Dashiki Dialogues: Sensuous pursuits and dead citizenship

2012-10-20 09:31

One of the reasons that the gifted Ernest Hemingway never wrote a good novel was that nothing interested him, except a few sensuous experiences, like killing things and f***ing.

Gore Vidal, that American literary bad boy, said these things to an interviewer in the Paris Review during 1974. He was running his mouth off in that inimitably great way we’ve come to love about him.

Now, I’ll admit that apart from its luscious effect, the statement has little direct bearing on the point I wish to make here. Mine
is not a literary concern, but put

a pin on it. Let’s see how this delicious detail might lead to a profounder place. I want to talk about how we’ve become like Vidal’s Hemingway, as citizens. Our thirst for sensuous frills has become so ravenous, it has generally made us a bunch of dependent liabilities.

I contend that urban people have given up citizenship to become consumers. They expect to buy their every solution to every glitch at whatever competitive fee. This pursuit of the sensuous things Vidal talks about has made us disinterested and vulnerable.

For instance, consider the basic problems like the politicised debates on food security. Urban people have lost control of their capacity to feed themselves.

Ask yourself what would happen if that bread or vegetable truck didn’t deliver food for about three weeks. It would be a deadly disaster.

Things don’t have to be this way, especially if you consider that a little over a century ago, nearly every household on this planet had a food garden.

It’s probably also reasonable to assume that nearly everyone in those communities knew the farmer that grew the food they didn’t grow themselves.

Today, in our self-proclaimed developed world, most people do not have food gardens and almost nobody knows who grows the food they buy at the friendly supermarket. Now we can assume that these subsistence agricultural skills have generally vanished too.

This basic change in lifestyle focus was neatly observed by social strategist John Robb in his essays on Resilient Communities. “To know and have a say in how your food is grown . . . is a vast improvement over being treated as a guinea pig by the GMO (genetically modified organisms) food industry.”

It also means people are safe from the “disruptions in global food production and supply lines”.

Now, I hope Vidal’s swipe at Hemingway helped to spark a useful dialogue about spotting more resilient dashikis. We are citizens not just amorphous and expandable consumers.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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