My friend Kaimi stopped by to visit the other evening and saw, atop a pile of old clippings I was sorting through, a story I'd written about his family losing their taro farm lease in Hanalei. It was dated August 2005.
Wow, he said. Nine years already, and I still never get back on the land.
He's planted and harvested a lot of taro for other people in that time, at Anahola, Hanalei, Haena, Limahuli. He's trying to maintain his varieties as best he can, with huli banks here and there, including my yard. But he's never been able to secure his own loi, primarily because he's a young guy living hand-to-mouth, with no money, no credit, no business plan and no connections to those who own land.
Just lots of hands-on experience and practical knowledge about how to grow, hunt and catch food that is local, sustainable and healthy. In other words, he actually knows how to achieve the rhetorical ideal of the Kauai “sustainability movement.” Yet he's completely unsupported.
And I was reminded, again, of how much time, energy and money is regularly poured into pro- and anti-movements with very little to show for that tremendous investment, aside from ever-more polarization.
So in response to the folks who have asked, "well, what's your solution?" consider this: Instead of seeking political “solutions,” which are typically more akin to a bandaid than a cure, what if we focused on practical solutions? What if we focused on shared values, instead of conflicting (and often shadowy) agendas?
Take, for example, the oft-promoted goal of reducing imports and increasing food security.
Under a political solution, people waste hours in the acrimonious dead zones of the County Council and Facebook fighting over a pesticide/GMO disclosure bill that does nothing to reduce pesticide use, promote small farms or improve the availability of land. Special interest groups fund opposing sides; money is wasted on advertising, lawsuits and jetting to other islands to protest or testify; conflict increases, divisiveness grows. Ideologies are bitterly defended, the community weakens and fractures. No food is produced, food security remains illusive.
Under a practical solution, folks mobilize for work days to clear, open and plant loi. People get exercise, learn useful skills, gain an understanding of land, water and culture, meet neighbors, build community and feel a sense of pride every time they look at that loi, or harvest from it. Money is invested in buying tractors, fixing water systems, securing leases. Healthy, indigenous food is produced.
And the island moves closer to achieving a widely shared value: food security.
Let's pause for a moment and reflect on the past year. Think of how different things might be right now if all the passion, idealism and discontent that birthed the anti-GMO movement had been channeled into scenario B, as opposed to scenario A.
Yes, politicians will tell you scenario A is the only way, because it feeds their ego and increases their power. But that old conflict and control model doesn't serve our community well in any way, shape or form. We can do things differently, ya know. It's fully our own choice.
As Dawson wrote in comments a few days ago:
People can work through differences of opinion and values, given a bit of empathy and some feeling for the long-range (both future and past). But not when they're running with the pack and high on the self-serving emotional rush of Good vs. Evil. Then their humanity goes cold, their brains turn tribal, and they become territorial.
I was struck by his use of the phrase “their humanity goes cold.” It seems to me that's where we're at on this island, in this world. We're eager to vilify and label, madly pointing the finger at others to avoid looking at ourselves. Because really, that's where all change begins: within each and every one of us. There's simply no escaping the fact that we — yes, all of us — created the problems that face humanity. There is no convenient bogey man to scapegoat and blame, only ourselves.
As Luke Evslin wrote in comments:
We have a massive, structural, enemy-less, multi-faceted problem on Kaua’i that we are all complicit in. How are we going to fix it?
It seems one place to start is by actively embracing cooperation and rejecting the intransigence that seems to characterize social and political movements. I think of that often when I watch bee and ant colonies, which function as single organisms, though each individual has a specific role. What if we put as much energy into working things out, as we did into plotting the destruction of those with different beliefs? Especially since the global problems we're facing affect all humans, as well as other species.
I know that some people take extreme positions in hopes of ending up in the middle, but what if we started in the middle, where most folks naturally gravitate? What if we dropped the idea of an “out there” enemy, be it developers or chem companies, and faced the fact that we have met the enemy and he is us? Because really, no one on Kauai can claim he or she is exempt from culpability. Each and every one of us is having a major impact simply by virtue of our existence.
And that leads me to the elephant in the room in Hawaii — colonialism. As an anonymous commenter wrote:
Its easy to fight the newcomers but no one wants to touch the marginalization of kanaka that have been disenfranchised from their ancestral lands. There is deep seated anger that has festered for generations and continues today. That is the perspective I come from and don't want to be caught up in the fight between those who call themselves "locals" and newcomers.
Which brings me back to that pile of clips I was sorting through. One of them was a 1994 piece I wrote for “In These Times.” In it, the Rev. Kaleo Patterson shared his view that our environmental problems won't be solved until the citizens of industrialized nations face the spiritual consequence that stem from centuries of subjugating the world's indigenous peoples:
You cannot talk about the environment and the integrity of creation without also talking about justice and the systematic oppression of communities and poor people. And you can't talk about justice without an analysis of what's going on with the land. We have to make the connection between land and the environment.
Unfortunately, as Kaleo pointed out, that link is difficult to achieve in a Western belief system that grants humans dominion over the natural world. Such a worldview makes it easier for folks to oppress other people, mistreat animals, plunder the Earth. Isn't that the core of the ugliness we're confronting?
Fortunately, world views can be changed, and it seems to me that's the fundamental first step here. Until we honestly examine our belief systems and abandon those that don't serve us or the planet, we're going to keep walking the same path, repeating the same mistakes, pursuing the same solutions that are not solutions.
As the old saying goes, think globally, act locally. And nothing is more local, more under your control, than what's inside your own heart and head. Just as nothing is more revolutionary, or more challenging, than truly being the change you want to see in the world. Not preaching it, imposing it, wishing for it or waiting for somebody else to implement it. But actually being it, living it, and setting an example for others to follow.
In closing, I'd like to say mahalo to the folks who have clicked on the Donate button and sent contributions to my post office box (PO Box 525, Anahola, 96703). I've been touched by your generosity, and also by the thoughtful notes that have accompanied some of the donations The fund drive continues, and if you value Kauai Eclectic, I hope you will support it. As always, thanks for reading and commenting.