I’m grateful to my dog for making me walk every day. I was grateful to him yesterday for our walk in the woods. Of course, he doesn’t make me do anything. It’s through my respect for our relationship that I uphold my responsibility to get him exercise. He enjoys walking in the woods and so do I, but it’s unlikely that I would take the time to do it as often as I do if it weren’t for him. Walking in the woods is good for me, body, mind and soul, so the relationship serves me.
The other day I was listening to an interview with a fellow who goes by the name of Dan Suelo, who renounced the use of money in 2000. I heard him say that he seeks to emulate the way nature operates. Fruit trees give their fruit freely, without demanding reward, living in the faith that their needs will be provided for. I feel that my relationship with my dog is an example of this kind of symbiosis.
It’s more complicated, of course.
I ate a grass-fed hamburger last night. As I ate I contemplated my relationship to the animal whose life was ended for my sake. As a minimum, I thought, I ought to witness the killing of the animal. I thought about the moment of its death, the moment when the metal spike enters its brain under controlled circumstances in which it has no reason to be fearful, That seems to be a graceful passage. It occurs to me that to return the gift, I ought to be willing to surrender my own life with the same grace.
I am old. If there’s anything we can point to as evidence of so-called “progress” it would be our increased life-span. There could be some benefits to living longer, the capacity to accumulate and refine wisdom in a single lifetime, and it might be worthwhile to contemplate whether that has an advantage over the transmission of wisdom through books and other technologies, and through the collective unconscious. It is certain, though, that the cost has been and continues to be great. We are indubitably jeopardizing the habitability of our planet for the sake of this progress, and at my age it seems that I ought to be willing to surrender the balance of my years to mother earth and my grandchildren and the generations beyond.
I would like to continue to live my life in the relative ease that I enjoy. Not that my life isn’t full of the stress of maintaining a livelihood on a daily basis. Still, there are plenty of moments of relaxation, of enjoyment. Complacency. There is no legitimate justification for not being engaged every moment in a meaningful, passionate, fully committed attempt to live in harmony with the earth, nature, my fellow beings. I suppose I can only say what that means to me.
First of all, it means extricating myself from what Weber described as the “web of capitalism”.
I went to a local used bookstore yesterday. I gave the woman my debit card and she asked me to enter my PIN, but I told her that I wanted to process it as a credit. She said that they didn’t accept credit transactions on debit cards because the fees are too high. I didn’t know that. I use my debit card as a credit card to avoid the $2.50 transaction fee that the bank charges me if I use it as a debit card. I handed her a regular credit card and learned that any cards that offer cash back or other perks are also more expensive for the merchants. It’s outrageous enough that banks charge fees for the mere use of credit cards, on top of the interest and other fees they charge people who use them.
I hardly use cash anymore. Going to the bank to get cash is inconvenient, and I would have to keep enough on me to cover unanticipated purchases. Using a credit card I get a record of all my expenses, which I rely on for budgeting and for tax-related record keeping. Otherwise I’d have to keep a log and then spend time transcribing that log into my financial software, time I might otherwise spend writing a letter to my congressperson, or going to a rally, or getting information about an issue, or exercising, which would help improve my health, thus depriving the medical and pharmaceutical industries of a portion of their profits, undoubtedly causing some of my neighbors to lose their job, reducing the tax revenue available for schools, water safety, garbage collection, etc. in my neighborhood, which influences the local council to allow commercial development of more land, competing for their business with tax and other incentives, which, in the end, barely increase the wealth of the community, while it increases the pressure on the local infrastructure, including roads, which causes me to spend more time in traffic, further diminishing my opportunity to escape the centrifugal force of a culture spiraling into self-destruction.
There are people who have managed to escape this life-sucking death spiral. I’m thinking of intentional communities. People have a strong reaction to the prospect of living in the ways that suggest, communally. Yet that is the central, crucial issue of our survival. How do we live together? It’s a question that we’ve been avoiding. In fact, much of the use of wealth and the motivation for generating it is to avoid these issues.