A Letter from Oni the Wind

My beloved human beings, it is I, the ancient one who was before you were, listen to me for I speak truths. I have observed that some of you are angry with me because you have experienced a disruption to your lives. You have called this disruption a storm, a hurricane. Your notions though, are simply a very limiting stereotypical concept of me, Oni, the Wind. I reach out to you today because I see that you are in pain.

Know that I have not come to destroy you. I love you all. I come to you according to my original instructions. In the beginning we ancient ones worked together to create a place of wonder, beauty, and abundance of life. It is my work to continue in this sacred task.

And so, I move, seeking the waters and moving them toward the shores. I seek the rocks and stones of the mountains, plains, and deserts, too. As I push on these other ancient ones we, together, create what becomes the foundation for, not just dirt – but earth, the living soil that brings forth new life. I look for human beings, birds and all other animals, as well as the plants, too. I seek all of these beings in order to provide them with the life-giving, life-sustaining components that I carry: Water, gaseous elements, and a refreshing cool breeze on a hot day.

However, many of you human beings are not always aware of me. You do not notice me, the one who is always with you, unless you are in distress: Out of breath, too hot, or in the midst of a storm.

Know this truth, too, I do not move or work on my own volition. My movements are directed by our ancient relatives, e.g. the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the waters, and the trees, according to the heat and cooling that they provide. We, therefore, do not exist independent from another, but rather we exist because of one another. However, the human animals have increased their knowledge and while doing so, they have forgotten the truth: My manifestation, whether gentle or fierce, is in accordance to the actions and qualities of all other beings.

Sadly, many of the human animals, in quest of comfort and increased wellbeing, have pursued knowledge and technological development while disregarding the ancient truth. That is, some humans, working with imperfect knowledge while discarding truth, have altered our shared world in ways that are reshaping what you call climate and weather patterns.

Thus, you human beings, with your imperfect knowledge, have dug into our earth, extracting and burning what you have found, and by this have altered the elements in the atmosphere, increasing its temperature. You human beings, with your imperfect knowledge, have cut down our relatives the trees and the cooling forests are now so few. You human beings, with your imperfect knowledge, have attacked our relatives the mountains by removing their tops to use as fuel, altering the movement of our relative the water clouds in the process. You human beings, in your imperfect knowledge, have removed our relatives the trees, and now the protective mangrove forests that buffered the shorelines from strong winds are so few. You human beings, in your imperfect knowledge, if you find me fierce, remember, I am because we are.

My dear human beings, I want you to know that it is true, I am because we are. However, it is also true that you are because I am. So, if you hear it said that some human cultures are faulty in that they personify non-humans, do not believe it. Your personhood exists because I am: Therefore, I, Oni the Wind, personify you. Your personhood exists because water is: Therefore, Water personifies you. Your personhood exists because rocks are: Therefore, Rocks personify you. Human beings are persons because all other beings are, and each being has a right to be. I want you to understand this important truth so I will say it again: In the natural law, each being has a right to be, and this right is the basis of personhood and it belongs to all beings, not just human beings.

Therefore, because I love you, dear human beings, I am asking you to return to your original instructions. Recognize that your knowledge is imperfect. We ancient ones carry the wisdom of the ages and we will share that with you if you stop to listen. Your instructions are simply this: Be thankful. Be thankful for all that surrounds you and act accordingly: Work together in cooperative and reciprocal relationships with all other beings in order to maintain a gentle balance.

I am the one who surrounds you always, the one who breathes life into you, and the one who loves you always,

Oni, the Wind.

~ Nancy Babbitt ~ a “make character” project that extends from Linda Hogan’s book titled “Power: A Novel” for a class I took at SUNY Empire State College in the summer of 2015 titled Mythology and Modern Life that was developed by Dr. Menoukha Case and taught by Dr. Batya Weinbaum.

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Our First Ooooby (Out of Our Own Back Yard) Meal for the Season

Today, we had our first Ooooby meal for the season – Korean Garlic Chive Pancakes.

Even before rhubarb, even before asparagus, garlic chives appear in my garden. Garlic chives, aka: Chinese chives, Oriental garlic, and Chinese leek.  In case you are unfamiliar with garlic chives, you might like to know that they are a plant that is much like regular onion chives.  But, as the name suggests, garlic chives’ flavor is rather garlicky, yet less so than regular fresh garlic. Garlic chives can be used in much the same way as onion chives, as a seasoning or as a garnish. Yet, because garlic chives are larger and more robust plants, they may be used as a vegetable, too.  

Garlic chives pancakes is a simple and inexpensive meal.  There are many variations, but the basics are: an egg, a little salt, a bit of hot pepper, some flour and water to make a thin batter, and a big handful of garlic chives, of course.  Fry the batter in a little oil and serve with dipping sauce. My boys love this meal.

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Garlic Chives Pancakes

Beat:  1 egg.

Stir in:  1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups flour (all purpose wheat flour or rice flour will do).

Add:  1 1/2 cups cold water and mix to a thin batter consistency.

Stir in:  cut garlic chives and cut green and/or red chili and/or julienne carrot for color,  if you wish.

Fry: in a little hot oil until batter is cooked through.

Serve:  with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

Mix together:  2 tablespoons each soy sauce, vinegar (rice wine vinegar is nice), and water.

Stir in a minced fresh garlic clove and some minced chili pepper.

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Garlic chives, allium tuberosum, is a hardy perennial.  That means that once they are planted, they do not need replanting, because they come back on their own each spring. They grow in much the same way as regular onion chives, except that the leaves are flat instead of tubular. Garlic chives will grow in USDA hardiness zones 3-9.  They grow to about 1 to 1 1/2  feet high, and have a fragrant, creamy white flower that attracts pollinators to the garden.

If you wish to grow your own garlic chives, start them by seed or propagate them by bulb. They enjoy well-drained soil and either full sun or partial shade.  They can spread aggressively if allowed to go to seed, so to control spreading, deadhead the flowers after blooming.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Growing Community

I’ve been busy preparing for the gardening season.  Last fall, my family had the old trees in our front yard cut down.  This was done for safety reasons, but also to allow more sunshine into our yard.  We will be planting more and more of our yard, each year, to fruits and vegetables. This year, we added 12 more blueberry bushes, so that now we have a total of 15. We also planted 4 pear trees. We had the branches of our trees chipped and shredded and left in a huge pile in our lawn. I’ll be spreading that over my growing beds this year to act as mulch.

The reason I am mulching, in this way, is because it is very good for the soil and for my plants, too. Mulch helps to smother the weeds, so that there are less of them. It also keeps the moisture from evaporating from the soil, so less watering is necessary. Because the soil then stays soft and moist, when there are weeds, it takes less effort to remove them. Plus, as the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter to the soil, so very crucial for the wellbeing of the microbes, fungi and other critters that are an important component of healthy, living soil. Mulch, therefore, provides a healthy environment, full of nutrients that my plants need, while at the same time, saving me effort in the long run.  Furthermore, I spend less money on and use less resources such as water, and I have no need for pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.  This way of gardening is truly an example of living more-with-less.

Fort Edward Community Garden Sign copy

Image Source:  http://www.fortedwardchamber.org/community.garden/

Yesterday, I joined the Fort Edward Community Garden. The Fort Edward Community Garden was begun last year through the vision and effort of the Village Baptist Church, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and others in the community. Its purpose is to provide a place for community members to come together to grow fresh fruits and vegetables and also to support the Fort Edward Community Food Pantry. The garden is located at the corner of Canal and East Streets. I was glad to have met some really nice folks who are also interested in gardening and growing their own food, and supporting the local community and economy.Fort Edward Canal Street Marketplace copy

Image Source:  http://www.wcldc.org/news/page/2/

I understand that before the summer is over, there is to be a farmer’s market, Fort Edward Canal Street Marketplace, in the village, too. It is planned that there will be market space for vendors both inside and outside of the 200-year-old storage building that sits behind the Fort Edward Town Hall. Plans for renovation, through volunteer effort, are currently under way. In addition to building renovations, the sight is planned to have sidewalks, lighting, and public restrooms. The Fort Edward Canal Street Marketplace is being designed with heating and cooling so that it can be a four-season marketplace, serving the community by offering us local products year round. How exciting!

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Framing Our Perceptions

When I became a mother, how I perceived the whole world changed.  Before that time, I was influenced much as ‘mainstream U.S. culture’ is influenced:  By the media.  I was a typical consumer.  I had notions that what I should do with my life was to work hard to ‘get ahead’ and work hard – play hard.  I lived my life for me, never questioning whom it was that I was trying to get ahead of, or whom it was that I was leaving behind.  Additionally, I did not realize that another way of perceiving my lifestyle was thinking of it as one of over-consumption.  My way of thinking changed as a result of my decision to homeschool my children.

At the time that we decided to be a homeschooling family, my husband, Bill, and I, decided to lighten our work schedules to make time for teaching.  Because of our then limited income, we determined that we would become a little less wasteful, a little more resourceful, and a lot more self-sufficient.  My new reading genres included topics such as thrift, frugality and homesteading.  This lifestyle of teaching our children also led me to my own new learning adventure, including learning a new way of life – a more-with-less lifestyle.

I discovered the more-with-less ideology from a cookbook, The More with Less Cookbook (1976), by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This cookbook contained simple recipes and suggestions on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources.  I also read its companion book, Living More with Less (1980), also by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This book offered its readers a pattern for living with less and a wealth of suggestions for simple, sustainable, sane and healthy living.  These books taught me ‘another way’ to frame my thinking.  They opened my eyes, transformed my worldview, my value systems, and my way of life.  This other way is a way of consuming less of the world’s limited resources while at the same time living life more.  The more-with-less books, by Doris Janzen Longacre are about food, consumption, and social justice.  I’ve come to think of the more-with-less concept as a way of creating a world of greater social justice, or rather different way of thinking about getting our ‘just desserts’.

In retrospect, I can see that the dominant culture’s influence had a major impact on my youth, including my opinions, decisions, and actions.  Yet, at that time, I did not recognize that fact.  I lacked knowledge concerning the social realities of ‘others’, and especially of others in what we, in the western world, now label ‘developing countries’.  I did not have a very good understanding of my own situation of extreme privilege in relation to worldwide realities.  It was not until I had a need to learn another way of living for my own personal wellbeing that I became conscious of how little I knew.  I can see now that my knowledge was especially lacking concerning other ways of thinking related to resource scarcity and how people choose to relate to one another, and how they think of personal wellbeing.

In my youth, during the Reagan years, I bought into the political propaganda of that time.  Many people (including myself) loved him for his trickle-down economic policy, which became known as “Reaganomics”.  Reaganomics, by decreasing tax rates, also increased the wealth of the wealthy and it also increased the consumption ability of the not so wealthy.  This increased ability to consume felt like increased wellbeing to me.  Businesses loved Reagan because he deregulated industry.  This helped to keep prices low, and also created notions of wellbeing that I bought into.  His stand against the U.S.S.R., and all things communist, provided the country with an opposition and therefore also a patriotism to root for.  This felt good to me, too.  While Ronald Reagan was president, it seemed that economy prospered and it felt as though I was prospering, too.  I now know that although the country enjoyed high employment rates, and a rather prosperous few years, Reagan also made a lot of decisions that were detrimental in the long term.  In reality, national debt increased, and this is what allowed for the impression of prosperity.  His actions against the air traffic controllers strike acted to dismantle the power of organized labor.  The deregulation of many industries helped business prosper, but at the cost of the environment. His escalation of the Cold War against the U.S.S.R. helped to increase the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.  His new laws for drug offenses increased incarceration rates and the racial disparities in the prison population, while doing nothing to curb illegal drug use. Today, I now know that we live with greater environmental concerns, greater amounts of national debt, a new industry based on incarceration with its new form of slave labor, and we have an income disparity larger than ever before. It is clear to me today that the negative impacts of the economic policies of this skilled actor (that seemed very good at the time) still plague us today.  I can see by my change in worldview in circumstances of politics and social justice that our modes of thinking and perceiving the world are not fixed, but rather, they are influenced and can and do change over time.

My most current knowledge of world affairs no longer comes exclusively from popular culture news sources.  It now comes primarily from a new education.  The combination of homeschooling my children, and learning about alternative (less-consuming) lifestyles had led me to desire a college education (something that I previously did not have the privilege to pursue) at a rather late stage in my life.  This is how my political opinions have been persuaded, by my new education.  Today, I am very glad for my new greater awareness and understanding of the world and my place within it.  In retrospect, I can see that although my youth was very ‘real’ to me, I truly lived in a sort of fantasy world that was based more so on a white-washed history and that of myths than it was on reality.

I also now have a new understanding of wellbeing.  My priorities have changed.  I no longer attach my self-worth to my socioeconomic status or my ability to gain material possessions or to my ability to consume.  I now think of wellbeing in terms of quality time with my family, and how satisfied I am with my overall life outcome.  I now think of my life in relation to the past and the present and also in relation to the experiences of others on a worldwide scale.  I have found that I have become a much more grateful person, realizing the degree of privilege that I possess.

My new awareness allows me greater choice and opportunity than what I had before.  This is mainly because I now have a more expansive view and therefore understanding.  I am able to see from perspectives inclusive of other’s viewpoints.  I am less likely to think in terms of either/or and right or wrong.  I am also beginning to see the world less objectively and more relationally, instead.  The framing of my thoughts is changing according to the new information I am gaining.

One very important change in my awareness is that I now understand that many of my thinking processes, like everyone else’s, may very well be short of being completely rational. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in Economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), in his conversation with Richard Layard at the London School of Economics (Thinking Fast and Slow, n.d.) explained how the human mind works in non-rational ways.  He referred to the ‘fast and slow’ thinking as system one, and system two.  System one is a fast, automatic, effortless, intuitive thought process, but it has a weakness in that its intuitive nature is prone to errors.  System two monitors and controls behaviors.  It is slower, more laborious and a more accurate process; yet it is prone to “paralysis by analysis”.  What this means is that our brains “produce mistakes” when they do not have skilled knowledge for the questions they must respond to.  In these types of circumstances, they use the information they do have (including unskilled intuitions and strong emotions) to make a “consistent story” that may be very convincing and compelling, yet prone to error.  The subconscious thinking of system one does a great majority of the brain’s work, and it does it very efficiently, but sometimes at the cost of rationality.

Marketers are aware of this shortcoming in people’s ability to rationalize, and this is why they appeal to people’s emotions rather than rationality when selling products and services to make a profit.  This leads to the reason that a psychology professor was a recipient of a Nobel Prize for economics.  Kahneman questioned standard economic theory that assumes people have consistent and stable preferences and use them to make rational decisions.  Against popular belief, Kahneman proved that people do not always respond to situations rationally.

This new understanding of people’s thinking errors carries implications for the importance of public policy and government regulations.  If people are rational then there is no need to protect them from their own mistakes, but if people are not always rational thinkers, and they are prone to making highly predictable mistakes, then perhaps a degree of policy and regulation is warranted as a means of protection against predators.

Public policy and government regulation are important safeguards against predation by unscrupulous business practices, and so is education.  Kahneman stated that his main reason for writing the book Thinking, Slow and Fast was to “educate gossip” by introducing more sophisticated concepts concerning how people make decisions.  He said that giving people this knowledge along with a terminology and a language to use, would help them in finding and correcting their own thinking errors, in addition to thinking errors of others.  The purpose of his book was to bring awareness of our individual and collective cognitive biases, so that we may protect ourselves against them.

This is, in a way, what the more-with-less books did for me, because they corrected my thinking biases.  I had grown up in a very individualistic culture, and one that is based on economic principles established on a need to compete for limited resources.  The more-with-less books taught me that there are other ways of thinking about resources and economy.  For example, instead of competing for resources, I learned that we could conserve resources.  Likewise, instead of competing with one another, we could work together cooperatively and in collaboration with one anther.  This new way of life, one that I am still attempting to develop, is credited to Doris Janzen Longacre, because she gave me a new language to use, and a new way to frame my thoughts.  Likewise, my education is continuing the process by introducing more sophisticated concepts, terminology, and language such that where my mental processes may fall short, I can be aware of the tendency so that I may safeguard myself, and perhaps others also, against them.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Proud to be an American?

I did a small ‘ethnoraphic study’, and spoke with a young lady who I assumed to be an African-American.  When she questioned me about racial discrimination in the southern states, I suggested that perhaps she might know better than I.  This is when she explained to me that she was from one of the Caribbean islands and came to this country when she was very young. I apologized and told her that it was very wrong of me to have made an assumption based solely on her skin color.

It is interesting to consider that how we think about race in ‘America’ is unique.  We, many times, use a hyphenated distinction to clarify an ancestral heritage.  For example, we might distinguish some ‘Americans’ as African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and even Native-Americans.  Yet, we rarely do so for those with a European heritage.  We should ask ourselves why this may be.  We might even ask ourselves what we mean when we use the term ‘American’.

I would suggest that using the term ‘American’ to describe U.S. Americans is quite ethnocentric, for sure.  There are two entire continents that are named America, in which there are many, many countires.  When ‘we’ refer to the U.S.A. as ‘America’ it is not acknowledging that there are other Americans who are, in fact, not U.S. citizens.

I think that it is good for me to identify myself as a U.S. American of European descent.  This is not unlike my recent and intentional use of my white-skin racial classification.  If I intentionally acknowledge my dual privileges as a U.S. American of European descent and my white-skin privilege, then I am more likely to be acknowledging others’ disadvantage.  Then I might be more likely to work to change the unjust system of power and privilege.  Attempting to be ‘colorblind’ does not acknowledge others uniqueness or their possible disadvantage.

I think it very important to acknowledge my extreme privilege because then I find myself acting with much more generosity toward others who do not enjoy the same privilege.  I have found the need to take this position because I have learned of the difficult life of Bolivian coffee growers, the Mexican migrant farm workers, and the Mexican women working in the maquiladoras just south of the U.S./Mexico border, for example.

Coffee growers, for the most part, live a very impoverished life – even as they grow one of the world’s most profitable commodities – and even as many of us are willing to sip Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks at $2.00 per cup while the growers, many times, do not even earn enough to cover the costs of growing.

Mexican migrant farm workers (including children) are oftentimes used for the harvest of the foods we eat (affecting their education that contributes to a cycle of poverty for these families).  The harvest of tomatoes (here in the U.S.A.) is one very good example of the use of child labor in agriculture.  The film, The Harvest, documents the unacceptable condition of child-workers that live this life.

The stories of the young women, who are exploited as they work in U.S.A. owned ‘American’ factories just south of the U.S./Mexican border (maquiladoras), are documented in the anthology, Ethnography at the Border, by Pablo Vila.  These stories have given new meaning to the description, ‘American Made’, for me.

Acknowledgment of my own extreme privilege in relation to these American neighbors of mine prompts me to now be aware of how my shopping decisions affect them personally and this encourages me to make changes in my actions to either better their situation, or else minimally, to not contribute further to the hardships they already endure.

For example, I now purchase my coffee from Equal Exchange, a cooperative of growers and distributors that was created so that coffee growers could avoid the use of ‘coyotes’ (middlemen) in the marketing of their product, and thereby realize a greater profit for the growers.  I now grow a larger and larger garden of my own each year so that I am not relying so much on the exploitation of child-labor for my food needs.  Additionally, I now make an attempt to know about the working conditions of those that produce the goods and services that I consume such as is the case in the maquiladoras.  This way, I can support the businesses that I believe offer working conditions that are less exploitative and offer greater equity of profit for their workers.

When we, U.S. Americans, do not acknowledge that there are, in fact, very real differences in the life circumstances between us and our less-privileged American neighbors, we are much less likely to see our own position of domination in this hierarchical system of oppression.

If any of us drink coffee or tea, or consume chocolate that is not ‘fairly traded’ or if we eat foods that we did not grow ourselves, or used goods that are produced overseas in ‘developing nations’, there is a very real possibility that we are, through our purchasing decisions, oppressing and exploiting others.  We all play a part in a hierarchical system of domination, but for the most part, are completely unaware of this fact.  In the very same way that many white-skinned folks are ignorant to their position of racial privilege, so are most U.S. citizens ignorant to their position of extreme privilege in world wide affairs.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Film Review – Mardi Gras: Made in China

http://carnivalesquefilms.com/films/mardigras/

Mardi Gras:  Made in China:

A Socio Economic View:  Globalized Positions of Privilege and Disadvantage

Economics and state authority work in an interconnected fashion to shape public policy in ways that have encouraged an ever-increasing expansion of capitalism and an increased rate of globalization.  This has resulted in growing disparities of wealth amongst both people and nations, creating privilege for some folks while simultaneously producing situations of disadvantage for others.  This essay explores this phenomenon as it was documented in the film, Mardi Gras:  Made in China (Redmon, 2005), demonstrating the disparities amongst the players along the commodity chain that existed between the partygoers in New Orleans and the laborers in China who produced the beaded necklaces for their Mardi Gras celebration.

The film began with the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans where folks gathered to party, drink alcohol, and engage in exhibitionism in exchange for brightly colored plastic bead necklaces.  Some folks spent up to five hundred dollars on the purchase of plastic bead necklaces.  The film then took the viewers overseas to Fuzhou, Fujian province, China, to where the beads were produced.  Fuzhou became a free trade area allowing for the establishment of capitalist industry in 2010.

In contrast to the consumer excess of the U.S. partygoers, the Chinese workers received very little enjoyment from the beads.  In Fuzhou, workers labored long days at the Tai Kuen bead factory to make the Mardi Gras bead necklaces for approximately ten cents an hour.  Most of their earnings were sent home to their families.  These workers lived in cramped factory-provided housing.  They generally received only one day off from their fourteen-plus hour workdays, once every two weeks, with the exception of the two-week Chinese New Year celebration, a time when all employees, including the factory owner, returned home to be with their families.  A situation of privilege on one side of the supply chain translated to relative situations of disadvantage on the other end.

This is perhaps, because working conditions in China are regulated less than they are in the U.S.  In Roger’s factory, production quotas were listed on blackboards on the factory walls. Workers’ official day off was Sunday, but they were often assigned to work Sundays in order to meet production goals.  Roger repeatedly stressed that punishment was very important for keeping the workers focused on their tasks.  Failure to meet production quotas, for example, resulted in a ten percent pay cut.  Attempting to organize labor could result in punishment, too.  These were only two of many rules for which penalties were charged to workers if they were not adhered to.  The working conditions shown in the film are not unusual for factory work in China.  The Chinese government reinforced these conditions by arresting leaders of organized labor on the grounds of inciting social unrest.

Age and gender also played a role in the oppression of Chinese labor, as it was illustrated in the film.  Roger, the factory owner, explained that he employed mainly women, aged between fourteen and nineteen years old, because they were easier to control than the men.  He employed men only for jobs that required heavy lifting.  Not surprisingly then, the workers that Roger found to be most accepting to oppressive working conditions were primarily teenaged young women. 

Near the end of the film, photos of the Mardi Gras celebrations were shared with the Chinese workers, and likewise, films of the Chinese workers were shared with the U.S. partygoers. Players on each side of the supply chain were surprised by what they learned about the other.

The factory workers were shocked that the necklaces, which they considered ugly and not worth owning, were purchased by the partygoers for more than a thousand times what they were paid to produce them.  They were even more shocked at the notion that a woman would disrobe to obtain them.  In contrast, Roger took much pride in hearing about the celebrations, knowing how much Americans loved his beads. Although the Chinese workers obviously felt exploited, they did not want consumers to stop purchasing the beads they produced, because they appreciated the work it provided to them.  The workers only request was for the end of punishment in the form of withheld wages.  The producers of the beads realized the degree to which the system allows for their exploitation and asked for change.

The U.S. partygoers had mixed reactions to the images of the bead makers.  Some were clearly uncomfortable with their new awareness of the social inequality.  One woman said that this knowledge ruined the fun and made her want to take her beads off.  Others denied and resisted the implications of exploitation.  A young man said that in China, ten cents an hour was a lot of money, maybe even more than most people in their country had the opportunity to earn.  A woman said that when she found something that gave her joy, she didn’t question it.  It seemed that a few partygoers were unsettled by the knowledge of their part in an oppressive exploitation of others, but most partygoers preferred to deny that reality. Situations of privilege can be blinding such that it blocks opportunity for social change.

Don, the U.S. importer, was not disturbed by the work conditions in China.  He simply acknowledged that there were cultural and economic differences between the two nations, yet doing business with the Chinese did indeed provide economic benefit to everyone along the commodity chain.  He explained that U.S. workers could not create the beads at a price which consumers are willing to pay, and that Chinese people needed the work and income that the bead manufacture provided.  Don’s viewpoint seems harsh, but it did describe one perspective of reality.

Cultural positions of privilege and disadvantage are clearly evident in the circumstances of the festival celebrations between the two countries.  In the U.S., folks left their home to celebrate Mardi Gras by means of excess consumption and reckless abandonment of propriety and social norms.  In China, folks left work to go home and celebrate the Chinese New Year in a conservative manner with their families.  This was true even for the rich factory owner, who did not realize the same degree of leisure as presumably working class folks in the U.S do. Value is subjective and dependent upon cultural perspective.  Economic privilege in the U.S. resulted in different cultural and social values than did the relative economic disadvantage present in China. In China, a relative economic disadvantage resulted in the valuing of family relations; while in contrast, the U.S. situation of relative economic advantage resulted in the valuing of consumption and the abandonment of social norms.

State authority, through the establishment of regulations such as those concerning labor also contributed to positions of privilege and disadvantage.  In the U.S., labor was highly regulated, and this allowed workers higher wages and more leisure time in comparison to Chinese laborers, whose working conditions were regulated less.  Labor regulation resulted in the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S., while at the same time, lack of labor regulation resulted in an increased interest, by manufacturers, in the labor market in China.  Because of less labor regulation, China offered manufactured goods at much less cost than what the U.S was able to provide.  This relationship demonstrates that when benefits for workers increase, benefits to owners decrease, thus encouraging owners to seek more competitive labor, creating new economic opportunities elsewhere.

In this way, state authority can simultaneously create both advantages and disadvantages, for both producers and consumers.  In a globalized capitalistic economic system, the reality of competition for labor may result in a loss of manufacturing jobs in a nation that comparatively pays their workers more in salary and benefits than competitive nations. Additionally, when benefits to workers are less, products can be produced for less and sold for less, offering an economic benefit to consumers. Advantage or disadvantage is dependant on one’s situation and perspective.

Many levels of economic positions of privilege and disadvantage were evident in the film. Gendered positions of privilege and disadvantage were evident in the Chinese labor market. Because young women were the preferred labor in Roger’s factory, young women realized a greater opportunity to find employment than men.  Yet, the greater opportunity carried with it a gendered expectation of feminine submission to men of authority.  Although women had the privilege of a much larger percentage of jobs, they realized a disadvantage because they were controlled and exploited for cheap labor.

Exploitation existed as hierarchies all though the commodity chain.  Fathers exploited their daughters by sending them to work so that they could send money home to benefit the family.  The factory owner exploited the workers to maximize his profit.  The U.S. distributor exploited the free trade arrangement between the U.S. and China to maximize his profit.  The U.S. consumers exploited the entire system, although generally unknowingly, because they were able to enjoy the consumption of cheap goods made possible only though a system that would keep hidden the true cost of cheap goods.  Although there was exploitation at many levels, each level realized a benefit to some degree within a hierarchal system of power and privilege.

These hierarchies of power and privilege can be explained by economic theories.  For centuries, economic theorists have attempted to explain how the capitalistic economic system is either beneficial to society or how it is harmful to society.

Economic theories that Scottish philosopher, Adam Smith (1723-1790), developed in the eighteenth century are playing out today in the example of global trade between the U.S. and China.  Smith favored capitalism and he theorized that a division of labor would produce innovation resulting in the trade of goods in the proportions that a society desired and at a price that it was willing to pay.  The film demonstrated that there are workers who are willing to produce for very little profit to themselves in order to meet an economy’s demands.  Smith also argued that money was necessary for the facilitation of trade and social relations among people and this has clearly taken place.  Yet Smith also theorized that individuals pursuing self-interests in an environment of others acting similarly yet following contracts and laws could compete without strife.  This could be true, but in the film, it was demonstrated that the situation in the bead factory was one where the workers felt that they were exploited and attempted to organize labor to prevent punishment and the withholding of wages.  Some of Smith’s theories have held true, while others have not.

German philosopher, historian, sociologist, and economist, Karl Marx (1818-1883), believed that capitalism alienated people from the products they produced, the process of production, other people, and also one’s own self.  He theorized that specialized labor would result in loss of knowledge of the process of production, and loss of control of one’s own time as profit maximization monetized a wage labor system.  He further surmised that wage labor would translate to valuing or devaluing persons according to production capabilities.

Marx’s broad view influenced his theories on alienation that have played themselves out in this example of globalized trade. In the situation described in the film, social alienation was realized in many ways.  Factory workers were alienated from their families and they were not in control of how they spent their own time.  They lived most of their lives at the factories and they lived for dreams, if not for themselves, then maybe for their family’s wellbeing.  One factory worker said of her devalued worth, that her work and salary go to her brother’s education that all her dreams were for her brother now.  Also, the bead producers were alienated from their products.  They stated that they had absolutely no interest in the beads that they produce.  The bead producers were also alienated from the consumers of what they produced.  They had no idea how the beads were used.  Consumers were alienated from the knowledge about the life circumstances of the producers of the goods they consumed.  Additionally, Roger recognized the possibility of alienation in that if Don, the U.S. distributor, retired there was a possibility that the next CEO might not reciprocate Roger’s loyalty, but might instead favor capitalistic competition.  The capitalistic system simultaneously creates and dismantles social relationships in ways that affect the worker producers, the management, the distributors, the retailers, and the consumers each differently.  Marx’s theories on alienation, loss of control of one’s time, and the devaluation of human life have all been demonstrated in this film.

Although many dimensions of alienation were demonstrated in the film, it was also clear that new relationships were also created in the global capitalistic economic environment.  There were obvious relationships such as those between national industrialists.  Roger discussed his loyalty to Don, the U.S. distributor, who bought and resold the beads to retailers such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart.  There were also less obvious relationships such as those between the young factory workers who left their homes to live in the controlled and intimate living environment of Chinese style factory work.  Even as some relationships were torn down, as Marx predicted, others were simultaneously built up.

German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist, Max Weber (1864-1920), shared Marx’s negative point of view concerning the capitalistic economic system.  He theorized that both technology and ideas generated social change.  Yet Weber did not think in terms of alienation, but instead he considered modern industry and its associated bureaucracy and rationality as creating an ‘iron cage’.   Weber’s theory concerning these ideas was demonstrated by the new ideas that allowed for capitalist expansion in China resulting in new economic opportunities for industry and the people who lived there.  The iron cage Weber theorized about consisted of a bureaucracy of rules and regulations and hierarchies of power that trap people into situations that they do not control.  This theory can be demonstrated with Roger’s management style.  He knows that he must be competitive or else risk losing his business to competitors, and the competition could be located anywhere in the world.  His response to this situation was to govern his factory in almost a militaristic style, even including the control of workers personal time and relationships, and meeting out punishment for misbehavior.  In the example provided by the film, it was clear that new social relationships did form, even if they arose within an iron cage of a globalized hierarchal order of privilege and disadvantage in the environment of a globalized economy.

Another German philosopher, sociologist and economic theorist, Georg Simmel (1858-1918), also favored capitalism, as did Smith, but he believed that the use of money depersonalized social relations.  He saw labor as stepped, ranging from piecework to wage labor to salary and even honorarium, and where each relationship had a different degree of de-personalization.  It was his belief that depersonalization would provide benefit by eliminating the distrust in competitive social relations by allowing the maintenance of separate economic and private arenas in people’s lives.  This could be true in some circumstances, but it is clear that the competition between labor and management was not relieved by the payment of wages, in the situation in the bead factory.  The desire for the owner to reach predetermined goals encouraged him to use a punishment of withholding wages, resulting in strife between labor and management.  Simmel’s theory concerning the benefits derived from the depersonalization of labor has not proven true in this example of a globalized economy.

Although economic theorists sometimes attempt to classify the capitalistic economic system as either beneficial or harmful to society, in reality, as demonstrated above, capitalism is neither strictly beneficial nor strictly harmful, but rather its qualities are situational and relational.  Economies operate within relationships of give and take.  Sometimes players in this relationship gain a greater advantage than others.  Over time, relationships evolve and change resulting in new relationships of advantage and disadvantage.

Mardi Gras: Made in China illustrates capitalism’s hierarchic system of privilege and disadvantage.  It exposes exploitation based on the classes embedded within hierarchies of class, gender and nationality.  Capitalism is a hierarchical economic system that is based in the belief of a need to compete for limited resources.  This system of competition works to provide privilege and advantage to some groups of people while it simultaneously creates situations of disadvantage for others.  In a globalized capitalistic economy, such as what we know today, the desires of consumers in one part of the world can unintentionally influence the life circumstances of producers living in other parts of the world.

References:

Redmon, D. (Ed.). (2005). Mardi Gras: Made in China. Carnivalesque Films.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fashion Choice

The clothing one wears can be a status symbol.

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It is a way for us to communicate to the world who we are and who we wish to be.

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It can even determine whether or not one may fit into certain social groups.

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We have so many choices when deciding how we wish to represent ourselves through our clothing styles.  Yet many others do not have this opportunity because poverty prevents them from doing so.

I have come to think of ‘fashion’ as a means for capitalistic exploitation of others.  Much of the clothing that we consume is produced by cheap overseas labor, where mainly women and girls endure horrific conditions to produce our ‘fashions’.  We’ve all heard the news about the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh where over a thousand workers died, right?  I hope so.  Here is a blog post that speaks of this tragedy with an interesting view concerning clothing choices, and it also speaks of alternative ways in which some of us may choose to identify – a different sort of ‘status’, I suppose.  This status can be thought of as living intentionally through informed decisions.

Here is an online yes! magazine article that gives a slightly different view of clothing choice. This article explains how the exportation of cheap grain affects world markets & the living conditions of people in other countries, while at the same time it (conviently for us) produces cheap overseas garment factory labor so that we may purchase inexpensive fashion clothing.  U.S. grain, (cheap on the world market because of our unsustainalbe farming methods & tax dollar funded government farming subsidies) is flooded into the world market, displacing farmers in other countires who flee to cities where they find that they have little choice but to be exploited as cheap factory labor.

Our tax dollars create poverty situations in other nations so that we may then benefit from cheap overseas labor to produce inexpensive goods for our pleasure and consumption.  In this economic ‘relationship’ we, the citizens of the U.S., maintain a position of power and privilege over others.

These articles speak of a certain aspect of social stratification – that of inequality between nations – and how some nations (such as ours) maintain an oppressive force of economic power over people in other nations – a power that allows us the privege of fashion choice at the expense of others’ ability to simply meet their basic needs.

We, in the U.S. have the privilege of choice.  With that privilege, I am ever more increasingly choosing to make consumer choices by living intentionally through informed decisions.

“We but mirror the world.  All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.  This is the divine mystery supreme.  A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Guerilla Gardening


http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la.html

Ron Finley describes himself as an artist.  His canvas is unused city-owned land and his paints are fruit and vegetable plants.   Inspiration for his work came from looking closely at his ‘own backyard’ and realizing that the problem and the solution are one and the same: food.  What he saw was a food desert where the only food available was fast food, and he also saw the declining health of the South Central Los Angles population, and a city that has almost 26 square miles of city-owned vacant land, enough space to grow approximately three-quarters of a million tomato plants!.  Finley’s solution for his neighborhood’s problems is to engage in guerrilla gardening and to grow healthy and accessible food in what he names a ‘food forest’.

Guerrilla gardening is growing food on unused land that is often an abandoned site or other area not being maintained.  Guerrilla gardening is a form of political activism – nonviolent direct action or constructive program – and it is intended to create positive social change – specifically, the dismantling of the domination system in our food system. Where gardens such as Finley’s food forest spring up, amazing things begin to happen. Community gardens work to reduce the impact of poor nutrition by improving access to healthy food.  Yet they empower us to do so much more than simply that:

  • They can improve our health through exercise, fresh air and sunshine in addition to providing us with fresh and nutritious locally grown food.
  • They build community through the formation of community garden clubs.
  • They act as education centers that teach about gardening and the environment, plus exercise, healthy food choices, how to work together in community, and how to bring about positive social change.
  • They provide us with a new hobby to enjoy, and one that pays benefits instead of costing money.
  • They improve our environments and help us to save limited natural resources.
  • They provide for more nutritious meals while spending less money so that we may reach out and help others too.

Guerrilla Gardening is a fine example of living more-with-less.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Domination System in Our Food System

http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2013-FarmBill_Process.jpg

“What does the Farm Bill mean for me?”

The extension of the current (2008) federal Farm Bill expires at the end of September.  If a new bill (or an extension of the current bill) is not passed, federal price supports to farmers will revert to those of the 1949 permanent bill.  Some farmers, such as those involved in wheat or dairy production for example, would profit from the 1949 supports.  Yet farmers who produce commodities that were added after the 1949 legislation, such as soybeans would lose support.  This uncertainty makes it difficult for major food producers to plan for the future and to run profitable businesses.

 “I’m not a farmer, so why should I care?”

The Farm bill does not consist of only commodity support programs though. A larger portion of federal funding is dedicated to nutrition and food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), which was formerly known as food stamps.  The Democrat-controlled Senate passed its version of a Farm Bill that included nutrition and food support programs in addition to commodity support programs.  The Republican-controlled House passed only commodity support programs and not the nutrition support programs.  Both programs have always been supported by both major parties until this year.  This is the first time in history that support programs designed to assist those needing food have been split from support programs designed to assist producers achieve security and profit in unstable production and market conditions.  During a time period of increased unemployment and increased underemployment, the House is proposing to cut $10 billion from the SNAP program over the next ten years.  This has caused the entire Farm Bill to be stalled.  This puts our nation’s food producers at risk while bipartisan politics try to reach an agreement.

The Farm Bill Also Affects Animal Rights

Additionally, according to Live Science’s August 9th Op-Ed, the Farm Bill Tramples States Rights to Protect Animals Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, states that,

“As members of Congress left Washington and returned to their districts for the August recess, opposition to the farm bill amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), began to swell. The King amendment is a sort of legislative kudzu, so invasive and dangerous it could crowd out hundreds of state and local laws setting appropriate standards for agriculture.”  and  “For the animal welfare movement, to put a fine point on its impact, King’s measure could easily repeal all the state laws against shark finning, puppy mills, extreme confinement of farm animals and the slaughter and sale of meat from horses, dogs and cats.”

How Our Tax Dollars Support the Degrading Quality of Our Food

If you would like a deeper understanding of how federal supports affect what farmers produce and how they produce it, please view the 2007 documentary, King Corn.


“King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In the film, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.” (kingcorn.net)

Our food system has become a Domination System.

The system no longer works for our wellbeing, but instead we are dominated by the system’s need to create ever increasing yields and profit at the cost of our wellbeing, the wellbeing of our farmers, and of the crops and livestock they produce.  The domination system under which we all live is described by theologian Walter Wink in the Powers that Be.  I do recommend reading it.

We can choose to create another way to feed ourselves while also supporting our farmers and caring for animal wellbeing and the wellbeing of our environment.

. . .

We can grow a garden for ourselves with what space we have.

We can also support small local farmers.

http://www.localharvest.org

PickYourOwn.org

http://www.pickyourown.org

Before we can dismantle the current systems that dominate us, we must first create suitable structures and systems with which to replace them.

This is Gandhian Economics – Constructive Program

This is Jesus’ Third Way – Nonviolent Social Change

This is Restorative Practices – Creating Systems to Meet People’s Unmet Needs

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.