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Freshsheet
Crossing the Cultural Divide
 
 
Freshsheet
NUMBER 142   ll   FOR THE WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 15-21, 2014

Regenerative Table Matters

Cultures are formed and regenerated around the local rituals that surround the growing, harvesting, and eating of food. Building a local food movement means putting the face of the farmer back on the food that we eat

Responding to crucial challenges that have been left unsolved by the prevailing food system, determined visionaries are unleashing the creative energy of farmers, gardeners, youth, elders, retailers, technical advisors, and public officials.

This takes many forms: the need for consumers to be informed and responsible about eating healthy foods, the social cohesion that can be built when producers and consumers both know and trust each other, the need for addressing hunger and health concerns in low-income communities, the benefits of breaking down social isolation, the need to keep farms and rural communities viable, and the wisdom of valuing the complex benefits of having families working and owning farmland.

Freshsheet Okanagan Media ApplianceFreshsheet The growth of this movement is being shaped in large part by the capacities and opportunities present in each specific locale in which it is emerging. These distinctive local characters must be enhanced and protected even as the movement expands, from scattered clusters of local animators into a national system of community-based food enterprises. As the movement is supported it will be important to protect the opportunity for local cultures to form around the rituals that surround the growing, harvesting and eating of food. It will be important to listen to the local wisdom gained by local leaders, even as broader solutions and national systems are being patiently constructed. The goal of bringing producers and consumers into stronger bonds of community must be upheld and nurtured.


The Cultural Imperative

Freshsheet

To some our human uniqueness lies in the mystery of consciousness, morality, or our capacity for shame, kindness or empathy. For others it is that we have language, a free will, that we are responsible for our actions, or that we possess a soul.

It turns out that what distinguishes us from every species that had gone before us is our unique "capacity for culture". Humans alone are able to produce distinct cultures consisting of sets of shared beliefs, knowledge, skills languages and religions. Our cultures are responsible for our worldwide success as a species, and they have sculpted us body and soul.

Our capacity for culture grants us the ability to copy each other's ideas, knowledge, wisdom and skills. Once ideas could jump from one mind to another, an entirely new sphere of evolution came to life - the sphere of evolving ideas. It was a true form of evolution because our minds could now conduct tournaments of natural selection favouring survival of the fittest ideas.

This process of cumulative cultural adaptation would propel modern humans out of Africa 60,000 years ago in small finely honed and adapted tribal groups that acted as vehicles for our survival and prosperity. They eventually occupied nearly every environment on Earth - from living on ice to surviving in deserts or steaming jungles, even becoming sea-going mariners as the Polynesians did - by enabling us to acquire knowledge and produce technologies suitable for those environments.

Freshsheet Today we inherit a vast cultural knowledge handed down the generations from mind to mind - and now stored in books, on the internet or in other electronic forms. We are carrying around in our pockets, handbags and briefcases objects that have been produced by cumulative cultural adaptation that no single person on Earth could produce. Even something as simple as a pencil requires the knowledge and technology of many people.

If nothing in our evolutionary history specifically prepared us for the modern world we now inhabit, it turns out that everything about the way human culture works does.

We have acquired the ability to cooperate with and exchange ideas, thoughts and skills with others. This unique ultra-sociality along with our evolved psychology - both borne of our capacity for culture - is why we can live in large social groups, walking among millions of people who are effectively strangers, so long as we are convinced they are playing by the same social rules of fairness and exchange as us.

We are increasingly aware that the next century is going to be a time of great uncertainty and upheaval as resources, money and space become ever more scarce. It is going to be a bumpy road with many setbacks and conflicts. But if there was ever a species that could tackle these challenges it is our own. It might be surprising, but our genes, in the form of our capacity for culture, have created in us a machine capable of greater cooperation, inventiveness and common good than any other on Earth.


IDEAS WORTH CONSIDERING

Turning Back Toward Simplicity

If the consumerist way of life is a temporary, fossil-fuelled perversion that has no future, it follows that the future will be defined necessarily by less materialistic, "simpler" ways of living. Fortunately, although the roots of consumerism are shallow, the roots of simplicity are deep, and well worthy of our attention.

We need to put our hands in the soil of history to examine those deep roots, to feel them and learn from them, in the hope of enriching the present as we move into an uncertain future. But what does it mean to live simply? Granted, this is a concept that means different things, to different people, at different times. Nevertheless, it can and should be given some definitional content.

Broadly speaking, simple living refers to a way of life based on notions such as frugality, sufficiency, moderation, minimalism, self-reliance, localism, and mind-fulness. It can be understood to refer to "the middle way" between over-consumption and under-consumption, where basic material needs are sufficiently met but where attention is then directed away from continuous materialistic pursuits, in search of non-materialistic sources of satisfaction and meaning.

Practically this might involve growing one's own organic food, wearing second-hand or mended clothes, minimising energy consumption, riding a bike, sharing and making instead of buying, avoiding superfluous possessions, living smaller, spending conscientiously, and minimising waste. But none of this should imply hardship or sacrifice.

Freshsheet By minimising wasteful consumption and embracing sufficiency, people living simply tend to have more time for the important things in life, like family and friends, home production, creative activity, self-development, civic engagement - or whatever one's private passions may be. In contrast to the consumer lifestyle, simple living is about privileging time over money, freedom over stuff, and about knowing how much is enough and discovering that enough is plenty.

Anyone who has attempted to actually live simply will know very well that doing so is not very simple at all, in the sense of being easy. This is especially so in the consumerist cultures dominated not only by materialistic values but also by growth-orientated structures that often lock people into high consumption lifestyles.

It is hard to swim against the current of consumerism. What this suggests is that the significance of simple living is not just about personal lifestyle choice, but has wider and deeper implications on how we think about the structures of our societies. This raises political and macroeconomic issues, as well as ethical, cultural, ecological, and even spiritual issues. It seems, then, somewhat paradoxically, that simple living is actually an extremely complex notion that exhibits a multitude of dimensions and defies simplistic definition. The paradox that less can be more.

While materialistic values have always been present in human civilisations, so too have there always been brave souls and counter-cultures that have rejected those values in favour of less materialistic, simpler ways of living. We can all learn from them how to step off the fossil fuel roller coaster.


COMMENTARY

Economic prosperity doesn't trickle down, and neither does civic prosperity. Both are middle-out phenomena. When workers earn enough from one job to live on, they are far more likely to be contributors to civic prosperity - in your community. Parents who need only one job, not two or three to get by, can be available to help their kids with homework and keep them out of trouble - in your school. They can look out for you and your neighbors, volunteer, and contribute - in your school and church. Our prosperity does not all come home in our paycheck. Living in a community of people who are paid enough to contribute to your community, rather than require its help, may be more important than your salary. Prosperity and poverty are like viruses. They infect us all - for good or ill. An economic arrangement that pays a Wall Street worker tens of millions of dollars per year to do high-frequency trading and pays just tens of thousands to workers who grow or serve our food, build our homes, educate our children, or risk their lives to protect us isn't an expression of the true value or economic necessity of these jobs. It simply reflects a difference in bargaining power and status. We're undeniably becoming a more unequal society - in incomes and in opportunity. Inclusive economies always outperform and outlast plutocracies. That's why investments in the middle class work, and tax breaks for the rich don't. The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. Those at the top will forever tell those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics. - Nick Hanauer



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Celebrating the Creative Age

The most recent issue of the Okanagan Institute journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude is online at www.sageing.ca

A volunteer publication of the Okanagan Institute, intended as an initiative for collaboration and sharing, the journal presents the opportunity for the free exchange of wisdom gleaned from creative engagement, and is focused on honouring the transformational power of creativity.
We hope that your perspective on the arts and creative engagement might also change as you read stories of Okanagan artists, experienced and emerging, who engage in art for the joy of stimulating personal and community wisdom and well-being.
Freshsheet Sage-ing Okanagan Institute

Freshsheet A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS & AGING
"One of the strengths that sages possess, regardless of age, is a willingness to be educated by all things. Curiosity leads them to learn from all they encounter. They do not judge people or situations. When one relaxes into just being, everything can nourish and stimulate. For those who embrace life as a sage-ing experience, things come to them from the world and from the events in their lives. By taking time and giving attention to creatively respond to what might at first seem ordinary and not deserving of notice, life ripens with significance and meaning."

To view online go to www.sageing.ca