But what do we mean by peace? This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to, especially during the time I spent volunteering within my local “peace community” (i.e., non-violent social justice activist organizations). And I gotta say, my thinking on the subject has taken new shape over time.
“Peace” has become a shallow buzzword. People on youtube like to sign off with the word, even after spouting off hard-core against another group of people. It’s an overused word, like “love,” covering such a broad spectrum that it’s become incredibly hazy to the point of being trivialized. What do we mean by “peace”? What might it look like? In detail. People like to start rattling off what Lennon said in the clip above, saying it’s about peace in the home and peace in the schools and peace on the planet. But what the hell does that even mean? What would get us there? And what would it take to keep us in that frame of coexistence if ever humans did ‘evolve’ to that point?
I’ve been forming some ideas.
Ask yourself: which individuals tend to be most peaceful? Those with shit to tend to, in other words people with jobs and/or responsibilities and/or creative endeavors that absorb a good deal of their time and energy. Now let’s pause there. I’m not a fan of nor advocating for busybodyness — there are productive and nonproductive uses of our time and ways of earning income (that being a discussion all unto itself). But ever heard the saying that “idle hands are the devil’s tools”? Yup. We get bored, go looking for entertainment and wind up getting into mischief. We know this. And I happen to think unsatisfying work provides an added incentive to seek out new stimulation.
What I love about the concept of gardening/small-scale farming is that it calls for our physical labor, at least in a conceivably sustainable setup where many more people contribute to food production and Big Ag’s oligopolies are broken up into more manageable and fairly competitive pieces (keeping in mind monopolies and oligopolies are anti-trust violations and anti-capitalist in terms of disrupting the free market by making conditions hostile to small businesses). While technologies surely can aid us in ways our foreparents could only dream about, I do believe the exertion of our own physical labor is good for us. If it weren’t we wouldn’t have so many people buying gym memberships and workout videos. Physical exertion is good for our physical and psychological well-being, yet it’s become for many estranged from the activities required for earning a living.
When you honestly consider this it almost seems like by splitting the two apart, we created new problems: the centralization of food production scheme (i.e. Big Ag) that allows most Americans to not participate in any way directly with their food’s creation; as technology advances and populations increase due to a stable and relatively cheap food supply, many of the jobs made available involve office or service work that are widely considered soul-draining, boringly repetitive, and wouldn’t be undertaken if not for need of a paycheck; there’s now a need to find time to exercise outside of working hours, and a collective lack of motivation to run on a treadmill has led to an obesity epidemic. We are now consumers, and many consume more than we expend in terms of our individual energy. This appears to me like life out of balance, and what’s worse, I can’t see any real benefit to sticking with the current status quo.
Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels from start to finish in the process, and its distribution network has trucks and ships and planes headed in all directions around the clock and around the globe. (That show about ice road trucking up in Alaska springs to mind.) We’ve grown utterly dependent on this system, and heaven forbid it ever shut down.
We could go on to think about the risks associated with the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers (including the possible link to bee populations dying off, which crops absolutely require), the shitty conditions for animals inside factory farms (and what it does to us to knowingly dine on disrespected beasts — spoken as one diehard meat-eater), GMOs and high-fructose corn syrup in damn near everything, the bullshit business practices and marketing schemes that most Americans have no way of escaping, etc. But this appears sufficient to prompt others to consider the value of one’s labor and how perhaps we might have had our fingers on a good thing before we allowed it to get jacked up to the extent it is today. Or perhaps that was a necessary phase in human history because of the innovations it has brought, though, too, there’s the infrastructure it’s spawned, and that is ultimately what holds us back from turning any other way. We’re bound by laws and property taxes and the need to earn money in order to survive in this modern world. Near-subsistence living, in this setting, doesn’t look practical.
We’re in a conundrum here. No question. Perhaps we can focus now on utilizing what we’re able, like purchasing produce from community-sponsored farming networks. But it’s tough to circumvent the Big Boys these days. Damn near impossible.
So going back to this idea of peace, it seems like the most productive and meaningful trek toward that goal requires a diffusion of power. Because part of the problem today is people feeling and largely actually being disempowered. I’m not a fan of that word either thanks to its over-usage, but the concept remains relevant at the core. How much power do any of us really possess anymore? The power to choose between brands and service providers? How many choices truly exists in a sea of illusive conglomerates?
What do average, ordinary people want out of life? Many will say work that feels meaningful, love and support from family members and friends, good food, good beer and wine, good sex, a sense of belonging somewhere and an ability to contribute something to society of value — a relatively simply life, in all, albeit one rich thanks to social ties and labor that serves a worthwhile purpose. Rearing young up well and producing the sustenance needed to continue living both fit the bill, as do plenty of other tasks and jobs needing to be fulfilled to serve the needs of people.
But that’s far from what we have. So far that it seems like a pipe dream, nonsensical utopianism. And perhaps that’s correct — maybe it’s not going to happen. But that’s one place where we may have power, and if we were able to exercise it we could, through boycotting efforts made possible by providing more for ourselves, possibly dismantle the mammoths calling the shots currently. We buy what they sell because it’s quite nearly the only options on the shelves. And this extends far beyond agriculture. Whatever happened to human handicrafts in America? Now everything we purchase is shipped from China.
We are not free and never will be free because we have lost touch of how to care for ourselves. Unless we recover this ability, we will have little say over the course of modernity unfolding. We will be led so long as we remain unable to lead ourselves, and if we can’t even provide for our most basic needs, will we not always wind up as slaves to something or somebody else? What ground do we have to stand on otherwise? As it is now, most of us are being swept along on a moving train, watching life whirl by while feeling powerless to stop and settle down into a less chaotic existence.
This is not all people of today’s fault, but it is our problem. I personally do not own a yard or property, so this all can’t help but be offered up as mere food for thought.
So around and around we go. Without power within our own hands and labor that feels meaningful that also provides something of actual value, we will remain agitated. In a world ablaze with warfare and divided by deep economic disparities, and in societies where we feel trapped by laws we’ve never even heard of and conditions we never willingly signed up for, we will remain anxious. A situation like this leads people to start chomping at the bit in hopes of finding political resolution to what ails them. Therein enters mass movements that attract disgruntled souls wishing for change that they know not how to help bring about. And from there we see clashes and great rivalries and much bickering and people feeling like they must choose a side to identify with. Everything becomes framed as a competition, another spectator sport, which devolves into a senseless back and forth where people lose focus on what really even matters.
And on and on it goes.
You want peace? Well, I want relative peace. Peace at any cost holds no appeal to me. Human life involves drama and problems and disagreements and conflicts, and I accept that. Child-rearing isn’t all about hugs and encouragement; it also necessarily involves discipline and rules to follow. We cannot escape all authority, but we could certainly reassess what authorities we’re willing to tolerate and abide by. One authority our efforts will never fully trump is Nature, that being a given, our human constructs paling in comparison. So it seems to me we have a choice to either work within it or continue fighting an uphill battle to nowhere we really want to be. The latter allows us to be more lazy and unproductive — it’s become the path of least resistance.
I’d love to see others and my own self find ways to become engaged in this dilemma, and hopefully as a result of needing to cooperate to a larger extent in order to problem-solve and through focusing our attention on more productive uses of our time we will leave one another the hell alone so far as nit-picking and generally behaving like asses with nothing better to do than start unnecessary drama.
Maybe getting back to basics on some level would do us all more good than we realize. And maybe through that the goal of achieving some sort of peace will stand a better chance.