Cultural Sustainability

I've had this idea rolling around my head the last few days: Cultural Sustainability.

Living in the Northwest, we see a lot of stuff calling for Sustainability. It's a buzz word really, meant to invoke a grass roots effort to resist the barrage of products and services designed to make a select few wealthy while stripping the land of its resources. It's about recycling, reusing, reducing. It's about doing more with less. It's about supporting local small businesses rather going to Big Box stores for items. It's about making healthy choices in our personal lives and supporting healthier choices in our government policies.

Recently Since Sliced Bread announced the winners of their recent contest to find the best ideas in the US. Focused on the economy, SSB states:

Since Sliced Bread is a national call for fresh, common sense ideas. A call for ideas that will strengthen our economy and improve the day-to-day lives of working men and women and their families. It’s also a place where ordinary Americans and experts alike can discuss the important economic issues of our times.

The recent winner received $100,000 to develop his idea on imposing a “resource tax” on pollution, development, and fossil fuel to pay for development of renewable energy and environmental restoration.

So in messing with my earlier idea of Compassionate Activism, I came up with the possiblity of supporting Cultural Sustainability. Commpassionate Activism is the active part of Cultural Sustainablity. By focusing on sustaining culture, respecting and celebrating the spaces we all come from, we can move more effectively to be Compassionate Activists - activists able to do what The University of Bradford calls for:

Confronting Inequality : Celebrating Diversity.

I mentioned this idea at the local storytellers guild I hope to join and a member was intrigued by the possiblities presented by the concept. I realized then that I didn't have a really solid grasp on the topic, so I did what I always do, I Googled it. There is little on the topic, but what I did find was promising.

Most of what I found centered around Sustainability as a concept - one that is usually contextualized in relation to local economy and the environment.

The Washington Department of Ecology states:

At its most basic level, sustainable means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This is Ecology's working definition of sustainability.

Northwest Policy Institute (University of Washington Graduate School of Public Affairs Seattle, Washington USA) as quoted by Sustainable Measures states:

"Sustainable communities foster commitment to place, promote vitality, build resilience to stress, act as stewards, and forge connections beyond the community"

While Sustainable Measures itself states:

There may be as many definitions of sustainability and sustainable development as there are groups trying to define it. All the definitions have to do with:

*Living within the limits
*Understanding the interconnections among economy, society, and environment
*Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities

Wikipedia's entry

Sustainability is a systemic concept, relating to the continuity of economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of human society. It is intended to be a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals indefinitely. Sustainability affects every level of organization, from the local neighborhood to the entire planet.

In Australia, the concept already has a presence. The City of Marion in the southwestern region of Australia gives the following definition and promotes programs which exemplify the practice:

cultural sustainability: developing, renewing and maintaining human cultures that create positive, enduring relationships with other peoples and the natural world.

There is even a checklist to evaluate cultural sustainability here.

In addition, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel has Cultural Sustainability in their mandate:

We call our initiative "Cultural Education <> Cultural Sustainability" (CE<>CS). CE<>CS refers to the educational efforts of groups to sustain their socio-historical heritage in the face of globalizing or nationalizing assimilatory power or other hegemonic homogenizing forces.

It's not surprising that the US has very little attention in Cultural Sustainability. The US already has a cultural lock on the world, in many ways, but it is a very constrained culture that is being disseminated and imposed. It lacks, much like the rest of the US economic system, the flexibility and diversity that sustainable cultures possess and as such, will likely suffer the same fate as its economic counterpart - a burgeoning debt ratio and fear-based policy making which create systems of oppression in an escalating and perpetual manner.

By focusing on the celebration and sharing of cultures and cultural traditions in a respectful (ie. non-aquisitive manner) the social structure of a given community is strengthened in the same way that the strength of local businesses decreases the impact of Big Box economy and creates a real-time economy based on equitible trade, rather than debt, either on the part of the consumer or on the producer/distributor.

Every action we take is in direct response to a conscious and/or unconscious understanding of how the world around us works. The aware person works toward understanding their own viewpoint, creating a direct link between their actions and their priorities. By making cultural sustainability the focus of our actions, Compassionate Activism has a frame within which great changes can be made in our communities.

For myself, this means supporting the efforts of the storytellers guild in gathering, archiving, and performing the stories of the people in my county. I hope that in the research I can find and perform the stories of the Filpinos and Indo Pinos that have lived and contributed to the community I live in.


Ernesto said...

Thank you for a very interesting entry, Bec. Living in Mexico, I have witnessed the theoretical discussion regarding "sustainable development", and met many fellow Mexican students doing postgraduate degrees in "development studies" in England. Yet... what we see and what we live on the streets and the countryside is something else altogether. We are very far away from seeing the results of what sounds well in theory, but in reality is non-existent...

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Yep, I hear what you're saying. Today I had a conversation with a gal who is having trouble making a living because those working in sustainable development don't have the money/philosophy to pay her market rate.

Weaning ourselves from a market/consumerist economy/philosophy will be tough and won't happen over night. We might not even see the effects of better, greener choices in our lifetime. My hope, though, is that we can begin the process, even just small choices, small changes in perspective, view the difficulties our market economy has created for the oppressiveness it is, and begin the healing process.

There are times when I think it might be too late, that we will see the collapse of the market economy in our lifetime, see our desperation reach a peak, and explode in blood, war, disease, poverty, and death. The Four Horsemen may already be in the ride.

But if we cannot keep love, if we cannot keep hope, if we cannot try to change, then we have already lost and are merely marking time to the end.

For me, these things are not theory only, but things I am trying to practice. It's hard, but I do feel it must be done. Even if the economy I affect is only the 10-12 people I interact with in my life.

Thanks for dropping by! I miss our talks/emails.

Susan Bradbury said...

I was pleasantly surprised to see your blog. I also live in Whatcom County and have a Non Profit, The Sound Essence Project. Our major areas of interest is cultural sustainability in Mongolia. We presently have several projects to work towards this goals. One is putting 5 college students through college in Mongolia at the college of their choice. A microfinance project where 4 women created The Blessing Bakery and are baking out of one womens kitchen and selling their cookies and breads to the local community, and The Mongolian Storyteller's Project. This is a five year project where we are recording traditional and family stories and creating a documentary and book with the help of a local Mongolian woman Bolortetseg, and artist in UlaanBaatar, Chimeddorj. This summer we will return and continue the above projects and add a tree planting project and stethascope project. Our new website will be up and running by the end of March www.soundessenceproject.org. Susan Bradbury

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Hi Susan!

Thanks for dropping by. I'd love to chat further on your project. Please backchan me at word (dot) binder (at) comcast (dot) net when you get a chance.

Very exciting!