Watching the Olympic opening ceremony the other night, I realized that the soundtrack of the opening was also the soundtrack of my life. While I was born, and still live in Northern Ireland, I identify with a lot of aspects of British culture.
I mostly watch BBC television and listen to BBC radio. David Bowie was my first crush and Led Zeppelin my favourite band. I recognized the films clips from Kes and Billy Elliot, they’re both in my own film collection and, of course, I can thank the OU for knowing all about Glastonbury Tor. When I thing about identity, or what country or people I identify with, then there are so many influences that have shaped me that it would be almost impossible to identify with one country or one group of people alone. I would have considered myself Irish growing up but, realistically, there are many aspects of Irish culture that I can’t relate to at all especially the drinking culture.
Politically, the group I identify most with are the working class, but I also identify with women across the globe, especially those in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan in their struggles against male domination. I can also identify with the black man’s struggle against racial bigotry, Malcolm X is my one of my political heroes and I often think his assassination was a greater loss to the American people than Dr King. I also identify with the Native American community in their struggles to survive after the loss of their land and the ongoing problems that alcohol has caused in their communities.
Spiritually, I identify with their idea of the Great Spirit but I also identify with the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism. Christianity is the faith I was brought up in and I also have a lot of regard for the teachings of Jesus. There is a school of thought that believes that Jesus studied Eastern philosophy, part of this comes from his saying, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’….because Taoism translates as the ‘way’ and, of course, there are many other similarities between both philosophies. (I prefer to call them philosophies, not religions because, at their core, they are about seeking truths about how to live morally and ethically)
When I consider all of these things, I can’t stand up and say I am one thing and one thing alone, I don’t belong to one homogenous group, to the exclusion of all others. I am a sub-culture of many different places and peoples and when you think about it, aren’t we all?
We eat the food from different places, are influenced by other peoples ideas and ways of living, we have been shaped by so many different things that when politicians start deriding multi-culturalism, I often wonder how interesting it would be, if all the people in the country who had a parent or grand-parent from a different country went out on strike for a day. I think it would be really interesting to see just how multi-cultural we all are and I’m sure there would be a few surprises among them all. Even the Queen is descended from Germany on one side of the family.
And there was another thing about the Olympic opening, when the athletes were coming in, there were very few countries that weren’t multi-cultural. I have often said that time will prove Darwin right and all those people of dark skin who came to live in traditionally white countries, and all the white people who have moved to places like Africa and Australia, will eventually have descendants with different coloured skin. It won’t happen overnight, it’ll take a few generations but I remember the first time I saw a picture of Eugene Terre-Blanche, the leader of the right-wing National Party in South Africa, I remarked that it was strange for a black man to be leading a right-wing party, when I was informed he was white. Well, he didn’t look very white to me and that was what got me thinking about it. If the Theory of Evolution is right, it follows logically that is what should happen, as they adapt to their new environment. I discussed this with a friend one night, whose parents were originally from India, and he had to agree that his skin was lighter, and he noticed when he went back to India on holiday, how much paler he was compared to his relatives.
I have done a bit of traveling in the last few years and what I have noticed over and over again is that no matter where you live, or what political or religious philosophy you subscribe to, the fact is, there is only one human race and the vast majority of us are just trying to make our way in the world. We want to be happy, we want a reasonable standard of living and we want to watch our children grow up in peace.
We’re very lucky in this part of the world, in spite of our social and political problems, that most of us have a roof over our heads, most of us have enough to eat and, the truth is, most of us live like kings compared to other parts of the world. We have a lot to be grateful for and yet we take so much for granted, we throw away our lives and chances with drugs and alcohol. We have eyes but we don’t really see the great beauty that is all around us in nature and in people. We have ears but when we are out and about, they are usually plugged into an ipod, or suchlike, and we never stop and really listen to the birds singing, or the wind soughing through the trees. (Great word that, soughing)
Western society has us tied in knots, we have been burdened with the stuff of capitalism and consumerism, we feel cut off and alone, most of us don’t even know our neighbours. Those who rule over us are so out of touch with our basic reality that it makes us feel powerless to effect any sort of meaningful change. We have grown tired and cynical as we have seen politician after politician promise us the sun, moon and stars only to watch those same people, once elected, become another political clone, the grey man in the grey suit who helps fill the pockets of the rich, while ignoring the plight and reality of the rest of us. We yearn to be part of something, to unburden ourselves of the debt and pressure of modern life, we want to live simpler and better lives. We don’t need to be millionaires or billionaires but is it really too much to expect a reasonable wage for a reasonable day’s work?
In Steve Hagen’s book, ‘Buddhism, Plain and Simple’ - ‘Henry Ford, after he make his first billion dollars, was asked how much more he wanted. He said he wanted just a little more’.
Henry Ford was also a bigot, and ferociously anti- Semitic, he advocated expelling all the Jews from the US. So, for all his wealth, it doesn’t seem that Henry was a very happy man but it does allow us to see the thinking behind those who have so much wealth. Governments have advocated the ‘trickle down’ effect as way of re-distributing wealth. The idea is that if we allow the rich to become even more richer, then the wealth they create will trickle down. Unfortunately, the rich and the very rich, or ‘the haves and the have mores’, as George Bush so succinctly put it, like to keep all their money for themselves that’s why they are rich to begin with!
History will judge us, and history will condemn us, for the simple reason that those who had so much were allowed to keep it, while others were left to starve to death. We can’t say we didn’t know because we do know and while most of us are not millionaires or billionaires and are limited in what we can do, governments are not. We need change and we need it at the top because that is where the power is. We need to think about who we vote for and why. Do we really subscribe to the tenants of the religious faiths we belong to or are we all just too worn out and tired trying to make it from one working week to the next to think about our actions from a moral or ethical perspective?
Change will come, whether by choice or circumstances, the global capitalist system has failed although governments across the globe are still desperately trying to prop it up. We are now living through the last days of global capitalism. This way of living is coming to and end, it was never sustainable anyway. The economy is contracting and India and China are experiencing an economic slow down as well. (One thing the recession has done for me, is that I realized how few of the trappings of consumerism, I really need. I was out of work for a year and living on the dole certainly helps focus the mind on what you really need, as opposed to, what you want)
Capitalism is sustained by two things, oil and consumption. Oil is a finite resource and there are those who say we have already reached peak oil production, so it’s going to be all downhill from here. When I look around my house, as I’m sure you can too, ask yourself, just how many more products do you really need? When every room has the flat-screen tv, there are two or, maybe three cars parked outside, your wardrobe is stuffed with clothes and shoes and all the incumbent accessories, and you probably only wear the same 3 or 4 outfits, again and again. The bathroom is overflowing with lotions and potions, the kitchen is the same with all the gizmos and gadgets and around the TV in the living room, there are so many electrical items that a six- plug extension, with surge protection, of course, can barely cover it.
We need to really start thinking about the future and sustainable living, because if we don’t start planning now, then we are in for some very tough times ahead. If we don’t start preparing for a world without oil, then we’ll be facing a future of famine and war. There is a lot of talk around electric cars but how are they going to be built when manufacturing depends on oil, not to mention the tarmac needed for the roads? And what about electricity, how are we going to be able to provide the energy levels that we enjoy now?
These are all questions that need to be taken seriously and we need to start looking for the answers. In looking forward, we need to look back to how we lived before we all became part of the capitalist system. I have always envied and admired the Native Americans and their lifestyle before ‘old whitey’ landed. They lived sustainably and didn’t desecrate the land the way we do. Christopher Columbus didn’t have to wade through rubbish dumps, or slum housing and ghettoes when he landed in the Americas. The first Europeans who arrived thought they had found the Garden of Eden as the land was so pristine and abundant with food. We need to find some middle way between our technology and our resources so that we can take all the scientific and technological achievements and marry them so as to create a society that can sustain itself and work for everyone together, not just for those at the top. And to be able to do it without ravaging the planet, because this is one area where we will all be in it together and if, we don’t start making real plans, then there are some very dark days ahead for our children and grandchildren.
(The Native American communities are being ravaged by alcohol. The Lakota Sioux in South Dakota are trying to raise money to build a healing centre to help deal with the problems that alcohol is causing on the reservation and to care for children when their parents can’t. It is called Oceti Wakan, which means Sacred Fireplace. If you wish to donate you can log on to their website, just type in Oceti Wakan and you’ll find it)