11 November 2011

24/7 and Other Fallacies of Modernity

For all our technology and the vertiginous nature of our consumption, we live mean lives. In his last book the great commentator on 20th century life Ivan Illich bemoaned the loss of our senses, by which he did not mean that we had taken leave of our senses—although he might have done—but that we have lost much of the sensory richness our ancestors enjoyed. He gives as an example that 'Dozens of words expressing the nuances of perception have fallen into disused. In terms of the sense of smell, the victims of this process have been enumerated: of the 150 German words that indicated variations on smell that were used by the contemporaries of Durer, only 32 are still in use today.' (p. 197)

And for all our presumption of what Val Plumwood has called a 'mastery over nature' we are still thoroughly dependent on the productivity and cycles on the natural world. We take the phrase 24/7 to be an expression of our hubristic conquest of time, of being a civilisation that never sleeps. In reality, however, it demonstrates precisely the reverse. To choose a week of seven-day weeks and 24-hour days is an attempt to force some kind of uniformity on the free-flowing pattern of seasons. Some calenders still follow years of 13 rather than 12 months, enabling a more equal number of days per month.

The need for an intercalary day ever four years demonstrates the problem of trying to accommodate the cycle of the moon with the cycle of the sun, and provides further evidence of nature's refusal to fit within the rational, orderly systems through which we choose to arrange our lives. And this is to say nothing of the position of Easter, a festival whose ability to retain its meandering pattern through our spring is the most cheering vestige of a time when seasons ruled our lives.

Bioregionalism is the reintroduction of place into political economy: personally it is about learning about place in the world and perhaps the universe. We can see many ways in which the relearning of ourselves in relationship with our local places might impact on the understanding of political economy. How might such a naturally embedded approach to living facilitate the shift from the culture of over-consumption that is threatening our planet?

One thing that the bioregional economy might offer in exchange for the material consumption of the globalised capitalist economy is a strong sense of identity in relationship with our local places and the other people and species we share them with. This should be balanced by a reassertion of our power within the provisioning systems of our contemporary world: a reassertion of the politics within political economy, and a realisation of the need to put the economy in its place.

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