Friday, May 6, 2022

Steps to Make Things Better

This is not a catchy name that’s likely to catch on, but I don’t have a better one yet. If you have suggestions, let me know!

You absolutely don’t have to get carried away with any of these steps (and there’s no reason to be jerks to be people who aren’t following them, since you don’t know their circumstances). The idea is to do what you can! So here it is.

  • If you can do it or produce it yourself, do that.
  • If you can get it from small, non-corporate sources, do that.
  • If you can get it locally, do that.
  • If you can fix it or reuse it, do that.
  • If you can do something without using electricity, do that.
  • If you can do something without driving a car, do that.

In practical terms, this would mean: if you can bake your own bread, do it. (I can’t, and I don’t feel bad about that). If you can buy your bread from a local, non-corporate business, do it. (I can, and often do). But if the only bread available is from a national chain store, that’s fine! You’re always working within your current situation.

The working title of these steps was “American Swaraj,” based on Gandhi’s ideas of self-governance, but applied to our serfdom under modern capitalism rather than being under the official rule of another country. However, most people in the U.S. don’t know what “swaraj” means, and Gandhi’s legacy is complicated, so it’s not going to work in the long run. “Self-reliance” doesn’t seem quite right, especially since in the U.S., it more suggests a single, highly independent person, not a community that has collective self-reliance. So the “branding” (LOL) is a work in progress.

My ideas about “swaraj,” whatever we call it, are largely summed up in this anecdote: “Some advice that Gandhi once gave to a colleague … (who) wondered: what can one individual do to emancipate India? ‘Please do not carry unnecessarily on your head the burden of emancipating India’, Gandhi wrote back. ‘Emancipate your own self. Even that burden is very great. Apply everything to yourself. Nobility of soul consists in realizing that you are yourself India. In your emancipation is the emancipation of India. All else is make-believe’. (Collected Works 10: 206-7). Quoted in Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, p. lxii.

Right? We can’t save the world, or the nation, whatever that even means anymore. When we make our own contribution to doing things better, even that burden is very great. So don’t beat yourself up, and don’t beat up other people! That’s a start!

Stay tuned for more along these lines.