03 Jul 9.3 Call to Action
It would be amazing if we all awakened and the whole world suddenly became enlightened. But that is a truly utopian and perhaps, impractical vision in the near term, especially since we have spent so much energy over the years, as a society, promoting reverse metamorphosis in our children’s upbringing. In his Stanford lecture, Prof. Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia said that a more practical approach is to constrain the “horse” into a path that it should be taking. That is, if we habituate and constrain ourselves into the actions of a Butterfly, then even the bucking horse may not be so dangerous to the child and to the world.
In the traditional sense, effective activism requires us to physically get out and impede the Caterpillar culture. Humans all over the world have amassed $195 Trillion dollars in wealth with two-thirds of it in the affluent, Western countries. It would be disastrous for Life, in general, to allow all that wealth to be deployed towards the advancement of the pyramid scheme that is the Caterpillar culture. But impeding the Caterpillar culture is really about playing jiujitsu with it, by turning its strengths into its weaknesses, and utilizing the resources that it provides to advance the cause of the Butterfly.
Acts of grassroots rebellion such as the Tar Sands Action or the Occupy Together action are useful to foster a sense of camaraderie among the disaffected and to persuade the political class to pay attention to their public responsibilities. The Tar Sands Action is a protest to prevent the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that would transport the bituminous oil from the Athabasca Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas so that the oil can be exported to consumers in Europe and elsewhere. But protesting against the pipeline is somewhat like conducting the “War on Drugs” by fighting the coca-growers of Colombia. This tactic didn’t work in the War on Drugs because we didn’t reduce the demand for drugs on the consumer side, but only tried to disrupt the supply of drugs. Even when the flow of drugs from Colombia got disrupted, our addicts got hooked on other drugs, even prescription drugs, instead. Therefore, the Tar Sands action must be accompanied by concrete actions on the demand side of the ledger to make it truly effective.
The “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy Together” actions are clearly a global continuation of the Miglets in rebellion over the current Caterpillar culture. The main grievance underlying the Occupy Wall Street action is the fact that 1% of Americans have hogged 40% of the financial wealth in America, with Wall Street and corporate executives at the top of the heap. By identifying with the 99% of the people who are not doing so well, the Miglets have captured the imagination of the public. It is truly heart wrenching to see photos of Miglets carrying placards that read, “I have $70K in student loans, $12K in medical bills and I’m 22. Where’s my Bailout?” and “I have $40K in student loans and no job. Should I sell drugs or sell my body?” As it is, the Occupy movement is a great start to the Metamorphosis.
When the corporations commodified Nature, we didn’t protest too much because they were making gadgets for our entertainment. When the corporations commodified the animals, birds and fishes, we didn’t protest too much because they were making meat, milk and eggs for our consumption. When the corporations commodified workers in Third World countries, we didn’t protest too much because they were making clothes for our backs. Now that the corporations are commodifying the Miglets in America, the rebellion is on! And the Occupy movement will become the Metamorphosis as it matures and internalizes the understanding that the protesters are really part of the 99.9999% of complex Life that is being commodified by the 0.0001%, the corporations and their executives. It is this understanding that will transform the Occupy movement into a compassionate, positive force for change. For the true Metamorphosis is a joyous undertaking to reconfigure our systems so that the actual division of wealth among the members of our species would be worth arguing about, if at all we even need to, in the years to come.
It is our habits of consumption that fuel the Caterpillar culture. But the objective of our consumption is to create a social world for us and then to define our place in that world. The corporate Caterpillars have deployed a ubiquitous and nearly free communications infrastructure in order to specifically target individual consumers and to promote conspicuous consumption amongst us. It is this communications infrastructure that the Miglets have been using to organize collaboratively and to deploy their grassroots action against the Caterpillars on Wall Street. In essence, the Miglets have already been using jiujitsu techniques against the Caterpillar hierarchy.
What I am suggesting is that we utilize the same jiujitsu approach towards the larger cause of Metamorphosis, to awaken the Butterfly. So far, we have been bombarded with hundreds of things that we can do to “go green”. Including things such as burning biofuels in our cars that later turned out to be not so green, after all. But as we did a few of these hundreds of things in our harried daily lives, we discovered that the state of our world was getting worse and worse as hundreds of millions of other human beings were also being simultaneously conscripted into the Caterpillar culture. Therefore, I suggest that we instead take just three practical steps that pack a cohesive punch. These steps are impossible for the Caterpillars to counter and with discipline and perseverance, they will have a significant impact on them. The first two steps can be construed as constraining the “horse,” to use the modified metaphor of Prof. Haidt, while the third step is to create a social world in which conscious consumers feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.
The first step is to go vegan, preferably organic, preferably locally grown and preferably with whole, unprocessed foods. I’ve been consuming mostly organic, and always vegan food for nearly three years and it has been wonderful for my health and well being. But we’re also fortunate to live in a Northern California community where farmers’ markets are open year round and supermarkets carry organic produce. As a result, we have also minimized our consumption of industrial, processed foods, which Scott Faber, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association admits: “combine ingredients from hundreds of thousands of suppliers in over 200 countries.” The result of such industrial processing could only be what Michael Pollan refers to as “food-like substances,” and not real food.
Veganism has seen a tremendous spurt in popularity, recently. The number of vegans on campus has doubled in the United States in the past 4 years. Vegan cuisine has also become increasingly sophisticated. Traditional Asian and especially, Indian cuisines have always been chock full of vegan dishes that are not only healthy, but mouth watering as well. But modern restaurants, such as the Millennium in San Francisco, have created unique dishes that are both artistic and flavorful. Numerous recipe books have been written on vegan cooking and there are tens of thousands of vegan recipes that we can browse for free on the internet.
They include recipes on desserts, pastries and other baked items as well. Kelly Peloza, the vegan Cookie Connoisseur, is a Miglet who has been revolutionizing vegan baking. And best of all, the vegan Chef Chloe Coscarelli, another Miglet, won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, beating out numerous other contestants who were cooking with animal matter.
Chef Chloe is my hero.
Going vegan also means that we purchase only products that don’t have any animal content. But that doesn’t mean that we have to throw away our existing leather shoes or furniture. I still wear my leather shoes and will do so until they fall off my feet, for two reasons: 1) to remind myself not to be judgmental of others, and 2) to honor the animal that died and gave its skin for my comfort. However, I will never ever buy another animal product in my life.
Which brings me to the second step, which is to counter the impulse buying that is at the heart of the Caterpillar culture. I do this through instituting a “Buy Everything Day” in my life. A few years ago, I received an invitation to join a group that called itself the “Buy Nothing Day” on Facebook. It was a group of people that pledged not to buy anything on the day after Thanksgiving. I was shocked that we had become such compulsive buyers in our society that we needed to remind ourselves not to buy anything on one single day of the year. But it occurred to me that the opposite concept would be extremely powerful to counter the media blitz of advertisers and corporations.
The “Buy Everything Day” is a day that I chose arbitrarily to be the day after my birthday, on which I buy everything I need for the next year. During each year, whenever I think of something that I need, I write it down on a list, but I don’t buy it until the next “Buy Everything Day.” The only items that I buy on the other days of the year are food items and gasoline, necessities that cannot be stored, but I do make exceptions for downloadable e-books and donations to charity. It turns out that when the Buy Everything Day comes around, I look at my list and cross out most of the items that I had written down except for toothpaste, toothbrush, soap and other grooming necessities. For it is almost impossible for me or, I suspect, for any of us, to spend thousands of dollars on “stuff” on a single day.
The “Buy Everything Day” concept is not new in our family. My parents used to do just that, but they would buy everything on their list once a month and start a new list. I recall the agonizing that they used to go through on certain items as our family budgets were quite tight. But my parents also bought clothes and big ticket items only once a year.
Perhaps, instead of once a year, if the Buy Everything Day occurs once every quarter, this concept would not be so hard to implement for anyone. But even if we think that these first two steps are hard, it is only because they are so counter to our present culture. Change of any kind is hard for a habituated person, but, to paraphrase Henry Ford, “if we think the change is easy or if we think the change is hard, we are usually right.” As long as the changed state is conducive to a happy life, then someone is already living it. Therefore, easy and hard are judgements of our mind that either loosen or strengthen the force of our habits, our addictions.
Above all, it is extremely important for us to believe in why we are taking these steps. For if we truly believe in the purpose of the Butterfly, to regenerate Life and undo the damage done by the Caterpillar, then these changes should occur effortlessly.
When we change, the world changes with us. If the world doesn’t change right away, please don’t be discouraged. It will eventually change because of the stone cutter’s logic. Perhaps, the hundredth time that we practice the change, the world notices and changes, but it wasn’t just our last act that made the world change, but our every past practice mattered as well. But to facilitate the spreading of the change, the third step is to organize frequent meetings, “occupations” as it were, at various locations throughout the world where like-minded people can drop in, participate and strengthen individual resolves. These face-to-face events create the social universe in which conscious consumption of the kind exemplified in the first two steps is celebrated and we can plug in and define our place in that social order. The events should have a common structure that reinforces the four-fold pathway to the awakening of the Butterfly, by exercising the mind, the heart, the intellect and the senses. For example, each session could include:
•meditation to exercise the mind (Raja Yoga),
•discourse to exercise the intellect (Gnana Yoga),
•singing, dancing and sharing in a non-judgmental, interfaith environment to exercise the heart, i.e., our emotions (Bhakti Yoga).
•actions in line with the purpose of the Butterfly in order to exercise our senses (Karma Yoga).
For instance, I attended Occupy SF in San Francisco one day and left impressed with the knowledge and wisdom that was being imparted during their mid-afternoon educational discourses. In that session, the multi-national corporation, Monsanto, was being discussed and any prosecutor worth his/her salt could have developed an indictment of the corporation just by attending. This is why I think that if corporations are expecting the Occupy movement to blow over without a fundamental restructuring of their exploitative, commodifying relationship with the planet and its inhabitants, they are in for a rude awakening.
If implemented with discipline and persistence, these three steps have the potential to truly make a difference. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Personally, in any case, I cannot think of anything better to do in our current world situation.
 This statistic is found in Niall Ferguson’s TED talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/niall_ferguson_the_6_killer_apps_of_prosperity.html  http://www.tarsandsaction.org/  Quoted in Joe Nocera, “Killing Jobs and Making us Sick,” The Opinion Pages, NY Times, Sep. 16, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/opinion/nocera-killing-jobs-and-making-us-sick.html  Michael Pollan, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” Penguin, April 2009. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143114964  http://www.millenniumrestaurant.com/  Over 3000 recipes can be found in just http://www.ivu.org/recipes/  Kelly Peloza, “The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur: Over 140 Simply Delicious Recipes That Treat the Eyes and Taste Buds,” SkyHorse Publishing, Nov. 2010. http://www.amazon.com/Vegan-Cookie-Connoisseur-Delicious-Recipes/dp/161608121X  http://chefchloe.com/  Tara Parker Pope, “Tasty Vegan Food: Cupcakes Show it Can be Done,” NY Times, Sep. 5, 2010. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/tasty-vegan-food-cupcakes-show-it-can-be-done/ https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=18116069888&v=wall  Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Sep. 2009. http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html