There is a movement happening of questioning the legitimacy of the American dream as it is traditionally defined. The formula of marriage, kids, a house in the suburbs, and the job in the city—contributing to the corporate machine and exorbitant salary of the CEO—has become less desirable. This is especially true among the millennials who are gaining a voice and influence and are deeply concerned about how the planet they are inheriting fits within the traditional work/life equation. Until we rebuild our infrastructure on a model of sufficiency and sustainability needed to alleviate the sense of impending doom, the resentment of the young is only going to increase with veracity with each generation. To ask the youth to participate in the very same system which has caused the mess they are left to clean up is both unrealistic and cruel. What incentive do they have to devote their time for the benefit of stock holders and the lavish lifestyles and large carbon footprints of those at the top. The pandemic has been aptly described as the great disrupter. For those willing to question the culture in which they were indoctrinated it has been an opportunity to awaken from the matrix and question if humanity will prove sustainable or ephemeral.
The pandemic experience for me was not unfamiliar, but an extension of my quarantine which had started a decade prior when I gave up alcohol, and would avoid it like the plague. Giving up drinking was not just a lesson in quitting alcohol, but quitting culture. As someone more concerned about human evolution than personal rights, I often state statistical facts on topics which hinder our progression, alcohol being no exception. But to condemn alcohol from the standpoint of its affect on society instead of my individual struggle with AUD, (alcohol use disorder), led to a very lonely path of recovery. Through this approach I received, not support, but resentment. Rejecting alcohol is rejecting an aspect of culture, which will inevitably be taken personally by a percentage of the populous who think in terms of individuality. This reaction is both understandable and predictable in a society which values individualism and has created a strong narrative around how the substance applies to gender and class. From an early age we are told beer is masculine, wine, is sophisticated and it is acceptable to sacrifice health for the moment at the expense of longevity. Removed from culture, ethanol is simply a molecule which provides temporary euphoria with lasting physical consequences. It is this susceptibility to short term gratification through cultural narratives which play on ego that is the Achilles heel of humanities inability to see the big picture which enables us to move forward. Alcohol is just one of countless examples of insidious conditioning through marketing.
Capitalism has promised us mobility, luxury, and a life free of pain and discomfort. It has promoted individualism, status, and material accumulation, and has insisted that everyone is equally capable of acquiring it all if they just work hard enough. In reality acquiring wealth is reliant upon three ingredients; affective childhood development, the class one is born into, and the willingness to ignore the moral failings of capitalism to profit from it. Granted, humanity has made great strides in the last two centuries. We have thought big and created big, but we now see the cost of our grandiosity and that it is time to scale back. It has become imperative we accept the reality we must sacrifice some rights we never should have been given, with the understanding there are gains to be made through change. Only if we view culture as amendable in accordance to the ethos can we envision better alternatives.
For years I have walked a tightrope of balancing my desire to perform responsible design with a need for financial income. I gave up what was, for all intents and purposes, an ideal life on the island of Kauai'i, which I had worked hard to acquire. My clientele had shifted from designing homes for local families to designing second homes in gated communities for second homes and vacation rentals. I had become increasingly aware I was contributing to the disintegration of equity within the island community which I had grown to love. After failing to find others interested in addressing the issue of affordable housing I decided it was time to return to the mainland.
Within the male dominated American climate of design and build, I have made an effort to play the game as is while advocating for change. I drive an SUV and wear Carhartt to job sites for the sake of neutrality and to build trust among a demographic I consider my peers but whom, in the last several years, I have sensed becoming increasingly more suspicious of what they perceive to be my political affiliation and source of my agenda—an agenda cultivated through decades of studying peer reviewed science—not the contemporary viewing of Fox or CNN. How are we to solve the housing crisis at a time when those promoting change are in conflict with those resisting it? How are we to solve the climate crisis when a large percentage of the work force does not acknowledge it exists? Why should I feel obliged to participate in traditions when the very definition of tradition is what perpetuates resistance to change?
It is for this reason I choose to not participate in traditions which have become symbols of our destructive consumer culture, why not invent new ways to celebrate which revolve around sustainability and modest living? Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are wonderful for bringing people together, I understand the importance of that. However, it has become hard not to view them as symbols of our consumer modus operandi and unwillingness, even defiant, acceptance of our predicament — especially in a time of catastrophic climate disasters. Celebrating Thanksgiving requires ignoring the failure of colonialism to not see the wealth was in the knowledge of the people conquered and the stewardship of their lands, not the minerals and carbon beneath it.
I would like to believe my life has meaning, that I am contributing to something bigger than myself. I want to be a member of a species which understands the importance of efficiency and sustainability, and how we fit within and affect the global ecosystem. A species which follows science and reason, not outdated political ideology and religious doctrine. However, I accept the fact that the best I can do at this point in human evolution is to do as little damage as possible. I am not in agreement in the superiority of humanity because we have vocal cords and thumbs, not as long as we use them to destroy the world. In solidarity I stand with the younger generations, the animals both extinct and endangered, and the entire global community from whom all my years of inefficient energy use has influenced by way of the butterfly affect. Humanity is capable of extraordinary things when rallying around a common goal, we have seen this in war efforts. The question is, how do we fight a war when no one wants to acknowledge the enemy is ourselves?