby entering the monetary economy. Living in this new way was very difficult for them; suddenly they were “poor” and “uneducated” in ways necessary to thrive in a business economy, which contained a corresponding mindset of shame and inadequacy. There was a family I ate dinner with who told me that their stove, the same kind of stove I had seen in many villages before, was shameful. They wanted a new, more “modern” stove - the kind you buy in a store.  

 

Many people in the village could not make enough money off the orange crops, and became ill from working harder and longer to try to meet their needs, while others went hungry. Crimes began to take place when they never had before. These people had become the so-called “bottom of the ladder” by the standards of mainstream society. Since they were now “poor” and “uneducated”, they spent a lot of energy trying to make up for these newfound inadequacies by trying to become part of Western society, with its values of money, materials, and education. This was a perplexing dynamic, for in a sense, I had what some of these people wanted. I encountered the belief that America is a land in which everyone’s needs are met, so everyone is happy. This image, often the result of Hollywood, missionaries, and educators, could not be farther from the truth. The American people are some of the most unhappy that I have ever met. They spend BILLIONS OF DOLLARS every year on anti-depressant drugs. So, while I was interested in their traditional culture for its sense of community and spirituality, they were more interested in material acquisition.

 

When I returned to the University of Rhode Island the following fall, I remember being told that globalization was inevitable. My professors said that if I was interested in helping these people, I ought to educate them so that they’d have better access to the SYSTEM. I disagreed and consequently did most of my learning outside of the classroom. I read about many views that further supported my dislike of corporate culture. The more I researched, the more I realized that basically, the way I live my life contributes to violence and exploitation of the environment, other people, and even myself - whether it be through the food I eat, the car I drive or the products I buy.  (Tim will go deeper into this issue in the next section.)

 

I spent a good deal of energy trying to figure out how to best articulate these views to the widest possible audience so that I could convince others to adopt a worldview that respected people and the planet. But I soon realized that I was only trying to transplant one ideology for another.  As long as small groups of people are leading the masses, they will never be thinking for themselves. I also began to notice that people are not merely rational beings who change upon hearing new facts. Never have I won a factual argument that changed someone from the inside. And although I don’t believe that it is impossible if the person is ripe for that sort of information, people are complicated, emotional beings and there are a wide variety of influences, experiences, and circumstances that relate to who they are and how they grow. A peaceful world must consist of peaceful people who respect difference, and so I sought to become such a person. This naturally led me toward finding a way to live that was peaceful, and being open to sharing my journey with others while not imposing my perspective on them.

 

A peaceful world must consist of peaceful people, and so I sought to become such a person. This is a process of growth and self-discovery that I plan to be engaged in my whole life. To me, a peaceful person is synonymous with a mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy person. And by this I mean someone who adheres to basic principles of nonviolence and has respect and reverence for all life, including many people who have different ways of knowing, perceiving and being from our own. Such a person cares after the well-being of self and others, communicates openly and honestly, cooperates and has a free thinking creative mind uncontrolled by the masses. If we cannot care and respect our children, our neighbors, or ourselves then I cannot imagine a way to create a more peaceful world.

These inner values of peace and health naturally led me toward finding a way to live that was also peaceful, and being open to sharing my journey with others while not imposing my perspectives on them. I have no interest in trying to convince or prove anything to anyone, because I respect their right to have different perspectives. Instead, I am committed to speaking my truth, which means taking a stand against violence and letting my voice be expressed. It means engaging others in dialogue about issues that concern me, and supporting what I believe in and boycotting what I don't. It means living in harmonious interaction with myself, others, and the Earth, remaining true to myself and listening and trusting my creative inner voice. And it also means opening my home and my heart to anyone who cares to see, and sharing my vision.

 

Tim’s story:

Where I find myself today could be traced back easily to the conditions in which I grew up. My mother was intelligent and successful at whatever she attempted, yet we were poor because the work she loved was not financially generous. Since that time, I have rethought what poverty means; however, what is important to my personal development is that I felt poor at the time. Although our home was more than adequate shelter, it was very small and old compared to most of the houses in our town. I remember feeling embarrassed of it, and resenting the richer children for laughing at me. For most of my life it has been just my mother and I in our little household, and her strong beliefs in human equality - specifically in women’s rights - influenced me deeply. When I was young and would ask her questions, she would often ask me what I thought. And no matter what I answered, she always told me that I was right. I believe that this support provided me with a sense of confidence from an early age.

 

I feel like I have been able to escape the prison of pop culture and trying to be “cool”. Although I had a very lonely early adolescence, by the time I had graduated from high school, I was very popular and felt secure that I could be accepted by my peers if I acted out my cultural stereotype. The Media/Corporate/Entertainment machine teaches that American men are supposed to be tall, emotionless, and clean-shaven. They should treat women like objects, and defeat their opponents in all sorts of sporting events. They are to be defined by the brand names that they wear and must, without exception, exhibit pure testosterone. It is not an easy thing to conform to such an unnatural standard, but I did it.

 

By the time that I entered college I had proved to myself that I was capable of achieving “coolness”, and I found myself longing for something more. At this point I needed a role model, someone who I felt had lived a life that was meaningful and “good.” And being from the U.S. the first person to come to mind was Martin Luther King, just as it may have been Gandhi for an Indian or Nelson Mandela for a South African. For the next two years of my life, I spent most of my time reading. I studied King’s writings and his life. I also learned about the person whom King said had influenced him most, Gandhi. These two great martyrs caused me to think a lot about my own life, personally, socially, economically, and politically. Both of them felt a strong desire to live peacefully with others, and they each believed that participating in violent systems made them somewhat responsible for that violence. I immediately thought about my own government, the most violent institution in the world, and all the ways that I cooperate with it. I knew then that America's military is the largest in the world, although I had yet to learn much about what it does. And I knew that the taxes that I paid funded the military. During that time I dreamed of somehow working with my government - either as a politician or a lobbyist - to try to find nonviolent resolutions to some of our issues, and reduce or eliminate our need for a military.

 

I found from reading such authors as Noam Chomsky,[11] that my country’s military actions are nearly always based on strengthening the American economy, with little evidence to suggest any other motives, such as valuing democracy, human rights, or even the safety of American citizens. In fact, of all the numerous American bombing campaigns since World War II, none have led to establishing a meaningful democracy, and the image of the U.S. as the global bully has made the lives of Americans much less safe than those of Canadians, for example. We are more likely to be taken hostage or become victims of terrorist attacks than our less violent neighbors. Yet military campaigns continue in any area in which instability could hurt the American economy (i.e. the Persian Gulf region, Eastern Europe, and Central America). 

 

During this time of research and reflection, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Bernard Lafayette, someone who had worked closely with Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement. He was offering training for people who would like to train others in King’s philosophy of nonviolence. I received this training, and learned about conflict resolution and the importance of not only external nonviolence, but of not wishing violence upon another - something King would call “Nonviolence of the Spirit.” Dr. Lafayette and I talked a lot about capitalism and poverty. And he convinced me that Gandhi’s emphasis on voluntary simplicity was unnecessary to achieve peace. He told me that rather than becoming poor myself, I can help others become rich. He said that what America needs is a philosophy of nonviolence that is specific for a rich, industrialized nation. He saw America's wealth as being unrelated to the poverty in the rest of the world, and was able to convince me of that for a short while

 

It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I began to really question capitalism. I remember the day that the newspapers began broadcasting some confusing adventure happening on the other side of the country. For an entire week, the city of Seattle was overcome with protesters, and yet there was no talk of why they were protesting. Near the end of that week, my political science professor chose the protests as a topic for class discussion, and luckily a fellow student was knowledgeable enough to explain the issues to the rest of us. The protests were aimed at three institutions that oversee aid to developing countries, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. The World Trade Organization regulates international trade. The multinational corporations which effectively run this organization have set up a system in which poor nations can only receive substantial foreign investment if they join, and in joining they must cut back any environmental or labor protections that could get in the way of maximizing profit for the foreign investors. The World Bank loans money to developing nations for large-scale development projects that are chosen by the Bank. Again, all decisions are made in the interests of multinational corporations, and these development projects benefit foreign investors far more than the average peasant. In fact such development often hurts the majority of the population where it occurs. The International Monetary Fund "aids" developing nations through both grants and loans with the espoused purpose of stimulating economic growth and stabilizing currencies. Yet again, this "aid" is tied to structural adjustment programs, such as cutting all social services and artificially inducing recessions to deflate currency thereby increasing exports. The poor in all cases are harmed, and the rich benefit.

 

Only a few weeks after hearing these new ideas, I went to study in India for a semester with the aim to learn more about Gandhi. I lived at some of his ashrams hoping to understand the relationship between industrial development and peace. Dr. Lafayette's perspective so sharply contrasted what Gandhi had written, and all that I had recently learned about Global Trade had yet to provide any concrete answer to whether or not great wealth necessitates poverty. During my first few weeks at the ashram, I gained a profound appreciation of living so closely with nature. At Brahmavidya Mandir in Maharastra, they grow most of their own food, spin cotton into yarn to make their clothes, and recycle almost all of their own wastes. This was my first experience of living with the land, and for the first time I was able to appreciate how much a part of Nature I really am.

 

Another important lesson I learned in India is how much the legacy of colonialism affects the world today. I learned that India had once been a rich nation, and Britain a relatively poor one. I learned that India’s wealth - by way of raw materials and ownership of labor - was stolen by England, and that this wealth has remained in the West to this day. The English factories of the Industrial Revolution were built with India’s wood, and India remains deforested. The labor of so many people in colonized nations was used to make things for the colonizers - and it still is. Finally I could see how the wealth of the west is built upon the poverty of their former colonies. As a result of the great crime of colonialism, the former colonies became dependent on the former colonizers for capital in order to develop. This basic inequality is still exploited today, and it provides the foundation for multinational corporations to amass unprecedented riches.  

 

I imagined two shopkeepers that lived next door to one another. One night the white shopkeeper broke down the brown man’s door and stole everything. The next day, he apologized for what he had done, but insisted that it was all in the past that that the only fair thing to do was to continue competing. “I haven’t taken anything from you today. How dare you say that I owe you anything?” Of course, the man who was left with nearly nothing to sell could not compete with his neighbor’s abundance, so he goes out of business and begs his neighbor for a job.

 

Imperialism is not a thing of the past. Western-owned Multinational Corporations have become more powerful than governments and are using both international monetary institutions as well as direct military force to maintain total dominance over both the international economy and people in general. For example, Shell Oil Company displaces Nigerian people from their land in order to drill. Shell was also responsible for bringing about the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian activist and playwright who had been trying to fight for his people. The CIA of the U.S. has been responsible for the assassination of various Central American leaders, such as Oscar Romero and Salvador Allende[12]. These people were guilty of nothing more than placing the welfare of their people above the profits of multinationals. I have come to believe that most of the violence in the world today (both human rights violations and environmental exploitation) is committed in order to expand the power of these corporations.

 

Most anything that is bought and sold in the U.S. comes from one of these multinationals. And with this understanding, I do not feel like I can participate in the American economy in good conscience. So I have become committed to ending my dependence on it. I have dedicated myself to cultivating self-reliance, so that I may slowly cooperate less and less with these violent institutions.

 

v       

 

Through all of our travels, our plans and dreams about the future have changed almost continually. Someday, we hope to have some land of our own, and allow food to grow wild. We hope to get everything we need from that land, so that we do not need to work for money. Then we will be able to open up our home and lives to anyone who is interested in pursuing another way to be. We would host summer camps for children, both rich and poor, black and white. During the school year, we would run an alternative school where children would be in charge of their own education. We would also host workshops for every demographic group - teachers, parents, doctors, manual laborers, etc - that would be unstructured and open to the needs of the participants. Every service will be free of charge, because we will have no need for money. Yet no project will be started unless it can be done in a spirit of joy, without strain or stress.

 

In order to actualize such a lofty goal, we are prepared to earn enough dollars to buy some land, if we fail to get it by way of grants or gifts.  We could earn our money in the fields of health, alternative education, or working for a Non-Governmental Organization. And once we have some land, we could supplement whatever we cannot provide for ourselves with responsible purchases, and work part-time to afford them. Eventually, the day might come that we could secure all of our needs from our land, but whether it does or not, we plan to devote most of our time to providing the free services mentioned above.

 

We want to change the world. But that means something different to us than lobbying governments and huge institutions, because we believe that their ills are the symptoms of a complacent and thoughtless society. We are moving toward more nonviolent and sustainable relationships with people, animals, plants and minerals. And we hope to share what we find with others in an environment that encourages dialogue. In America, most people feel like they have so little say in how they live their lives, that few even question whether other worlds are possible. We hope to provide a space for such questioning, and live as an example that alternatives do exist.

 

Contact Info:

 

Tim Desmond

tdes5984@postoffice.uri.edu     

 

Rebecca Reeder

rree5597@postoffice.uri.edu



[1] This poem was written by Tim Desmond in response to the assignment of writing a “career goal statement” for his senior seminar at the University of Rhode Island. It received an ‘A.’

[2] See Ithaca Hours or the LETSystem.

[3] Turtle Island has been recognized as the most common term that Native Americans used for what is today known as the American continent.

[4] Organic farming means growing food without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

[5] The Humanure Handbook can be purchased at http://www.jenkinspublishing.com/humanure.html or the text is available online at http://www.weblife.org/humanure/default.html

[6] http://www.dancingrabbit.org

[7] http://www.strawhomes.com

[8] Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer and author of The One Straw Revolution and The Way of Natural Farming. He wrote that plants are able to grow without human assistance in the wild, and advocated growing food with minimal effort.

[9] Tai’ chi is an ancient Chinese practice analogous to yoga in many ways. It is simultaneously a moving meditation, an exercise and a form of self-defense.

[10] A nursing home is a housing complex for elderly people who can no longer take care of themselves, and whose family cannot or will not take care of them. It is staffed by professional nurses, and is often a very sad place.

[11] See What Uncle Sam Really Wants by Noam Chomsky.

[12] See Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since WWII by William Blum