Extractive Cultures; Sharing-Oriented Cultures

Starting a digest of articles; will be adding to this over time.

• “The 100-year capitalist experiment that keeps America poor, sick, and stuck on coal” (Gwynn Guilford, qz.com, 12/30/2017). A particularly harrowing overview of the socioeconomics of coal mining in Central Appalachia. Prime example of extractive culture. The author also makes an astute observation about the fundamental flaw of the “forever growth economy” mind-set: “At a national level, US politicians, corporate chieftains and other civic leaders continue to ignore the flaws riddling their own growth model. Like the coal-backed politicians counting on boom to follow bust, the nation’s leaders continue to expect the business cycle to buoy growth, failing to grasp how years of increasing inequality in wealth, income, opportunity, and health have cannibalized the very demand needed to sustain it. While they dither on investing in infrastructure, technology, education and health care, the country’s reliance on welfare continues to climb as labor force participation slides. Taxpayers are subsidizing companies to underpay retail workers, just as they’re paying for coal companies to lop off mountaintops.”

• Also noteworthy are countercultures that have emerged in reaction to materialistic, hypercompetitive modern culture. A recent example is the “lying flat” movement led by Chinese millennials. (“These Chinese Millennials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Happy“; Elsie Chen, New York Times, 7/3/2021.) “Five years ago, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle ‘lying flat.’ ‘I have been chilling,’ Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April, describing his way of life. ‘I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.’ He titled his post ‘Lying Flat Is Justice,’ attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. ‘Lying flat’ went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society. … ‘Young people feel a kind of pressure that they cannot explain and they feel that promises were broken … People realize that material betterment is no longer the single most important source of meaning in life.'”

• What we think of as human nature may actually be more attributable to human culture. For example, not all cultures are characterized by hoarding and excess as ours is; some are characterized by sharing, and not wanting to take more than you need. Check out “Why Do We Work So Damn Much? Hunter-gatherers worked 15-hour weeks. Why don’t we?” (Interview of anthropologist James Suzman by Ezra Klein; transcript in New York Times.) Writes Klein: “Humanity solved the problem of scarcity and achieved a 15-hour workweek long before modernity. But as we’ve gotten richer and built more technology, we’ve developed a machine not for ending our wants, not for fulfilling them, but for generating new ones, new needs, new desires, new forms of status competition. You can’t solve the problem of scarcity with our current system because our current system is designed to generate endlessly the feeling of more scarcity within us. It needs that. And so we keep working harder and harder and feeling like we have less and less, even amidst quite a bit of plenty, at least, for many of us.”