It’s Not Easy Being Green

The rise of modern medicine, along with capitalism, coincides with the rise of rampant individualism. Increasingly, we see fewer and fewer people as family. Our sense of self shrinks, and that amplifies our fear of personal death.

When we fear death, we worship youth. Today, what’s sexy is youth. We search, largely unconsciously, for immortality, and advertisers are quick to offer it. The media happily divides and conquers, promising each of us our own personal shangri la.

This summer, I took Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprises, out foraging. Afterwards, I told her how Playboy messed up my head. I still have trouble not expecting women to be airbrushed Barbie dolls.

I grew up one of three boys, so it was particularly easy to objectify women. The media didn’t help, and neither did the educational system. In fifteen years of schooling, I didn’t have a single class on healthy relationships. That’s because, despite the best intentions of teachers and administrators, school’s not about healthy living. Like mass media, mass education is designed to control the masses: to help them to not think for themselves.

Case in point: I was a straight A student. By the time I finished grade school, I had already earned seventy college credits. Yet, when I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, like the song says, “it’s a wonder I can think at all.” Public school and the media worked so well on me that I enrolled at Princeton. I actually paid to get further indoctrinated. And although I had enough credit to finish school in two years, I stayed on for five.

The year I graduated, John Taylor Gatto gave his acceptance speech for being chosen 1989 New York City Teacher of the Year:

Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of Massachusetts from around 1850. It was resisted – sometimes with guns – by an estimated 80 percent of the Massachusetts population, with the last outpost, in Barnstable on Cape Cod, not surrendering its children until the 1880s, when the area was seized by the militia and the children marched to school under guard…Senator Ted Kennedy’s office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education, the state literacy rate was 98 percent, and after it, the figure never again climbed above 91 percent, where it still stands in 1990…

Last month the education press reported the amazing news that children schooled at home seem to be five or even ten years ahead of their formally-trained peers in their ability to think…

Schools were designed… to be instruments for the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce… formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled…

just say noSometimes people still fight back. In 1996, 10-year-old Timmy Becton pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at a sheriff’s deputy and using his 3-year-old niece as a human shield, repeatedly yelled, “I’d sooner shoot you than go to school.” The boy had been put on Prozac to cure his dislike of school. To understand why healthy children hate school, see here.

The point (or gunpoint, as the case may be) is that myths like the promise of eternal youth or the danger of herb-wielding women aren’t just folk tales; they are fabricated, perpetuated, and/or disseminated by centralized institutions, whether mega-churches, mass media (see Manufacturing Consent), or mass schooling. As in Massachusetts, the masses don’t choose it!

Here’s the formula: take away people’s ability to feed and take care of themselves, to have their grandmothers treat them and teach them the ways of their ancestors. Feed them crap instead, in supermarkets, textbooks, and television. Keep them drugged up on carbs and on unnaturally shaped women, and you’ve just drummed up some pretty big business. After all, you have one huge, sickly, captive audience!

This may all sound like some evil plot. However, this is not a conspiracy. There is no one group to point the finger at. This is just what happens with mass, dehumanizing systems. When people become no more than numbers, all that matters are the totals. That’s what the word capitalism means: counting heads.

To some extent, this tendency is understandable. When you have 20 or 30 kids in a classroom, of course kids are going to get less individual attention. Teaching turns into crowd control. When you have millions of children to manage and performance suffers as a result, you come up with nationally-standardized tests. You have “No Child Left Behind.” This makes it even harder for some kids to keep up because one size does not fit all.

It’s true that in every society, there is socialization. We all have to learn how to fit in. The problem is when we lose too much self-determination: when the system becomes more important than the individual.

Ironically, this happens when we give too much importance to the individual: when the culture teaches us to only care about ourselves. I showed this with regard to the media. The same problem underlies our legal system. When no one cares about anyone else, we set up rules to protect ourselves from each other. We hire a referee or umpire to help us “fight fair.”

As the rules multiply, the witch hunts continue in more subtle, sophisticated forms today, with the denigration of herbal medicine (see the latest example here) and in my case, the regulation of wild food.

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3 Responses

  1. suki says:

    Great article Allan…but I am a fan of your writing…:)

  2. Heidi Swann says:

    Alan,

    You are a voice of sanity and health in a very disconnected and unnatural
    culture. Thank you for all that you do on behalf of life on this planet.

    Heidi

  3. Suzzanne says:

    Amazingly Said and Well thought out! Your article fed me! Thank YOU! Suzzanne