“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”
~ Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist(writer, blogger)
Each one of us speaks, perceives and behaves from a framework or paradigm: each one of us carries a framework that was built through the many interactions we have had with the environment at home, school, work and society. This framework is like the fishbowl for a fish: we are so integrated to it that we may not be aware of how it shapes our thoughts, emotions, attitudes, values, language and even the topics we talk about, the judgements we make and the things we engage on a daily basis.
Since I started digging and trying to implement Permaculture, Degrowth and Transition, I have clashed with a few things that just don’t sound right to me:
If we want to be fair and truly “care for People” when talking about Degrowth, Transition and Permaculture, we need to start reviewing our own assumptions and language: it is nice to talk about “spiritual growth” or “quality family/community interactions” when your basic needs are met and you are not functioning under the burden of debt, health or commitments. Talking about these things in front of those who are burdened by discrimination, true poverty and societal disadvantages can be perceived as privilege BS
If we want an honest conversation about work, we need to start by trying to build the systemic structures that allow for part-time or from home work and eliminate the injustice and dysfunctional disparities in the current system: employers cutting on benefits and increasing workload while not increasing salaries, non-existing training or work orientation, employee abuse, etc. We also need to be able to pay fair for the services and goods offered by those who can afford working on their own and from home, so this can actually become a sustainable trend for more and benefit those who truly need it: people with disabilities or chronic diseases, stay-at-home parents of small children, aging people, etc.
Most people with debts don’t do anything of the above, at least not in a regular basis: but these articles are designed to make you feel terrible if you go to a concert once a year, eat out once a season and drink a nice coffee once a month! Or if you live in a city where house prices and rent are so high that you have no other choice but getting a 30+ years mortgage if you ever want to own something (the only other “choice” is to move away, where there are no jobs, your children have no friends or family and your social/cultural life may be reduced to zero)
If instead of subsidizing big-ag or the many fossil fuel companies that are polluting and destroying our ecosystems and future, we subsidized education and culture, I wouldn’t be indebted: all my debt comes from courses and books and a bit from tools and resources I chose to buy so I could try things from gardening to preserving food.
Yes, now I have a huge library and lots of skills, but I’m paying for it with hours and hours of my life and feel guilty for my debt!
I wonder how many out there are indebted because they have no other choice than resort to credit cards and loans in order to bring food to the table, pay for utility bills, send their children to college or buy a well deserved signature coffee, eat out with their co-workers once a season and have new shows as the last were already worn out!
On the other hand, hundreds of business have sprouted to fulfill the “call to Nature” or “call to simple and frugal life” of many middle class youth and some not so young: when you ask around, most talk about the land they recently bought, the house they inherited or the opportunity to leave off the grid. How many of us can truly afford any of that?
The conversation here is about how to utilize existent structures (institutions) to ensure this is made affordable to those who need it most?
And those who can afford it, may need to think on how they can facilitate those who cannot, instead of perpetuating the enslaving and abuse of people: woofing, house and farm sitting are all great until you notice that some need to pay for their stay and food or work long hours for just a bed in a shared shack.
Something many don’t see is that rent, mortgages, debt, utilities and many other things we still have around need to be paid with real money. I spent over three years offering skills and presentations for free because I believed in sharing and spreading things that are useful to people. But ended up indebted (as I had to pay for supplies, transportation and sometimes rent or accommodation when I travel far). The result? Sometimes people wouldn’t show up, or only a few would…yes, I also have many rewards: I met extraordinary people and change some people’s perspectives about food production, lifestyles or disaster planning. But there has to be another way…
Also, if we want to include more and benefit those who truly need it, we have to think hard on how to make this fair: many can’t afford volunteering and some have not enough useful skills, services or goods to exchange, or have them but what they receive in exchange is not enough to eat and pay their rent.
Telling people (as I have heard and read and even been told by well-intentioned privileged people) that we should prioritize, live by our own values or embrace simplicity and frugality so we can attend to these things is terribly discriminatory and unfair.
Inclusiveness means considering the forces that keep others away or caged and support them in breaking those barriers and accessing that they cannot access: otherwise, we are acting as the same people and systems Permaculture, Degrowth and Transition are supposed to fight.
Again, this is must: it is time to stop talking down to people and making them to feel guilty by the choices (or lack of them) they “made” years ago and start looking at ways on how we can support them to make choices now…
I find that all the above issues come from a single root cause: privilege. Privilege comes in different shapes and shades and we have it in different levels. Privilege has nothing to do with your skin colour, religion, culture, social class, mental or physical ability or genre but is shaped by those things and much more.
If we want to embrace “People Care” is time for those in the Permaculture, Degrowth and Transition worlds to stop judging and patronizing and start using true compassion and non-violent communication.
The “observe and interact” on Permaculture should also be a foundation for us to become aware of our own privilege and see the degrees in others as that’s the only way to be truly fair.
It is time to walk the extra mile and truly care: maybe you have land to share or offer for free, or a room for those who can’t afford one, or extra seeds, or skills you don’t mind sharing, or tools and extra time.
Maybe is time for you to go to other people’s homes and meet there or share your skills and ideas there instead of insisting people to come to venues at times and places they can’t afford.
Maybe is time for us to bring Permaculture, Degrowth and Transition where they belong: to those who don’t have the time, resources, energy, health, support, skills or money to afford going out of their way to meet these alternatives to a fair, just, resilient and truly sustainable society.
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long possessed that he is set free – he has set himself free – for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”
~ James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name