Monday, April 11, 2011

Visioning the green community

Shak El writes:

"Green Utopianism does not have to mean a return to the farm (tho it would not stop those who wished to do so). It could easily embrace an industrial society based on green energies (sun, wind, wter, geo-thermal etc). necessary labor would be gradually reduced by moving ever towards full automation and shared work load divided amongst the population. Some estimate that we could produce everything we need with only 10-15 hours of necessary labor."

"Some estimate that we could produce everything we need with only 10-15 hours of necessary labor."

When I was growing up in the 1960s and even into the early 70s, a shorter work week was very much a vision. With increased productivity, we would could all live well and by working fewer hours live, paradoxically, more abundantly.

In the 1960s, the idea of a shorter work week was linked to the technological Utopia that was going to liberate us all, and we were less sophisticated about environmental issues. I remember the first Earth Day, when our elementary school class stood on the baseball diamond and let go a great flock of colorful helium balloons. We wouldn't do that today ... but we meant well.

What made my heart sing was hearing others speak (not just Shak El, but Alice, Hysery, etc.) of that seemingly long lost vision of an abundance of time rather than of material goods. I have been thinking much about vision these days, and the quote from Proverbs that "without a vision, the people perish" sticks in my mind. It's not just any vision that Proverbs means, but a vision, as the next part of the quotes notes, that is tied to the law--which, as I read it, links it specifically to the building of the shalom community.

We seem so surrounded by visions of scarcity. We are told must work longer and harder for less and less and do so in an environment of fear. Yet our productivity has grown massively in the past 50--and even 20--years. By embracing a vision of simply living more simply, and wisely using the technology we have, we could be released from lives of toil. If we lived at the level of the average family of the 1950s, we could all work shorter weeks, with less stress and more joy and time for family, friends and community.

Back in the 1930s, Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement advocated for the same vision: People living simply by working 20 hours a week and spending another 20 hours a week in discussion and education, ie. in community. If people in a society that had so much less could have this vision, we can too. (I think. I hope.)

We live in a culture too that values work as work, so that one can be fearful of advocating for leisure. And some, but not all of us, will have passions, be it for building a bicycle from scratch to helping build a Friends boarding school, that will take up large amounts of time--but not feel like work.

Overall, this green vision is not about "leisure" per se but achieving a more balanced life. In The Overworked American, the author, Juliet Schor, cites studies that once people work 30 hours a week or fewer, they actually watch less television and are more apt to be involved in politics and community. Could this be the real reason we are told we must work ever longer and harder?

Not to restate the obvious, but maybe it needs to be said more often: Fewer hours in an office or commuting to a job might lead to less money but it would also open up more time for gardening and hanging laundry and walking places and enjoying life. Maybe we'd read more books. Maybe we'd be healthier, driving down health care cost. Perhaps I dream ...

1 comment:

Hystery said...

This post really speaks to me.