When we first presented our plan to my dad he summed up our scheme by saying in jest; "So, you're plan is to bring down the whole world economy." I wish I could claim some grand scheme to take on the big corporations and tackle the ills of the the global marketplace, but our plans mostly grow out of discontent with the patterns of consumption in the small space of our lives. If it is a protest, it is a protest against the numbing effects of the non-stop pursuit of the new and the next thing that will supposedly really satisfy. It's that feeling you have after five days on a cruise ship; over-stimulated by decadence, wrung dry of every penny they could get out of you, and left wondering on the ride home, "Why am I not more satisfied?"
So we didn't go into this thing as social justice radicals, just mildly melancholy suburbanites trying to answer personal questions about satisfaction and joy. But as time goes by and we think through every purchase in our lives, our awareness of the bigger economic picture is growing. We are more aware of who is impacted by our purchases and how. If I can extend the cruise ship metaphor, our experience is a little like stepping back from the all you can eat buffet long enough to look over the rails and notice that our well stocked vessel is passing by the coast line of some of the poorest communities in the world.
But this awareness is not leading me to seek the destruction of something, despite what my dad says. You won't find me vandalizing street of dreams homes or squirting glue in the locks of the local Starbucks. The world's economy seems to be doing a fine job of showing its weaknesses without our help. Maybe the real radical thing to do in our culture of consumption is not to destroy something, but rather to create some new and different ways of consuming. I'm reminded of Wendell Berry's acclaimed poem where he invites us to do something that "wont compute";
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
...As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
So we're giving it a shot. Trying to do some things a little different than we used to. Instead of buying Lily the $7 shiny new Beanie Baby at Toys-R-Us, we're buying the $2, not so new variety at Value Village. Somehow I don't think the politicos and the architects of the global economy are shaking in their boots.
I've got a challenge for the readers of this blog. We're supposed to be getting a $600 tax refund check. Whoever can come up with the most different, the most unexpected, the most non-computing way for the Goodwin family to spend/donate/use our $600, we'll do it, and report on our experience. Oprah's Big Give has got nothing on us. So let us know your recommendations.