Breaking the Trance: Can Living Simply Become the New Normal?
by Chuck Lynd
If you are reading Simply News, chances are you have begun to change your lifestyle. You are mindful of the food you eat and where it came from. You recycle as best you can. You replaced your light bulbs with LEDs. You conserve energy. Maybe you drive a Prius or an EV.
All good, but you also know that serious policy changes are badly needed in our communities and in every level of government to speed up the bottom-up changes we make as individuals. If we don’t succeed in changing “business as usual” then carbon dioxide pollution is going to change it for us, and not in a good way.
Many people are just trying to get by in our booming Low Wage economy. Let’s give them a pass. Those of us in the top 20 percent of middle and upper income earners, both here and in the expanding global economy, are most responsible for the excess CO2 that is creating the impending climate crisis. Scientists have explained the problem time and again but we as individuals and the institutions we have created are not taking action anywhere near fast enough to avoid catastrophe.
It’s as if we are living in a collective trance, unable to free ourselves from the clutches of this Frankenstein monster of our own creation. The global consumer culture has been so successful that almost everyone has been hypnotized by systems that have delivered exactly what was promised: a materialistic paradise of easy, convenient access to food, clothing, furnishings, and credit for everyone who can afford to participate.
The Simply Living community can offer clues that may explain why more people are not responding to urgent calls to address the climate crisis.
First, like our counterparts in the Minimalist and Voluntary Simplicity movements, we have always made the connection between our ecological lifestyle changes and the consumer culture. Much of that understanding comes from seeing that the marketing and advertising industries, along with the wasteful policies of planned obsolescence, have put our natural human desire for material comfort on steroids. The middle class lifestyle has become excessive – bigger houses, bigger lawns, bigger vehicles, fast fashion, fast food, and fast, easy credit.
We’re hooked. Yes, addicted. We have even invented a word for this contagious new disease: Affluenza. Look it up. Statisticians must work overtime to calculate the exorbitant number of times we are “touched” by commercial messages every hour of every day of our lives. Each ad is carefully constructed to entice us to try or buy a brand, effectively infecting our mental environment with what amounts to psychological propaganda.
Similarly, the success of multinational corporations in extracting, producing, marketing, and distributing products that magically appear on supermarket and Big Box shelves has hypnotized CEOs and the investment banks that fund their relentless expansion. The fact that their achievements are dependent upon the very fossil fuels that threaten the planet is largely ignored. It’s a rare publicly traded company that is not driven by quarterly numbers that must satisfy shareholders.
How might we break the trance of both individuals and institutions that have fallen under the spell of the global consumer economy? There are hopeful signs.
First, a small but growing number of political leaders are calling for real “systems change”– a tax on carbon emissions, some form of Green New Deal, legislation to get money out of politics, health care as a human right, free college education for all, and even a “homes guarantee.” These proposals are meeting stiff resistance from corporate institutions and investors who benefit from the status quo. It’s no secret that our political leaders have been “captured” by corporate lobbyists to ensure government inaction and thus continue corporate control of the economy. [Even former president Jimmy Carter now describes our struggling democracy as an oligarchy, governed by the interests of billionaires and the corporate elite.]
Second, many of us in our small Simply Living community support these new policies. We are actively changing our lifestyles to “walk the talk” and live our vision to “create a compassionate and sustainable world through personal, community, and cultural transformation.” Further, we support the revitalization of local economies based upon ecological principles that can minimize CO2 pollution and rising income inequality caused by the global economy. A commitment to protect our “ecosystem services” and include all members of society will support the goals of both social and environmental justice. A fair distribution of our collective wealth must ensure that everyone is able to live, work, and play in sustainable communities.
These are positive trends but only a small percentage (2-3%?) of political and business leaders are challenging the status quo to change course. Similarly, only a fraction of ordinary citizens are actively transitioning to sustainable lifestyles. Again, perhaps only 2-3%.
Experts who study how change happens in society estimate that when only 10-15% of a population is committed to leading a change then a “tipping point” is reached, after which the majority supports the change. This process leads to a paradigm shift: i.e., a structural change and realignment of societal priorities.
This framework offers a rough direction and goal to push these trends with strategies designed to break the trance-like momentum of business as usual, and break our individual trance-like addiction to affluenza.
Further, polls show that the majority of Americans actually support game-changing legislative proposals like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics, and many others.
Ordinary citizens are beginning to elect representatives who respond to their interests, and reject funding from corporate lobbyists and dark money PACs.
Greta Thunberg’s challenge to our leaders has inspired young people to create the Sunrise movement and demand a Green New Deal.
Localization trends like the local foods movement, buy local campaigns, and support for entrepreneurs offers alternatives to the corporate driven, commodity based global economy.
How soon we reach the tipping points is now in our hands, and in our votes, and in our passion and creativity to transition to a culture rooted in ecological values.