Laudato Si Walk Station 5 of 6

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I think it necessary, before beginning station #4, to give a short review of the four blogs I have submitted thus far. The introduction suggested that Tanis’ struggle echoes the struggle of the earth and world. It also explained how and why the walk was developed. Station #1, called for self-examination because ‘the emptier the heart, the more it turns to buying, possessing and consuming’ and also that ‘our lifestyles are a prescription for ecological disaster.’ Station #2 tries to place us in the experience of St. Francis of Assisi--nature is a book that speaks of God’s power and goodness. Also in our pondering we open ourselves up to seeing creation as gift, something we must not destroy because of ignorance and pettiness. Station #3 reminds us of the basics of our Faith Tradition--and indeed of every Faith Tradition, that each one of us has been created out of love, to love, for love, even as we are shaped by love or by our failure to do so.
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Station #4 I selected the First Nations University of Canada (FNUC) building and its grounds to be Station #4, found about 500 paces east of Campion College, both nestled in the land of Treaty #4. In this station I seek to name the cancerous cocktail that humankind has mixed together that works to destroy the social and environmental ecologies that stretch across our earth. Just like Tanis’s skeleton is constantly threatened by cancerous blood, so too life on earth is threatened by the political, social and economic institutions we put into place over, especially over the past decades, ones that  now shape us.   

I think it important to begin this section with surroundings that draw attention to a fundamental aspect of our life together with others. For visitors, the FNUC setting stimulates the mind to recall and learn the stories that are part of Indigenous people’s history, stories of colonization, the Indian Act, Residential Schools, stories that now must be heard in midst skyscrapers and asphalt and within the underlying cultural cancer that continues to assault our world.

I walk by the numerous banners encircling the University building, banners of welcome declaring that First Nation’s teaching is their future, that this is a place that will honor elders, students and communities and that National Gatherings are special times for seeking reconciliation. I then enter the FNUC building, pass through a short corridor, past walls of art and an encased star blanket, then enter the spacious veterans tipi, south of the ceremonial tipi and east of the library. The First Nations and Metis People were the first to be assaulted--and they are being hit over and over again ever since…

For Indigenous people land is a gift from the Creator to be shared, a place where their ancestors lie and where they can live the values of their culture.  Heartbreakingly, recent Indigenous history is not a story about development. Instead we hear of the tragic effects of colonization and different forms of imperialism.

I sit at a desk in the veteran’s tipi, or at a bench just outside the main building. I open Laudato Si…So what kind of cultural cocktail mix have we stirred together to create a brew that now works to attack life on earth, such as Tanis’ blood cancer attacks her skeleton? Pope Francis calls the cancerous alchemy the ‘new tyranny’. He points at the dynamics of absolute ownership, speculation and maximizing profits, brazenly calls it ‘an economy of exclusion’ and cries ‘thou shalt not kill!’.

The first ingredient of this sizzling cocktail is attitude, the crippling view that chooses to see land only as a commodity to be possessed and exploited. But adopting such a view makes us contentious beings, putting us in the mode of strife with both community and environment as the adversaries. However, those able to see land and its fruitfulness as gift to be generously shared for the benefit of all are disposed differently, positioned to work collaboratively to develop and protect the environment and build life-giving communities. While Catholic Social Teachings assert that private property is a right, it is also emphatic that ownership must demonstrate that the goods of the earth are destined for all.     

The second ingredient addresses the purpose of the creativity and power of technology. Are we a people who create technologies to truly assist our life together with others? Or is technology about making life easier for a chosen few, or seized upon as an effective way to beat out the competitor? When the digging and cutting machines of those narrowly focused on profit transgress the natural laws  that govern the being of  things and their relationships within ordered systems, the earth breaks out in lesions and tumors, paralleling the devastation that Tanis knows so well.

Pope Francis also wants to warn us that technology is not culturally neutral. The spirit of technology affects us, conditioning the way we live and shaping our social relationships. Thus, when we buy into the promotions of a few powerful people, we can also experience their power-over us, a subtly which can threaten our own spirit and personal freedoms. Are we aware of how infectious advertisements can be? Compulsive purchases play a role in negatively shaping the values and direction our culture.

A third element of the mix is the role of market theory. The market is understood as the place where things of ‘equivalent’ value (as determined by the culture in which you live) are exchanged. That means if you have the money, you get to play. The way it is rigged and played out in the global forum, we can unsuspectingly support the drudge that says that profit is more important than people, that capital is more important than labor. Changing our relationship within this landscape is not easy since it has been forced into place to benefit those who already possess too much. St. Pope John Paul saw there could be positives in the free market system if the focus was on creating the ‘widgets’ of our life, if it meant fair competition, if it meant fair returns on labor and if there were interventions on behalf of the weak. As well, Pope Benedict points out the need for creating spaces within the free market system where the best combinations of profit or non-profit, private or community owned businesses would be sought out and set up, ones best serving the needs of the people in a particular locale.   

It is clear, however, that the kind of brew global operatives mix doesn’t come from that mindset. No, their brew bubbles in ‘kill’ or ‘be killed’ competiveness, a  Spector-shaped mist arising, a Spector that restlessly roams the world, flashing its techno-badge, convinced that it has the right to help itself to any storehouse of resources that promises sufficient returns for its shareholders. After all, shareholders must be pampered or they will take their ball and go home, won’t they? Thus we have a speculator-favored economy, an economy driven by a desire for profit, one which is unable to give priority to the dignity of persons and the integrity of their communities. We perhaps don’t see that we are drawn into behavior that deepens our collective ignorance and indifference because we are too afraid to challenge the proclaimed ‘goodness’ of our leaders and the system itself. Accordingly, it is not human beings but rather machines of production and abstract planning that are valued as forms of life itself.

Ethical warnings that cry out for systemic adjustments so that there would be more justice given to the poor, with emphasis placed on the common good and solidarity among all people are ignored as irrelevant, and dismissed as ‘lefty’ nonsense. No, the ‘money must make more money’ doctrine must be maintained by the status quo and cultural and legal norms.

Reference is frequently made to a trickle-down theory, in an attempt to justify and sacralize the system, assuring everyone that the structure is not without moral excellence. Pope Francis tables the trickle- down theory with, “we are still waiting to see this happen.”

Also proposed is the notion, albeit strangely magical, that a mysterious hidden hand guides all economic transactions, ensuring the greatest possible justice for all! (Really…How fortuitous is that? This means we must be grateful for people seeking their own self-interest, who always ask, “what’s in it for me?”)

As well, governments must give up notions of the common-good and be held to more practical roles that ultimately serve big business. Accordingly, the real focus of governments must be that of promoting conditions that spur economic growth, of ensuring that private property be protected. Since environmental issues and the limitedness of the earth are overlooked, no question is ever asked whether economic growth can continue forever.

A vicious circle is sustained by bombardments of ads, cunning and repetitious, that work to convince us that happiness is locked up in the world of things. This complex alchemy, called the techno-economic paradigm, overwhelms the real economy and is ever intent on overwhelming our politics, our justice and our freedom.

When companies, intent on extreme forms of excavation, move into a community, both the environment and community are affected. In different instances, cultures once rich in diversity and inclusion, as developed amidst subsistence kinds of living and which give meaning to life and community, are forced to yield to

 lifestyles tied to a single form of production.

All of the above are the ingredients of the underlying cancerous mix, a drink to make war--on persons, communities and the environment. The cancerous blood that assaults Tanis each day, as I said before, offers a striking analogy. At this point I must ask a disturbing question, one which ties two seemingly separate
realities together; “to what extent does the technology of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, as promoted by big business, work to place populations in the death grip of cancer? If it does, then surely more money for some means less health for all. Faced with this conundrum, what is the way forward? Think, ask, talk, dialogue—with those involved, with the community, with those affected—to educate one another so that decision making can be more wholesomely caring for each and every generation. 

In what ways am I hooked in, addicted to the cocktail drink? If I am, how can I begin to emerge in a different way? If I improve my lifestyle, the change will ultimately encourage healthier kinds of productive activity.  My behavior is about the way I think. But my mind can change brain structure. Each one of us can acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, take good aim and out-rightly reject apathy with behavior that draws inspiration from the words of Pope Francis, “no system can completely suppress the desire for wholeness.”