Monday, November 22, 2010

We Are No Longer Citizens, We Are Consumers

Growing up amidst the 80s evangelical sub-culture of end-times fear and speculation may have made me overly suspicious of the environmental alarmists of the past decade.

But this did get to me. I think this Vancouver professor is drawing some very interesting, compelling stuff to our attention.

Putting the rhetoric of alarm to the side for a moment, I think creation care and sustainable, ecologically friendly local living need to be importants topic of conversation and change for Christians living in the post-industrialized world, not first because of ecological alarm bells (although those are not to be ignored), but because of our beliefs about creation, the Creator, and neighbourliness. Even if the planet were not in trouble, the amount of 'taking' going on by largely consumer societies, coupled by the 'offloading' onto less-consumerist societies, is troubling.

As this video indicates, personal life-changes won't 'save the planet' (I can't stand commercials for 'green' this and 'eco-friendly' that which suggest they will). It is governments and corporations that have to be made to change. But until some catastrophe hits home (where the consumers live) such change will be impossible if citizens and consumers don't have it in them to ask for it, let alone to make the sacrifices such lifestyle change involves.

Whatever one takes away from this video, I think perhaps the most poignant observation is that we are no longer citizens, we are consumers. I think we need to start thinking more about the fact that we vote for the country and the world we want to live in, not every four years, but every time we pull out our wallet.

Your thoughts?

HT: Byron Smith


Colin Toffelmire said...

You are, of course, very right on all counts. One of the things I've been wondering about for awhile now, though, is whether the economic and political structures that we have at the moment CAN be made to fix these problems.

I spent a lot of last Winter reading Marxist theorists, and while I'm not a fan of their solutions, I do (to plagiarize a friend) rather agree with their diagnosis of the problem. The key bit that I think Marxists get right is that the relationship between culture, economy, and politics is inseperable and systemic. That is to say, you can't change one without changing the others as well.

So if that's the case (and I think it is), the real question for me is whether late-capitalism and our current so-called "democracies" can be made to change their spots (so to speak). Is reform possible? Or, as the Marxists think, do we need a revolution?

Jon Coutts said...

yeah, great question.
I wonder if we ought to ask also whether churches, however, can change their basic way of operating, regardless of whether the society as a whole can be changed. Resident alien takes on a whole other connotation. We actually live a different system, even within the current one, whether it is changeable or not.

just thinking out loud here. (obviously not the first to think these things, but increasingly open to joining these trains of thought)

Colin Toffelmire said...

Ya, you hit a point of sharp tension that I've been thinking about a lot in the last couple of years. As a church do we opt for something like the Dutch-Reformed model of influencing and engaging the culture in which we find ourselves, or do we opt for something more like the Anabaptist attempt to set up an alternative reality within the culture where we find ourselves? I don't have a good answer for the question, though I do think the reason I'm so divided on the issue is that the pragmatic side of me prefers an attempt to work within the system that is, and the idealist side of me hates that system and would rather ignore it or burn it to the ground. I suppose that second side is also realist to a degree, in my admission that the system as it is may not be redeemable, and may in fact be the root of the problem in the first place.

But, I suppose, a realist must also ask whether it is in fact possible to set up an alternative reality within the culture, or if Hauerwas/Yoder and their disciples are just fooling themselves.

I don't know man...hard stuff. But the beginning, for me, is still to say that the current state of affairs is essentially tied to our current economic and political systems.

Colin Toffelmire said...

BTW, a Marxist would utterly reject the notion that the church can set up an alternative system within the existing system. It would be, for them, like suggesting a train can run where there are no tracks (that is, changing superstructure without changing infrastructure/base, to use the Marxist terminology).

I'm not sure if they're right, but the point does need to be considered.

Jon Coutts said...

I know this will sound simplistic, but I wonder if the Christian thing to do is to try to figure out how to be a good human creature and a good human neighbour both within a messed up system as well as subversive of that system (by way of a different kind of community life) but with neither as the reason or rationale. In other words, not trying to be revolutionary or alternative or anything. Just trying to discern and obey Christ in this mess, neither oblivious or aloof to the system nor merely one more group trying to change it (as if therein lies our hope).

Tarasview said...

I found your post, the video and the comments fascinating. Much to think about.

The Hansens said...

Great video link...I try to talk about these things with my grade 7 class in Science but sometimes it's a little much for them. It's frustrating to be fed that individuals can make a change when in reality it needs to be the entire society. But society doesn't want to but in, why would they give up the things that make them comfortable. They are distracted by all of the things that are directly causing the ecological problems. There aren't many kids in my class who don't have an Ipod touch and I don't think many would be willing to give it up, even knowing the large carbon footprint it causes. If it doesn't concern them personally then they are not going change!

Check out this site for a great video

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks for that link Dwayne.

This is a crazy crazy time. I don't want to be an alarmist. But at the same time I wonder if we are a frog in a kettle.

I used to just laugh at commercials. But we are now cogs in a giant propaganda machine. Such that I can't even be sure which 'green' propaganda to buy.

I am thinking a lot about the dilemmas Colin raised. Whatever the church is supposed to do, it definitely seems like it ought to be one community that seeks truth on these matters, and aims to live by that truth, whether the lords and powers of our empire see such lifestyle as nonsensical or not.