Matter of Scale
Do aggregates of humans Â in business suits lose their soul beyond a certain number under the same corporate roof?Â
Does the myopic quest for efficiency and profit to the exclusion of all other common good turn properÂ intentionÂ toward the dark side?
Can we survive in the era of BIG?Â
Those were the questions rising in the steam from my first cup of coffee this morning. And so my morning pages took the shape of the following screedÂ (also posted to Medium.com for a potentially wider audience than you, mom. TLDR. But that’s okay. I feel better now.)
BIG IS KILLING US
John Muir famously said that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
I have new concerns about a near-by deforesting project and have started digging into it. And what I find is that logging Lick Ridge down to the dirt brings me squarely back into the currents that have been sweeping the western world to the brink now since the Great Acceleration.
It’s all about efficiency of the process and profit for the shareholders, and in the end, money drives the machinery of the age. This is our purpose, our raison d’etre, what America, at a certain aggregate level, is and for too long has been all about. And the rest of the worldâ€Š–â€Šat least until recentlyâ€Š–â€Šwanted to walk in our boots and follow our way forward. That way does not lead forward but a few more steps, so it’s urgent that we go another direction.
Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Fiber, Big Finance, Big Risk: What all of these giants have in common is that, in the end, and in spite of slick ads and creative greenwashing, people and planet do not matter. The future does not matter other than that the graphs of share prices trend upward. The vitality and well-being of particular living creatures and Earth systems play no part in the business equation. Those messy abstractions limit power and profit and make shareholders unhappy and tend to shave a few million from CEO portfolios.
Through all the BIGS runs the thread of self, of haughty and callous indifference, of arrogance, of denial and of greed. To hell with your soil, your drinking water and air, your pitiful little investments, and your health. Those effects are simply collateral damage of good business. The worse these things become, the higher goes the GDP. If things are not broken, if there is not the perpetuated fear of insufficiency, then we don’t need more natural gas, more pesticides, more Happy Meals, more health/life/property insurance. Well-being is steady-state talk, and the board won’t like it.
There is a divide here, somewhere near the bottom line, of people on the one side who are champions for the living, for the sustainability of place, for the dignity of differently-colored people on the other side of the globe and for the health and well-being of far-future generations. And those on the other side who are champions for the cold dead figures on a balance sheet.
There is a gulf fixed between those who think them-there-then and those who think me-here-now; those who don’t get Mr. Muir’s ecology of all things.
The former understand the frail marvel that is a cell, a coral reef, an intact forest, or a unimaginably-complex spoonful of topsoil and they feel some sense of duty to honor that creature, that living system that was here long before us, whose ongoing integrity sustains our own.
The latter see nothing alive, only resources to transform into commodity, and suckers who must pay The Man from their puny wages for toxic drugs and toxic policies and toxic food and old-growth wood pellets to keep their families alive but unwell.
This cabal has always been immensely powerful, so that the Old Story, business as usual, has driven the ship towards the brink during the Modern Eraâ€Š–â€Šduring the entirety of my boomer lifetime. BIG has trammeled small for a century, but never like we will see in the coming years when Goliath reigns.
A single writer stands perplexed in the middle of his field looking at a strip-mined once-forested ridge one valley over. What is he to do with the round pebble in a leather sling? Is there a vulnerable place on that thick beetling skull where enough humans with good aim and with enough centrifugal force can fell the giant, can write the script of the New Story where people and planet matter more than profit?
I once thought so. Today, I am not so sure. But we should all keep that small hard river rock in our pockets, turn it in our hands often over the coming months and years, and remain vigilant for vulnerable targets to bring BIG down to human scale. BIG is at war with nature. And so we wage peace. Small is beautiful.