Monday, April 16, 2012

Want to Have Influence, be a Producer!

I have just begun to read Wendell Berry’s book The Unsettling of America and as I got started in the chapter entitled The Ecological Crisis as a Crisis of Character I was struck by a thought that had not crossed my mind before.   Berry rightfully points out that much is made of the rights of the consumer, with regards to food, but little is said of the producer, other than to often complain about them.  This is because as a nation we have been steered, and happily so I might add, away from being a people who produce to becoming a people consumed with consumption and thus even our complaints about the producers of our goods are only surface deep and have little impact in the end.

Because of our move to a consumption-based society, in many areas of life, marketing has become a major field because it is key to increased consumption by its focus on creating desire where it may not have existed before.  Also, because we as a country see consumption as key to our economic health the government hands out funds it does not have so people can buy what they often do not need all in the guise of helping the economy but in the end it only feeds and fuels the desire to consume. We as consumers cry out about our rights but do nothing to secure them, more on that in a moment, except wait for the government to hand us what we feel we deserve by either legislation or some tax.  As long as we are allowed to continue our consumption we are satiated and happy to be told what to consume, by the choices set before us.  Yes, if you walk into a store there are a multitude of choices, probably more than any time in history, but these choices are in truth illusionary and are just surface deep since a cursory reading of most labels will reveal that there is really little difference from product to product.

What struck me from Berry’s book was how he spoke of our loss of a focus on being producers in our zeal to protect our rights to consume.   He is not saying we do not produce anything but that we for the most part do not produce that which will sustain us, as in food, but relying on others to do so and simply seeing ourselves by our actions as consumers.  To be honest even in my profession in which I produce goods of a hi-tech nature they are not, if I am honest, necessary to sustain life.  They may be used for some good but if the products were to not exist life might be different but it would still go on.  This is true of much of what we produce as a people, if done away with the world might be different but it would not in the end cease to exist.  The truth is we could do with less TVs, computers, media devices and other such items, maybe we would even do better as a society since much of the marketing of desires is transmitted though such technology.  However, this is not about being anti-technology but just that we need to step back and realize that without some of the things we rely on today life may be different but it would still be a life we could live and to be honest maybe more satisfyingly.  This is often hard to fathom from our present vantage point because we are so reliant on what is around us and cannot picture life without what we have around us.  Again, remember when I speak of producing I am speaking about that which is needed to sustain life and not simply that we do not make anything.

When it comes to consumption we often complain about the governments intrusion into our rights with regards to what we can purchase, or consume, but then turn around and seek the governments intervention to control those that do produce what we desire.   This problem exists because we have lost the intimate connection between production of what we need to survive and our consumption of those products.  We have left the idea of being producers of the goods needed to survive to the “professionals” as well as leaving the decision as to what is good for us up to some bureaucrat who either does not know what he talks about or has forgotten the past in an effort to create a new future.  Now comes the part that we as a whole have missed and what struck me in Berry’s writing;  we have become in our move from being a people who produce “and” consume to being a people that only consume; a people with no real power to influence what we have to consume, other than the occasional plea to the government that in the end actually creates more problems than solving any.  We have become reliant, even dependent, on what is put before us no matter its quality and worth.

Therein lies the problem.  When we no longer produce what we need to survive for ourselves, at any level, we then become so reliant on those that do produce those goods that we limit our choice and thus lessen our impact on what is produced.  When we no longer cook our own food we have little say about what is put on our table and only get the choices placed before us on a menu.  When we no longer grow our own food we become reliant on those that do and can only choose from what is on the supermarket shelf.   Our choices, due to our removal from the production process, become driven by corporate desires rather than what is good for us and in all of this our choices become limited.  Our options become not between what fresh locally grown food we can have but between what genetically modified, factory produced and laboratory enhanced produce is put before us to consume.   We complain about tomato’s with foreign  DNA, corn that even an insect would not eat or meat that has never seen the inside of a hide but the problem exists because of our choices and actions.  We have little say in the matter of what we consume, except to call on the government to stop that which we have allowed, by our removal from the production process.  When we no longer produce we no longer have much say, or influence, because we are reliant on those that produce what we do not.

Of course this did not all happen overnight and I am sure it did not happen with where we are today in mind, at least for most consumers.  It began with buying into the myth that industrialization would bring us agricultural nirvana and solve our food production problem, a problem that never really existed.  We bought into the lie that we could have all the “food”, or at least that is what it is called, we desired with none of the toil and struggle God promised in the curse.  We came to believe that we could have our cake and eat it too but the problem is the cake is little more than a laboratory experiment made to resemble cake.  We complain about government regulations on what we eat but then turn around and ask the government to control some other aspect of the consumption/production system because we have given up our influence and then wonder why we have no choice.

While we should be aghast at where we are we should also realize that for many, myself included, we paved the road to our current predicament.  If you are like me you bought into the lie that big brother knows what is best for us and that we need to rely on him to take care of us.  We turned our health, wealth and everything else over to some impersonal organization so we could consume from the tree of entertainment.  We did not want to be bothered struggling with toiling for our sustenance and have allowed the government to care for us, if care is what you call it.  We need to get off this train as soon as possible but as with jumping off any moving object there will be pain.   However, it is what we have to do if we do not want to end up in a system where our choices are this green pill or that blue one and where our food comes pre-packed, pre-heated, even pre-digested little resembling what God has for us to live on.

So let us not just complain.  Let us grow something, Let us cook something, Let us produce and not just consume.  Let us say no to the choices set before us and do so because we do not need to take from what is being offered up.  Let us have influence because we produce and not just consume.  Changing direction will be painful and will take much work and being responsible for being good stewards of what God has put before us.  This will also be painful because the current producers are not going to like being deprived of their profit and power.  They will fight back but we need to be ready to sustain the blows offered up so that our children and their children regain the choice we have been part of taking away.

God set up a system (2 Thes 3:10) where those that work, that is produce, eat, that is consume.  We need to, for the sake of future generations, regain our grounding in the foundational biblical principle that we are to produce to consume.  We are not, as we have now become, to simply be consumers.  We need to work at producing what we need to survive so that we get back to having the influence we are to have, a godly influence, and being a people that relies on the sovereign God of the universe rather than Uncle Sam or any other entity. 

As I titled this article it is those that produce that will have influence on what is available for consumption.  When we do not need to take from the offerings put before us we gain influence.  We need to become those influencers and do so for His glory, and thus our good.  Before we complain about the pharmacy placed before us on the grocery store shelves remember it is there because we have allowed it to be so.  Become informed and active so that you can get off of the train to oblivion and let us partake of what God has designed for us to live on and regain the power He has given us.  Let us return to becoming a people that produce what we need to survive and consume from that production and glorify Him in all of this.

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jamesmitges said...
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