|The discussion, one of many, while we were at the little house on Itaparica.|
Friday, March 16, 2012
Sustainable Development and Dona Joana
, and all we have to do is steer clear of the specters of economic recession. We need to change. On a massive scale. Fast. And so I often get frustrated with the people who want to talk about the economies of "non-capitalist traditional societies" and creating a sustainable world one eco- village at a time. The majority of the social-ladder climbing population is not going to buy into this, I want to say, and besides, we need bigger changes, faster.
But there’s more to the sustainable development room than the consumption elephant. Policy wonks, myself included, often get hung up on "internalizing the externalities” and incorporating “the polluter-pays principle” at the expense of traditional culture and small-scale innovation. We miss out on the philosophical questions and exchanges of human and natural creativity in our search for policy solutions in the political and economic realms.
Last weekend we went out to the communities to meet with some of the clam and oyster harvesters. Most of the two days were consumed with meetings. I sat with a group in school desks that had been pulled into a judo studio not far from the estuary that fronts the town going back and forth in discussions for hours. After the last meeting on the second day, we had lunch, then drove down a mix of paved and dirt roads to where another part of our group had just finished up. We sat down in a room with white flags dangling from the ceiling and pictures of saints hanging on the walls next to women in colorful skirts. Soon a few men came out and began beating out polyrhythms on some drums and a bell and the women, most of whom were in their 60’s, began dancing a crazy samba. Everyone except me seemed to know all the songs and the dance went on for nearly two hours, the women’s feet moving furiously. Some of the older women who couldn't do all the steps just spun in circles as fast as they could, their gold skirts billowing. One of the younger women had a two year old boy whose face just lit up with excited happiness at all this, his eyes alight with wonder as he tried to do the dance -- kicking his little legs and nearly falling over.
I learned later that the space was used for candomble ceremonies -- the syncretic combination of Catholicism and animist religions slaves brought over. The pictures were of saints, but they represented orixas -- African deities of nature like wind and water. The music, dance, and religion are the legacy of people who have struggled to preserve their culture in a changing environment. Within them are stories of overcoming oppression and lessons for survival in a land of danger and beauty. And there are arts and stories and faiths from East Asia to middle-America that tell the same warnings and bestow the same hope.
Somehow we have to make room for them, and Dona Joana, in our institutional blueprints and roadmaps for a green economy, in our politics and in our narratives. While it's imperative we develop an international framework that will tame the beast of consumption, we have to make folk music and village councils part of our vision, along with new efforts at forming sustainable communities like eco-villages and co-ops. We have to include these histories and traditions and new-fangled innovations in the story of the future we want. Any notion of sustainability is hollow without them.