Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of the spring fast, Lent. The name lent derives from an Old English word meaning “spring season”. Other languages name this 40-day period before Easter with words that derive from “fasting”. We can see from these names that Lent is not merely a season of preparation for the Christian Easter. In fact, its symbology and its name have little to do with Christianity. (Interestingly, the same is true of Easter itself.) Lent — or to give it its true name, spring — is the traditional time of doing without. Because there just isn’t that much to eat in spring… So it seems a good time for me to address doing without on a large scale so that we can purge our cultures of the bulky, toxic waste and begin anew.
We have moved squarely into the late winter of this culture and need to jettison a great deal if there is to be a continuance of us. If we are to see a spring, we need a fast. A very fast fast… We use too much; we waste too much; we do too much. Or we spend a good deal of “doing time”, but not doing very much of use. This idea of doing without is raised repeatedly both in favor of downsizing ourselves and in arguing against downsizing (because for some folks, every reduction is an immediate ticket to “nasty, brutish, short” barbarism… which is not a thing). What bothers me about the dialog of downsizing is that very little is said about what actually needs to go and a great deal of hinting that regular people should be shouldering the burden of dearth. However, I think there is a good deal that can be eliminated that will have adverse effects on only a very few humans. Mostly in ways that level monetary wealth. A money fast that doesn’t affect most of us at all — except to clear a path forward so that we can continue to exist into a new springtime.
Let me be clear: these are things that businesses, corporations, economies, whole states need to fix. These are not matters for personal decision making for most of the people in the world. True, those who consume the most need to make better choices and give up a good deal of their excess, but most of the world has very little to give up. So, let’s begin by putting corporate entities on a Lenten fast. What could that look like? I have some ideas.
— First, because this would be extremely easy and seems to me to be an emergency situation that needs to be addressed now… there should be no part of health care that is for-profit. Large swathes of it should be public. Health insurance should not be a thing. So much waste and injury could be immediately eliminated simply by eliminating patents on drugs. And health care used to be truly non-profit. Some of it still purports to be so on tax forms. Make it so again.
— Next, because this needs to happen to make any of the rest of this possible (because capitalists do love their force…): the military-industrial complex needs to be gutted. There is no reason to spend money on harming this planet any more than we have already. There might be a need for some reasonable level of civil defense — as in “supporting this country within its own borders” — but there is no reason to meddle in the affairs of others. And there is no reason that any of it should involve killing or destroying. That is aggression, war, not defense… it’s also extremely stupid.
— And on stupidity… air travel should not exist except in very low volumes, probably best supported by the few industries that need it. As it exists, it uses way too much of the world’s carbon budget to transport way too few of the world’s people to places they really have no business being. Similarly, fresh tomatoes in winter and fresh seafood in the middle of continents and other ridiculous, refrigerated, luxury food transport?… probably don’t need to exist and use way too many resources, again for a very few wealthy people. And large parts of our economic system which ships stuff around the world for every freakin’ stage of production and sale, looking for the lowest labor costs and the highest market returns?… just needs to end.
— Transportation of stuff should be expensive. But water and ground transportation of humans should be cheap, perhaps free locally. The purchase of a long-distance ticket ought to be of the same sort of comparative magnitude to average income as buying a stamp — and it might make sense to run a federal style, linked transport system much like the US Postal Service. Most business is conducted locally for free (or very cheap); but you can buy service to places outside your town. Still relatively cheap, since the routes and lines already exist.
— The entire finance industry needs to go. Instead, we need small local banks to help smooth local transactions and to store savings. And stock trading is a really stupid way to support industry. It largely doesn’t; it’s just another way to extract monetary wealth out of industry. If there are people with money sloshing around, they ought to invest it in real goods in their own communities. But don’t expect to make money off your money. That too needs to end.
— We need to break up communications corporations so that each small portion is responsive to its community. Actually, I think we need to make internet and phone lines public utilities. The public has already paid for much of the infrastructure in the way of tax benefits and outright grants. And while we’re on public utilities, those need to exist again. Local and responsive and regulated energy, water, and waste removal providers.
— Furthermore, while I think it’s fine for retail sales of fossil fuel products to remain for-profit and private, I think we need to follow the rest of the world and nationalize mining and production of fossil fuels. Same goes for other mineral resources. This will help regulate and distribute the flow as we run out. It will also prevent colonial extraction of resources from other places — while giving those places a chance to produce and sell their own stuff. Or leave it in the ground.
These are all fairly easy — meaning low energy and resource inputs, not a great deal of change for much of the world — that will have measurable benefits very quickly in terms of balancing everything, from emissions to inequality. History shows that it’s quite simple to nationalize industry and works quite well, as long as wealthy capitalists stay out. And if we destroy the hugely wasteful finance industry and military-industrial complex first, then there are not going to be wealthy capitalists with any kind of destructive reach.
I should also note that much of the world already exists like this. The US did as well until very recently. All this privatization and intense extraction on a global scale began since I became an adult; that’s how new it all is. I know it’s easier to break a system than build it, but in this case we’re not actually building much. It already exists; it just needs to be removed from the greedy hands of those who stole it all in the last 30-40 years.
In other words, this is a fast fast that would definitely prepare us for the coming spring dearth. We could do this. Easily. However, yes… none of it will happen. I’m fairly sure most people can’t even conceive of any of these changes, never mind create ways to bring them about. This is why I have high blood pressure…
What kind of a fast would you put the planet on? I have more ideas, largely related to taxing and universal basic income, but I think I’ve probably unsettled people enough today. Or have I? Do you think it’s possible that we could rise up together and make this stuff happen? I don’t. But that’s just me. However, I also think that there is hope in the angry teen generation. We old folks might not be able to see how to get there because we are trapped in our habits and ways. But they don’t have bad habits yet…
What do you think?
©Elizabeth Anker 2022
This is the part where you can respond. The rules of engagement: No rudeness. Absolutely nothing foul. Also nothing personal. If you want to talk direct to me, there is the contact page linked on every post. Send me email. I will always respond.
You can also take these ideas “home with you” and mull them over. Journalize about them. Meditate. Talk with your family and friends — and co-workers! These are questions that we all need to answer for ourselves, so that we have something bright and solid to hang on to as we slide into the murk.
Might as well get started.