As I watched snippets of President Obama’s town hall-style meetings around the country recently, I was struck by how often questioners demonstrated the mindset that solutions to their problems will come from some central authority, in this case, the federal government. It’s not surprising to see this in the modern industrial state. The other central authority would be large, globe-spanning corporations that provide the essentials of modern life including food, fuel, transportation, and a wide array of industrial and consumer goods. They even supply much of the entertainment.
I see no easy way for a modern person, especially someone living in an urban setting–as the vast majority of people in the United States do–to avoid such dependencies altogether for now. To disengage from them completely would mean certain death for many if not most. For nearly everyone alive in wealthy countries there has never been a time when we were not faced with extreme dependence on the two most centralizing forces of the modern era, central government and behemoth corporations.
So, given the current economic mess it seems natural for people to turn to the twin citadels of central power and demand that they alleviate our suffering. This demand assumes that those running our governments and corporations have the ability and the desire to respond to such suffering.
In a world where various occupational niches are disappearing never to return, the extreme specialization which has become the norm in modern labor has doomed many to long-term unemployment. The market no longer needs them because they have the wrong skills or because demand for what they do is very low.
And, the promise that the economic downturn will be temporary further enslaves the minds of those already out of work and out of luck. It deals them a second blow of suffering, the second being the false hope that things can return to what passed for normal in, say, 2006.
This terrible dependency of mind results in paralysis for some and rage for others. It leads people to believe that someone else can fix what ails them. They assume that they have little power to solve their own problems in ways that don’t involve central authorities.
And now, like children throwing tantrums to punish their parents, America’s voters appear ready to throw out the current governing party because of its inability to resolve their suffering. They do not recognize that neither party can now steer a corrupt and bankrupt central government toward solutions to our difficulties. In part that’s because the government has become the lapdog of self-serving corporate managers who take no responsibility for our current predicament and therefore see little role for themselves in addressing it.
Those who have labored now for years in the relocalization movement generally recognize this dependence of mind and attempt to fight it. They fight it not merely with mental exercises, but, more importantly, with action that leads to a degree of self-sufficiency and a healthy mutuality among neighbors, friends and other community members. In America there has always been the necessary cultural framework for this. And, we have not forgotten how to do it. But we have forgotten that we know how to do it.
It is one of the main tasks of the peak oil and sustainability movements to reawaken that knowledge. Once reawakened a person faced with such scenes as we saw on television in these town hall meetings will understand the pain. But that person will seek to alleviate it by turning off the TV set and getting down to work alongside fellow community members.