The One-size-Fits-All Problem in American Culture
We Paved Over Paradise...
Simplicity is the one word we can use to help bring us back to a sense of community, diversity, virtue, intelligence, and forward thinking. All of these different themes tie into the idea of the monoculture and lack of diversity in our culture. Through the education system, media, and our landscapes, we have created a system that is not only unsustainable but is crippling the human spirit. For how can we thrive as a species when our creativity and diversity is being trampled on by a practice of suppression, depression, and exploitation?
America VS Nature
“From discomfort in ‘natural’ places to active scorn for whatever is not manmade, managed, or air-conditioned. Biophobia , in short, is the culturally acquired urge to affiliate with technology, human artifacts, and solely with human interests regarding the natural world” (Orr 131).
This, I argue, is the great divider between those that have a deep love for nature and those that are averse towards it. Our mainstream media blasts the public with advertisements telling us that we need to buy product “x”, and commercials that influence us to act a certain way. Programs portray how “Americans” act and live, as well as what makes a successful “American” family. Ideas are shown in sitcoms that push the mainstream, the status quo, and the consumerist ideals on the public. Instead of informative or provocative television programs, stations are littered with these sorts of mindless examples of entertainment that further push this idea of biophobia on their viewers; why would you want to climb a mountain if you could just watch a documentary on it? Even the programs that display nature only work to further alienate the public from the realities of the natural world, for how can one even begin to know what a mountain has to teach them, if all they know is it’s pastoral representation on the screen in their living rooms?
More harm Than Good
“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If I read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over by the western railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter,--we never need read another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?” (Thoreau 100).
This "information" is not real information because real information propels action, most things we hear on TV are not actionable or relevant in our lives and therefore not useful information. Thoreau suggests that we need not concern ourselves with the news for it has lost all meaning and serves us no good. Thoreau explains that there is no point in reporting and reading these instances, it does no good. Thoreau would agree that if the news were acting as news it would be informing the public on many pressing matters such as critical bills in congress or environmental issues at hand. This creates a society of obedient workers who, for their own protection, stay within their safe confines of their established lives. A society where those putting their necks on the line for fundamental change are viewed through the lens of the camera as terrorists and beamed to Americans as lunatics, and scoundrels. As Orr states, the only way society can come out of this negative cycle is by fostering good communities and raising children who exhibit biopholia;
“Real communities foster dignity, competence, participation, and opportunities for good work. And good communities provide places in which children’s imagination and earth sensibilities toot and grow” (Orr 143).
As Orr explains, as a society, we need to focus on our communities to foster the change we want to see in the future. This “Biophobia” as Orr calls it, is the foundation to the human distance from nature in not only the media but also through education and our landscapes.
The School Assembly Line
“Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that it is wiser by experience, that is, by failure” (Thoreau 102).
Instead of nurturing these valuable and innate curiosities in children, we choose to ‘educate’ them so they can grow up to be productive members of society. One thing is for certain, I do not think I have grown up to be a productive member of our capitalist society, for all I want to do is change this society.
“Life ought to excite our passion, not out indifference. Life in jeopardy ought to cause us to take a stand, not retreat into a spurious neutrality” (Orr 137).
As mentioned earlier, the more settled we become, and the more we have to lose, the more we become jaded and settle for indifference among the very issues we used to be passionate to change. As Orr points out, life should be about living your passion with vigor and not living indifference through complacency.
Our World Reimagined
“The ecological crisis, in short, is about what it means to be human. And if natural diversity is the wellspring of human intelligence, then the systematic destruction of nature inherent in contemporary technology and economics is a war against the very sources of mind” (Orr 140).
Thus, we must value the human spirit and the earthly spirit if we are to mend this massive self inflicted wound. Looking inward one can see that this is the only way to live life, like Thoreau, I find that the simpler I make my life and my affairs, the more fulfilling my life becomes. To clarify simplicity, I mean that we can only truly find happiness when we look inward and find what our passions are by dusting off the mind of matters that really do not add to our happiness; Thoreau would agree that being able to count your responsibilities on one hand is essential,
“I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind is all undusted still, and I threw them out the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground” (Thoreau 37-38).
By getting rid of the clutter of one’s mind, one can begin to dissect and figure out what thoughts or relations one actually needs to be happy. This is simplicity. It is not monoculture, or universal legislation, it is realizing each and every person’s unique characteristics and goals; this same principle can be applied when address the idea of landscape.
Patriot = Conformist ?
“In a country as large and geographically various as this, it is probably inevitable that we will favor abstract landscape ideas---grids, lawns, monocultures, wilderness---which can be applied across the board, even legislated nationally; such ideas have the power to simplify and unite. Yet isn’t this power itself part of the problem? The health of a place generally suffers whenever we impose practices on it that are better suited for another place; a lawn in Virginia makes sense in a way that a lawn in Arizona does not” (Pollan 190).
This mode of thinking that embraces one American ideal has become so ingrained in our culture that we barely notice it now. Take the lawn in Arizona example; instead of looking at the natural landscape and mimicking and implementing it’s tendencies on our own property, we adhere to the homogenized, centralized monoculture of green lawns. Ripping up, and destroying the natural land to implant this false flora. As Pollen suggests, it would be revolutionary for the people of this country to say that planting a garden and not a lawn is patriotic because it shows respect for the land, as well as planting a tree on ones property means believing in our future. Pollen would agree that people need to be aware that a lawn in Arizona is unsustainable and goes against our common sense, so why should we have one? Becoming unified in a more simplistic and natural way, would contribute more to unity and community building than having unified landscapes. We put our blinders on and don’t even realize the absurdity of the situation, it is what people have done before, so it’s what we do now. As the example of the lawn suggests, we should instead take this approach of simplicity, turning ourselves over to nature, and using her as a guideline to live healthy, unique and sustainable lives.
A culture of shopping malls, lawns, suburban sprawl and selfish desire created what we see now. Pollen would agree, he explains the way we relate to nature,
“This old idea may have taught us how to worship nature, but it didn’t tell us how to live with her. It told us more than we needed to know about virginity and rape, and almost nothing to do with marriage” (Pollan 189).
As Pollan suggests, it is this idea of understanding and working with nature that society needs to come to terms with; learning to listen and use nature as a guide instead of something to conquer. Instead of the monoculture we need permaculture, community, and unity. Instead of suburban sprawl we must condense our populations in dense areas that draw in people rather than turn them away. Urban centers that treat the pedestrian and bike traveler first and individual cars second. Places that offer both the beauty of the countryside with the connivence of locality. But this too is hypothetical,; we can do this by creating buildings that mimic trees and cities that resemble forests, techniques like this are already being done using "biomimicry" techniques. Until we reach this point, we must organize and become communities once again, develop local cooperative gardens and farms, choose to diversify our individual properties by removing lawns and creating native gardens. One may become beacon for change, by taking care of others and by buying local food and products.
The Age of Awareness
To be continued in my book "I AM JAYME"
An Essay By Jayme Liardi