“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B. White
How We Talk about Saving the World
Nary a day goes by without someone talking about saving the world. About doing one’s part. Reducing one’s footprint. These people use the language of sacrifice: “I guess we could keep our thermostat a bit lower.” “I should probably drive less.” “I have no need to eat strawberries grown in Chile, do I?” They seek to reduce. Give up. Do less of.
Other camps evoke their inner risk taker.
In a recent issue of Orion magazine I learned about a group known as the “Valve Turners.” These brave, impassioned folks recently visited North Dakota and in coordination with dozens of kindred spirits scattered across the northwestern part of the country, turned off emergency valves to halt the flow of oil through a set of pipelines.
Stopping dirty oil’s flow could be called an instance of “direct action.” The Valve Turners made a compelling case for why retired people of privilege can and should sacrifice their comfortable lives to confront the industrial forces that decimate our biosphere. Rock on.
Such bravery, this direct action, is needed and justified. And just as we explored the tethered poles of market forces on the one hand and state regulations on the other, there lies a third way to save this, our world.
To Save and Savor the World
This way is one in which its practitioners can and should savor. Reducing the number of take-out meals we order or frequency with which we get a massage lessens our dependence on the marketplace. And turning off the oil tap defies oil companies’ need for ever greater profits and the state’s feeble efforts to “regulate” these ne’er do wells.
Vernacular living, however, at once subverts our dependence on both the market and the state.
Vernacularists have no need for oil companies, nor the governments that attempt to tame them. Instead, the skilled practitioner of the vernacular arts relies on her own competence and the gifts of her neighbors to satisfy her needs.
And in expressing her innate creativity to solve problems and make gifts, she savors her lived experience. At the same time, the vernacularist champions a life of re-use and regeneration, thereby helping to save the world.
Indeed, savory vernacular activity saves the world by…
- Replacing consumerism with doing. Baking bread. Knitting scarves. Growing one’s own food and sharing the bounty’s surplus with neighbors. Painting landscapes. Writing poems, letters, essays, short stories. Strumming the guitar. Banging the drum, the djembe, the xylophone.
- Empowering people by fostering their innate, human potential for creativity. Privileging learning in libraries over education in schools. Facilitating the sharing of skills. Installing community orchards. Supporting bicycle cooperatives.
- Re-imagining how we structure human arrangements—i.e., culture. Allowing for the free exchange of surplus. Forgoing the direct provision of “services.” Reinvigorating childhood stories with non-human nature. Reintroducing learning about natural history. Fostering horizontal decision-making. Bringing more and more community activity out of doors.
- Challenging the pervasive, dignity-degrading systems of corporate capitalism. Questioning the industrial manufacturing of our goods and our foodstuffs. Questioning the role of artificial intelligence. Of automated everything. Of global banking. Of prison systems. Of corporate shareholders.
- Defending that which is good and healthy. Nature. Meaningful human interaction. People working together to directly satisfy their needs for living. Meditation. Observation. Permaculture. Foraging.
To Savor While Saving
While saving the world in these and sundry other soulful ways, we can savor newly learned crafts and intimate relationships with each other and with mother nature.
Appreciate the significance of gifting something handmade (a “savoring while sharing”).
Advance a “savoring while being in…this moment outside in the sun with these singing wrens.” A “savoring while being with…this person or people I love deeply.” Vernacularism can and should be a “savoring while saving” our planet and our souls.