Ending the Disposable: Part One

Discarded fishing nets and gear – 2019

I’ll start blog today this with a question:

How do we stop using the single use disposable items in our lives?

I ask this not as a way to shame or to point out the glut of plastics in the oceans. We have way too much guilt and blame circulating around everything today. Through the intense echo chamber of social media we are entrained to respond to it in an emotional Pavlovian response. In my mind this is not helpful. It continues a cycle of self depreciation and at it’s worst a kind of self hating because one thinks/feels they are not doing enough.

My intention with the question is to explore a conversation towards sustainable actions. There will most likely be other blog posts that explore more specifics. For today I would like to write about what I think are the roots of this mind set in a disposable society. I’m taking a Western European view on this because that is my background. I am fully aware this is not the case all over the world and with different cultures. I can say the diaspora of this mind set and economic growth has influenced and infiltrated the most remote areas of the globe with dire consequences. Everyone is now affect in some way by the global epidemic.

Recycled paper bales

Where to begin…. There was a shift in societies when the industrial revolution happened which was around 1760 in Britain. Prior to that shift almost everything was made by someone by hand. Artisans, trades and craftspeople were the predominate design and manufacturing force that drove and grew the economy of most major cities. This was also a time where people made things at home. Weaving, sewing, wood carving, blacksmithing, pottery…. etc were considered desirable skills that contributed to the health and sustainability of a town or city. People took pride in the making of a good quality product. It was backed by your name and your reputation. There was also the provenance of a lineage… where something came from. It held a connection to a person, place or story. Things were not just things they were part of a social/cultural network of people and the world they lived in.

I also want to say people worked really hard just to survive during this time. Life was lived very close to the edge. Sanitation, disease, nutrition, etc…. were still in a place of mystery. People died young. Children didn’t survive. People feared God and who ever owned their land, taxes, failed crops. Hard work made you worthy of life and could get you a place in heaven.

How a society processes life and death says a lot about how they engage with the world around them. A society that recognizes the fragility of life will create methods and ways to sustain a future for those who live beyond them. This can look like passing on skills, a craft, how to plant trees and prune them, tools that have been part of a multi generation of a particular trade etc…. They saw the fruits of their labor, the gift of life itself asan enduring legacy. Carrying the memories of a person or family. What was created became the story that lived on in time.

The Industrial revolution is recognized by significant changes in economic structures, import/export, and the concept of mass manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, machines, mechanized factories.  This centralized the labor force, created wages and depersonalization of the products being made. This change in how things are made began a systemic decline over the next three hundred years of the environment, society, and the quality of products made.

There is obvious stresses to the environment. Manufacturing requires materials like steel, cotton, petroleum…. etc….which creates growth in other markets and this in turn sacrifices the land, soil, and the environment for production.

The industrial revolution pushed the environment and humanity to the outer edge of value in society and made money and consumption the center of social growth. There were times during this 300 year time line where things shifted and workers got rights, fair wages, 40 hour work week…. eventual environmental protections… Protected lands. This has always been a fragile balance that is easily tipped over when the mechanism of Capitalism flexes it’s muscle. We are seeing that today. Again.

This is where the seeds of our disposable society began. It has been a calculated and deliberate method of conditionsing to get a social structure in place to sustain an elite economic class at the expense of people, society and the environment. This was the long term game of this marketing effort to get people to consume and distract them from casualties of these behaviors, feel good about purchasing, and alluding to abundance. This is Capitalism. To be able to buy something became a status symbol. It showed you were successful.

Another thing to take note of is the change in the focus of spiritual,secular and religious holidays. They have gone from a celebration of family, the land, service, good health, honoring brave and amazing people, etc…. to gross celebrations of consumption. Every holiday is a sale. Most of it is cheap throw away plastic. This exemplifies how as a society we have been corralled into a system that forces out meaning and replaces it with disposable consumption. It really is no different than telling people they can not practice their faith or beliefs. The church did it to indigenous people for a couple thousand years. Capitalism does it to whoever it needs to manipulate to get it needs met.

Today we are part of a system that divides us and keeps us separate on many levels. Our expected task is to move forward. Leave the past and move ahead. Don’t grieve. Don’t question. Don’t feel. Don’t think. Capitalism has narrowed the road and made it so stepping off the path or stopping is a recipe for catastrophic failure. So people do…. work… participate in psuedo social experiences that are geared to spike our dopamine levels and keep us sedated. We recognize the emptiness and yet feel powerless…. distracted…. overwhelmed.

The system of Capitalism that grew out of the industrial revolution is only sustainable through the power of purchasing more goods. This feeds the beast. This encourages cheaper products that are made not to last. It also created a system of unfixable products. Products that were used once thrown away and purchased again… and again.

The other part of this Capitalist system is to demonize the arts and dumb down the society. It also has little to no room for the individual unless they are contributing to the Capitalist model. As the world has embraced these mioptic views of success and economic growth it has driven down wages, set unrealistic social expectations and that in turn forces people to purchase cheaper and cheaper goods that further the destruction of each other and the world.

The industrial revolution and Capitalism have brought us here. We live in a systemically dysfunctional economy that promotes and encourages a disposable lifestyle and the consequences are what we are seeing today. How this will change is going to take a great effort from all sectors of the economy and the social hierarchies that we have created.

In the next part of this serious I will explore some ideas around making changes, what is possible, what realistic. Evolutionary changes happen cooperative unity and adaptations. Our progress has changed the world somethings will be changeable and other we will have figure out how to live with.

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