I’ve spent a lot of time of late thinking about how to build better worlds, how more and more people can find happiness and feel connected to their people and this sweet earth. One thing I’ve hit upon is the theme of common labor. Our bodies are lovely when they are in motion, when we’re bending and lifting and doing. I emailed with a friend this week about this quest and question—he responded with Khalil Gibran’s words that “work is love made visible.”
Earlier today, I watched my backyard neighbor bring in his laundry. I could see this from my third story fire escape, where I was hanging out my own laundry. His movements and his drying clothes were reflected in the large window at the back of his house—I didn’t see him, only the reflection of his actions. That I mirrored those same motions, up three stories, across two backyards, and at least a generation removed…I can’t quite say how sweet I find this.
Amid all the good talk of solar and wind replacing coal and gas, I find that the question of why we need so much energy is rarely asked. To advocate for and build clean, renewable, sustainable methods of creating energy are laudable goals, ones that I heartily support.
My deepest support, though, is reserved for the simpler goal of using less. We cannot buy and buy and buy our way out of a problem that has its deepest roots in mindless consumption. There is no other planet to upgrade to when this one’s operating systems become obsolete. We are on the brink of, as Toadvine says in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, running out of country. We are reaching, surpassing, the limits of what is livable, and we are running out of places to run away from ourselves and our habits.
In light of this, I propose a decidedly un-American idea: go back. If the heart of the climate crisis has to do with using too much, perhaps the solution lies in using less. This will be more work, undoubtedly. It takes more time to hang my laundry out to dry than to pop it in the dryer. It takes more labor to make dinner than to nuke a burrito in the microwave. It takes more effort to bike than drive. To limit what technologies you use, to become your own cap and trade program, this takes forethought and planning and effort. It forces us to take more responsibility, to be more accountable to ourselves. And it is freeing—to make and hold your own life as you wish life to be.
My nightmare is to become like the isolated, liquid diet, technology-suckled, balloon-humans of Wall-E. Taking steps back from the robots, from our “need” for constant contact, from the tethers of our devices, from the demands that outside forces place on our time, these are hard. This is work. To take the time for this work is the highest expression I know for the love for the world.
And, like all good loves, these labors return as much as you give into them. The physical joy of using your body to walk or bike, the better taste of food you’ve given your time to, the sweet smell of the sun and wind in your clothes and on your sheets, the immense satisfaction of rebelling against expectations, of finding yourself capable of what simpler, better worlds you believe possible, these are the rewards for your work.
No matter what powers it, what technology can compete with a full and working heart? None that I know.