Looking up

I’ve been quiet lately because I got stuck writing my previous post. The problem is that I have a rule of focusing on the positive. I got discouraged and found myself unable to finish it. I was also busy with other things, but that doesn’t change the fact that I had some nearly complete writing just sitting there for more than a week while I tried to figure out how to salvage it.

There is already an abundance of text about how we are all doomed or government is corrupt or people are stupid. I try to stay away from that, because it reinforces a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. I started out writing in hopes that I would be able to come up with some version of my usual cheery conclusion (cooperate and no one gets hurt!), but it just wound up sounding too pat.

One stellar example of negativity is “Food Inc.” This movie did a great job of presenting the seriousness of our problems, but a very poor job of presenting alternatives. Yes, it ended with a bunch of useful suggestions like”don’t drink soda/pop” and “shop at a farmers’ market,” but that seems like a weak solution to the deep systemic problems that they portrayed.

The movie was full of all sorts of really awful information. For example, that Monsanto’s lawyers are now going after the last few people who help farmers save their own seeds, on the basis that they are complicit in the violation of their genetic modification patents. Or that Tyson uses financial pressure to silence the farmers who raise their chickens, so they don’t speak out about the inhumane and dangerous conditions. It went on and on with this horror show. They all ought to be ashamed of themselves.

There were also deeply ambiguous bits, like how an organic yogurt maker is getting into Wal-Mart. It is good that “sustainable” has gone mainstream, but as I’ve previously observed, that isn’t sustainable.

The bright spot in the movie was a farmer who was interviewed while lounging in the grass among his hogs, or while merrily gutting his own chickens (out in the sunshine and fresh air, where it is illegal, he noted). He was doing great work, and some of his customers drove for hours to buy his groovy meat.

But they drove for hours to buy his groovy meat. That’s not sustainable! Even without all the gas burned, nobody can realistically buy all their food from farmers scattered hours away. This farm was portrayed as an isolated and almost freakish thing. It was beautiful, but not connected to anything at all. I believe it would have been more useful to include, for example, Tuscarora Organic Growers, which probably has groovy food for sale near wherever those long-driving groovy meat lovers got in the car. Or at least show them too.

I think that most viewers of this movie already know that things are bad and getting worse. Maybe a few people will get dragged along with their date and have a breakthrough. But then what? They go to a farmers market once in a while if they can afford it? The dominant theme of the movie was that little people get squashed by a system that favors huge and powerful corporations. We have a dire and urgent need for systemic solutions that get beyond the individual behavior changes that often take special effort and deliver little or no immediate benefit. We need to collective action to confront a system that has gone haywire. We need to stop focusing on the bad stuff.

At risk of a non-sequitur, here is a positive thing that showed up in my inbox today. I’ve only started to look at it, so I’m not claiming that they have all the answers. But the Transition Initiative has a good, optimistic spirit, and seems to be catching the Brits’ attention.

Changing the world before we destroy it should not be a downer, and I think we should all spend time each day looking for positive stuff. On that note, please feel free to rat out anyone who is doing good work. Comments away!

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