better goals start with better questions

Lately I’ve been looking at the issues I write about here with a wider lens, trying my best to see the forest for the trees.

I’ve realized that in our laser precision focus on the topic of food – debating the proper definition of “organic” for example – we are asking the wrong questions. We aren’t going to get where we want to go by rolling in the muck of semantics with our adversaries. I’m sure they love it – it keeps us from the real issues.

We need to find our compass again. From that the right questions, and perhaps even answers, will flow.

We need to ask ourselves

What kind of world do we want? What is life for? What do we value? What is success? How do we measure it?

Big questions, yes. But ones we always need to be asking.

Our culture today is everywhere concerned with the minutia of a spectacle designed to distract us and keep us placated. Jessica’s weight and photos of  Harry’s bare bum shouldn’t be news.

We are potentially on the cusp of another great depression and a third world war, but after the Republican National Convention the news waves were buzzing about Eastwood’s conversation with an empty chair, not the threat of nuclear war, famine, climate change, the worst drought in living memory, the implosion of the world economy or the atrocities played out daily in grainy unverified video clips from Syria.

The absurdity of it seems to escape us. That frightens me.

These are signs of a culture caving in on its own hollow core. We are Romans before the fall; fat and arrogant, drunk on our own greatness.


Where do food and my Big Questions fit in to all of this?

First of all, whether we are talking about food or farming or anything else, we have to remember that despite of all the problems in the world, we have the power to create change. Yes, I’m talking to you. Us little guys have the power if we can find the courage to use it. However, in order to make use of this power, we have to know what we want. We can only figure that out if we ask ourselves the Big Questions.

The issues I write about in regards to food and farming are all rooted in issues of economic (in)equality, social justice and an ecological world-view. The folks on the agribusiness side will tell you that the solutions to my concerns about food and farming can be provided by industrialization, scientific advancement and global free-trade. They also tell me I should shut up about it and leave it to the experts. I’m just a mum who should stick to gardening.

The “shut up and leave it to the big boys” attitude is pervasive in our culture and makes me think about the leaked Citigroup documents in Michael Moore’s movie Capitalism : A Love Story. The documents were to their wealthiest clients, and basically said (I’m paraphrasing because apparently Citigroup has been diligent in keeping the documents off the internet) that the only threat to the power of the ruling class is the fact that we still have a one person, one vote system. If we all actually used our democratic rights, they’d be screwed.

Thankfully for them, we don’t. This is shameful.

The folks Citigroup were writing to also have a hook in us that we need to shake – the American Dream. As long as every working schmuck thinks, Hey, maybe one day I’ll be one of those guys! We’ve taken the bait, hook line and sinker.

Here’s what one of the memos had to say about that:

Perhaps one reason that societies allow plutonomy, is because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense this is the embodiment of the “American dream”. But if voters feel they cannot participate, they are more likely to divide up the wealth pie, rather than aspire to being truly rich.

Could the plutonomies die because the dream is dead, because enough of society does not believe they can participate? The answer is of course yes. But we suspect this is a threat more clearly felt during recessions, and periods of falling wealth, than when average citizens feel that they are better off. There are signs around the world that society is unhappy with plutonomy – judging by how tight electoral races are.

But as yet, there seems little political fight being born out on this battleground.

The first step is to carefully decide what we want. We have to pay attention, look look look, listen and then ask questions. Lots of questions, hard questions. Questions of ourselves, our communities, our governments.

We have to reevaluate our current economic system. We have to ask – is this serving us, or hurting us? I think many people understand the underlying sentiment of the Occupy Movement; our economy is not serving the majority of us. It is harming us for the benefit of the few.

Wendell Berry has some salient points on this topic:

Here we come to the heart of the matter – the absolute divorce that the industrial economy has achieved between itself and all ideals and standards outside itself. It does this, or course, by arrogating to itself the status of primary reality. Once that is established, all its ties to principles of morality, religion and government necessarily fall slack.

But a culture disintegrates when its economy disconnects from its government, morality and religion. If we are dismembered in our economic life, how can we be members in our communal and spiritual life? We assume that we can have an exploitive, ruthlessly competitive, profit-for-profit’s-sake economy, and yet remain a decent and democratic nation, as we still apparently wish to think ourselves. This simply means that our highest principles and standards have no practical force or influence and are reduced to merely talk.

– Wendell Berry A Defence of the Family Farm (1986)

We have to ask – What is the economy for?

Should it be divorced from outside standards and ideals? If not – what standards and ideals do we hold it to, and how? The Occupy Movement provided an outlet for our feelings of helplessness and anger, but it has not provided a map for a way forward. We cannot simply sleep in the streets outside the halls of power raging our discontent. We have to take up our rightful place inside those doors.

How do we do that? How do we reinsert ourselves in the democracy and economy that is rightfully ours?

One thought on “better goals start with better questions

  1. oceannah

    Election Voting Age Population (VAP) ¹ Turnout % Turnout of VAP
    1828 57.6%
    1832 55.4%
    1836 57.8%
    1840 80.2%
    1844 78.9%
    1848 72.7%
    1852 69.6%
    1856 78.9%
    1860 81.2%
    1864 73.8%
    1868 78.1%
    1872 71.3%
    1876 81.8%
    1880 79.4%
    1884 77.5%
    1888 79.3%
    1892 74.7%
    1896 79.3%
    1900 73.2%
    1904 65.2%
    1908 65.4%
    1912 58.8%
    1916 61.6%
    1920 49.2%
    1924 48.9%
    1928 56.9%
    1932 56.9%
    1936 61.0%
    1940 62.5%
    1944 55.9%
    1948 53.0%
    1952 63.3%
    1956 60.6%
    1960 109,159,000 68,895,628 63.11%
    1964 114,090,000 70,651,298 61.93%
    1968 120,328,186 73,199,998 60.83%
    1972 140,776,000 77,744,027 55.22%
    1976 152,309,190 81,531,584 53.53%
    1980 164,597,000 86,574,904 52.60%
    1984 174,466,000 92,653,233 53.11%
    1988 182,778,000 91,594,686 50.11%
    1992 189,529,000 104,423,923 55.10%
    1996 196,511,000 96,277,634 49.00%
    2000 205,815,000 105,405,100 51.21%
    2004 215,694,000 122,267,553 56.69%
    2008 231,229,580 132,645,504[1] 57.37%
    That is voter turnout since the late 1800’s. 2008 only 57.37!! It is appalling that Americans chose to not exercise their civic duty…and now to a point they are being stripped of those same rights in many states. The old adage “a people get the leaders they deserve” is apt. Not that I wholly agree w/ that, but it’s a frustration to say the least…apathetic under-represented citizens who vote against their own self interests always shock the heck outta me! My dh and I spend a lot of time registering voters and educating them about the process since civics classes have disappeared (conveniently) from the classrooms.
    Great POST!! The big questions are the ones we NEED to be asking, agreed.


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