It was raining when I awoke, causing me to wonder if my now regularly scheduled Sunday morning walk with my former neighbor Andy, due to proceed unless it was pouring, would have to be nixed. But by the time Koko and I arrived at his house, where he and Momi were waiting out front, causing Koko to whimper and whine with anticipation, only black clouds remained.
They later delivered another sizable shower, but fortunately Andy had an umbrella and we had plenty to talk about while we waited alongside the road for it to pass. When it did, it left lacy clouds clinging to the fluted upper peaks and verdant summit of Makaleha, whose face was streaked with two broad white waterfalls. We admired all of it while discussing a question I’d posed to him early on: “So what’s your take on how, or even whether, we can shift people’s thinking or work to effectively change things?”
That topic is often on my mind, but it had been in the forefront since reading some of the thoughtful comments left on last Wednesday’s post, ”Emerging Insanities.”
“What sort of things are you talking about?’ he asked, and when I replied, “the massive environmental and social problems we face,” Andy said, “Oh, that. I just throw up my hands.”
The way he figures it, nothing much will change until widespread disease wipes out a large segment of the population, and then the chiropractors and other alternative medicine folks will say they have the answer to it, and when it becomes clear that they don’t, people will return to a rational way of thinking and we can work on resolving some of our problems.
I didn’t bite at the bait he threw out about alternative medicine, since it’s a long-running debate between us, and I knew he was partly kidding, but I did groan, “Oh, no, don’t tell me you think science is going to save us.”
No, he wasn’t going that far, but he did come up with an example of how irrational thought is holding us back from doing something that could have a positive effect on both environmental and social problems, and that’s in regard to limiting population. If people were thinking rationally about the subject, they’d be having no kids, or one.
And that segued nicely into the question of how, then, can people’s thinking be changed to bring about profound social change? Not that I believe rationalism has all the answers. In fact, its total dismissal of other ways of knowing is part of the reason why we’re in this mess. Life, at least as I’ve experienced it, does not fit neatly into the confines of logic and scientific principles and provability, and discounting everything outside that box as superstitious bunk has worked to sever our sense of interconnectedness, shrivel our recognition of what’s sacred and suppress various helpful tools and options.
Andy said he used to believe that progressive social change could be effected through education, and in the heyday of 1960s radicalism, that seemed to be true. But his years as a college professor disabused him of that notion, in part because he found, over time, that his students were progressively less prepared, which seemed to indicate that they were passing through school without getting educated. And as the nation swung to the right, he found some of his brightest students held deeply conservative and/or religious views, so education obviously wasn’t having the intended effect on them.
Then we got to talking about change effected through the political system, with me saying something like that approach had proven pretty much useless, so how long are you gonna bang your head against that wall? But Andy said, no, it had worked, once, when Kauai had a very strong anti-development sentiment in the 1970s and early 1980s that coalesced into a 4-3 majority on the County Council, including a haole newby by the name of Jeremy Harris. And while that majority couldn’t push its agenda too far, because the mayor wasn’t on board, it was able to stop things. Over time, that movement continued to grow until JoAnn Yukimura was finally elected mayor.
Then Hurricane Iniki hit, and a lot of people lost their appetite for slow growth in the push to rebuild the island and its economy. Andy said he’s seen Kauai take that teeter-totter approach pretty consistently: when times are good, people don’t want growth, but when times are bad, they embrace it, because they’re worried about jobs for themselves and their kids.
But it wasn’t just the economic crisis caused by the hurricane that derailed the slow-growth movement, it was the opportunity it presented for JoAnn’s vitriolic foes, those who feared her and felt she was dangerous — most notably the ABBY (anybody but Yukimura) crowd dominated by disgruntled tour boat operators who had been kicked out of Hanalei — to spread the rumors and outright lies about her response to Iniki that still dog her today.
As for Kauai's progressive politicians, Jeremy went off to Honolulu and joined the dark side, and later JoAnn also went off to Honolulu and joined the more mainstream, accommodating side, which caused her to come across as weak and ineffective when she returned to the Council. That, in turn, alienated many of her longtime backers, which is a large part of the reason why she lost the last mayoral election, even though Andy and I agreed we both voted for her because we believe she still does hold the core values that prompted us to be early enthusiastic supporters.
That leaves us where we are today, with economic fears dominating the populace, and so the political scene, which makes it difficult for the slow-growthers to regroup and the sustainability crowd to gain a toehold. The education system, meanwhile, is gutted by budget cuts and bogged down by the standards-driven “No Child Left Behind” legacy of the Bush Administration, so it’s no longer a breeding ground for critical thinkers, much less revolutionaries.
As we parted, I was left still wondering what it will take to shift the dominant materialistic world view that has delivered a wealth of problems, and a dearth of solutions, or — at the risk of being branded negative, yet again — if it’s even possible, without the prodding forces of calamity or disaster. But at least I now had, thanks to Andy, a box of lilikoi to sustain me through such ruminations.