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First Nations elder, Ilarion Merculieff says, “everything is about relationships” (2012). This is a poignant reflecting point in the wake of the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, who has been endorsed by the KKK and is beginning to appoint white nationalists, such as Alt-Right Steve Bannon, to his cabinet. Threatened relationships abound as African Americans, Mexican Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, etc. fear what their lives will be like and what liberties will be lost under a presidency of intolerance. It’s here in this turbulent, uncertain, and heartbroken space where it becomes essential to return to what connects communities themselves together. It is our relational bonds to each other and what cultural critic, bell hooks, and Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, would call Communities of Love (2000) that are essential for not only our individual and collective happiness, but also our survival as a people and species. This paper will explore aspects of love, the detrimental aspects of consumerism on love, how neoliberalism leads to fascism, and how communities of love are themselves, essential to and at the very heart of sustainability, resistance and resilience.
In the industrialized world, except in cases of severe neglect or dire poverty, the baseline nutritional and shelter needs of children are satisfied. The third prime necessity—emotional nurture—is the one most likely to be disrupted in Western societies. The importance of this cannot be overstated: emotional nurturance is an absolute requirement for healthy neurobiological brain development. “Human connections create neuronal connections.” … The child needs to be in an attachment relationship with at least one reliably available, protective, psychologically present, and reasonably nonstressed adult. (p. 193)
However, it is these attachment relationships (love) that are the most stressed in Western culture. Most parents have to spend increasing hours away from their family in order to make a living, and in Western culture we no longer live within large extended families or communities. The old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” becomes increasingly a romantic notion in the busy fragmentation of our modern lives. And, American parents, in particular, are increasingly expected to be a village unto themselves with either just their partner to help raise their children, or they undertake this work of raising a child individually as a single parent.
Parents do their very best to raise their children yet parents are also increasing stressed, and this stress directly affects their children and the bonding necessary for their child’s healthy brain development. Maté says in an interview on Democracy Now that post-industrial capitalism itself is at odds with the healthy brain development of children.
… see, it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities, which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.
This is a deeply troubling conclusion and reflecting point on American culture as we uncover the role of capitalism and thus also consumerism in breaking apart community and familial bonds, especially in the new light of Trump, a racist billionaire, being elected as president.
However, there is also hope. Where there is degeneration, there can be regeneration. In the field of sustainability, it’s understood that systems can become stronger as they get shocked. So, in turn, love, the neurochemical bonds that are essential to and necessary to our survival, can be revitalized as we experience this shock to our political system and reject the racism and also dark mother of materialism that Trump so blatantly represents. While it’s urgently important not to passively accept the Trump presidency, also, now that we are collectively entering this space, there is an opportunity to reassess the underlying values and dysfunctions of our culture more vigorously than we would have under a Clinton presidency. Now, is an opportunity to move center to what we value and hold of the utmost importance. And, this begins first with a rejection of what is most detrimental to the minds and hearts of all people. bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions says “Greed violates the spirit of connectedness and community that is natural to human survival” (p. 117). Her words pierce to unveil one of the shadows of American culture, and it’s in understanding all the dimensions and aspects of greed (resource wars, destruction of rainforests, Dakota Access Pipeline, etc.) that we as a culture can reground ourselves in what is of real value and importance— Love, Community, and Regeneration. It is these aspirations that offer hope for a more just, fair, whole, diverse and vibrant world. And, in order to arrive at this new world, we need to reflect on the systems and lack of ethics that got us to where we presently are.
Speaking further on American values or lack thereof, hooks says,
By the late seventies, among privileged people the worship of money was expressed by making corruption acceptable and the ostentatious parading of material luxury the norm. To many people, our nation’s acceptance of corruption as the new order of the day began with the unprecedented exposure of presidential dishonesty and the lack of ethical and moral behavior in the White House. This lack of ethics was explained away by government officials linking support of big business to further imperialism with national security and dominance globally. (p.109)
Remembering back to the Nixon years can give us a cultural context for where we find ourselves now, now being— both a familiar and terrifyingly new terrain. We are familiar with corruption in the oval office, but we have never seen someone so demonstrably unfit before win the presidency of the United States. Whether Trump is threatening to build a wall between Mexico and the USA, have all Muslims in the US register in a database, or brag about wanting to grab a woman by the pussy, he promotes hate ubiquitously against minorities and women. And, if less dangerously, he also more subtly slips himself in between fact and fiction— his reality TV show personality on The Apprentice encouraged audiences to delight in him harassing and yelling, “You’re fired” at employees. This personality is now being brought into the seeming reality TV of the White House. What is real in this blurring between junk media and reality? And what skewed personality characteristics does he promote? With Trump as president, he institutionalizes and normalizes the worst aspects of humanity including: racism, sexism, greed, misogyny, selfishness, callousness, shallowness, dishonesty, deceit, immaturity, incompetence etc. And, it’s in the space that’s been hollowed of values where we can reconnect to what’s of real value and importance. Again, in rejection not only of materialism that is already destroying our communities, we can also reject all the worst aspects of human nature epitomized in Trump— with the caveat that as much he embodies the worst aspects of humanity, in our selves also we need to embrace the shadow that we wish not to own. We all have love and hate within us running across our own hearts, but as the Cherokee wolf tale has been passed on to teach all people, we have two wolves inside ourselves, and we can choose which wolf we feed. The wolf we have been collectively feeding to date is late-stage capitalism that destroys both the fabric of our communities and the larger ecosystems of our living world. This ideological and monetary system has grown increasingly unstable, and as author and social activist, Naomi Klein, in her recent Guardian article, “It was the Democrats' Embrace of Neoliberalism that Won it for Trump” (2016) blames neoliberalism as the current creator of fascism through its deregulation, privatization, and austerity measures. In the face of declining social safety nets, Trump speaks directly to the working class’ pain. And, so it can be argued that the crisis of late capitalism as embodied in neoliberalism lends itself to be taken over by fascism— a full on crisis against every aspect of plurality, diversity, acceptance, and love.
In the face of a society that has had been compromised of love on so many levels, where do we go from here? How do we help heal families and communities? How do we reject a materialistic, racist, and warring culture that is embedded in our foreign policies, media, and soon as a kind of simulated reality TV in our government? In a recent article in the Huffington Post titled, “A (Spiritual) Revolution on the Way?” The author and spiritual theologian, Matthew Fox says,
I sat down with a wise elder in his 80s the day after the election and he told me that what is good about the outcome is that “the revolution will come faster; I thought it would come in a few years but now it will be hastened.” What kind of revolution? “A spiritual revolution, a revolution in values and non-violent protest.”
He went on: “Look at the homeless everywhere; the bloated cost of education; the utter failure of our political parties offering up a fascist candidate (who won); and another candidate who did not arouse interest enough for people to come out to vote.
I say Yes! to a revolution of spirit and values, one that would drive a complete overhaul of our approach to economics, the environment, employment, and education.
The Spirit that Fox is speaking about is a return to values that can allow American culture to transform our most broken institutions to serve the American people and the environment. And, this transformation is a grassroots transformation that pushes against power from above and organizes horizontally below as the emergence of what Martin Luther King would call the Beloved Community or bell hooks and Thich Nhat Hanh would call a Community of Love. It’s the formation of this horizontal, all-inclusive, open-ended community that is mycelial in structure, regenerative, and acts as nature itself. Community in this context becomes not only what is sustainable but also what is regenerative. And, it is ultimately community that is at the heart of every sustainability effort and action, whether it is community support behind climate action, or it is the web of life itself, with its own right to life that exists as a frontier of diversity and fragility. And, in cases such as the Flint Water Crisis, the web of life that needs protecting is itself a human one. But, when we place communities or more-than-human-communities at the center of our organizing, we align ourselves with love, justice, and life.
The reemergence of healthy families and communities can be supported by the return of the commons and public spaces, access to free education, access to nature as our larger community, access to health care, access to livelihood if not a world evolved beyond a job economy. It is beyond the scope of this current paper to explore in detail the work entailed to build this new regenerative culture, but it is community as the center of and as the embodiment of regenerative culture that is needed to save, envision, dream, build, and love a new world. And, it is here where we deepen and repair the emotional bonds that have been compromised and lost in a late-capitalist turned fascist political environment. These bonds can be recreated by children once again spending quality time with the adults in their lives and finding the love and healing that was ours all along.
In The Raft Is Not the Shore, a conversation between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and anti-war activist, they give voice to the idea of Communities of Resistance. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “So, a community that shows abundance of life, that is an example of the wholeness of life, would be an eloquent sign of the possibility of the future” (p. 124). It’s this “wholeness of life” that needs to be embraced and recognized itself, as integral to the Community of Love since it is wholeness that is open-ended. Rhizomes are also open-ended and offer for us a natural model of how life itself can proliferate at every point it is touched. Additionally, life and community are also open-ended. With love and right values in place, we can guide ourselves to a more sustainable culture. And looking to mycelium, the underground root network of fungi, can teach how to organize communally and horizontally. Peter McCoy in Radical Mycology: A Treatise on Seeing and Working with Fungi says,
…Conversely, a highly connected and diverse network allows for the spontaneous creation of new ideas, relationships, and adaptations to form in response to even the most complex of challenges. Such emergent behavior takes countless forms. It is seen whenever a fungus acclimates to a new toxin, when mycologists collaborate to uncover a novel theory, when a neighborhood bands together to build a food forest, or when a social movement effectively rises against oppression. (p. 379)
And, McCoy goes on to say, “And if the environment demands change, a plant’s community of endophytic fungi could turn saprophytic, just as an objectionable billboard demands détournement by culture jammers and social critics” (p. 379). And, so as McCoy analogizes with mycelium, human communities can reroute themselves from being symbiotic to dismantling depending on the context of a situation and what is needed (when aligned with values of love) for the health and regeneration of the larger community. In responding to both internal and external pressures, there are endless possibilities to how community can respond to crises. Action itself is an emergent property of whole systems. Taking a step back now, who is our larger community, and what is the consensus of the Earth community?
Paul Stamets in his TED Talk, “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World” speaks about an imaginary organization called UOH (United Organization of Organisms- pronounced Uhh Ohh), and he asks the question of the TED audience that if every organism had a right to vote whether we (humanity) would be voted on or off the planet. We obviously can guess what the answer would be. In reflection, however, we should not only look to nature and in how to self-organize ourselves and strengthen our bonds between each other, but now is also a time to also to reaffirm our relationships to the natural world and Mother Earth who we are born into. We can affirm these relationships by protecting our land and waterways, becoming a zero waste culture, growing our own food, developing a humble awareness of the more-than-human world, learning biomimetically from nature, and importantly looking to plants, more-than-humans, and fungi as allies and elders in healing and regeneration. The natural world is also part of our Community of Love. This emergence of the Beloved Community that King envisioned should importantly but not only be a community of forgiveness and a bridge with those who have wronged or held hostile viewpoints, but in response to not only climate crisis and in awareness of our larger selves, we need to step into a broader circumference of identity to see the plant, more-than-human, and fungi worlds as integral to our health, wellness, happiness, creativity and wholeness. This crisis of politics as evidenced also in environmental destruction and destruction of the family holds an opportunity for us to acknowledge are long colonial past and unite all communities as one community of life on Earth. Matthew Fox goes on in “A (Spiritual) Revolution on the Way?” to say,
…. Aquinas tells us how: “Zeal comes from an intense experience of the beauty of things,” i.e. Love of the Earth; of life; of being itself; of our home, the cosmos. So sacred. A return to the Sacred. To Spirit.
“Hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up” teaches David Orr the eco-philosopher (8). Our work is cut out for us—but it must be an inner work that invites and responds to Spirit, as well as an outer work that challenges structures that are ill serving.
And, so this return to the Spirit, which is already known by all First Nations cultures, is simultaneously both an inner and an outer work aligned with the awakening of an ecological consciousness and a consciousness that perceives its interconnection to all things to embrace our allies and elders in the natural worlds.
In conclusion, as we process the calamity of the most recent election, we are situated at a turning point within our own cultural and larger story of the world. As we identify this new space we’re collectively in, it is of the utmost importance that we remain vigilant in response to the threats of Donald Trump against the diversity of people in our country, and also open ourselves amidst this crisis for the strength of the Community of Love to emerge like it has never been seen before. First Nations people have always had deep relationships with the spirit and more-than-human world. And, now we can create the protected and safe space for everyone to embrace Mother Earth and all the multiple and divergent intelligences she holds. Now is not the time to look above for answers, but as community, we need to grow down and across to address our needs and the needs of our Mother. We are connected— finding more of ourselves as we connect to more of ourselves, to our wider self—and most whole self— that is the world.
List of References
Fox, Matthew. (2016). A (Spiritual) Revolution on the Way? November 15, 2016,
Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-fox/a-spiritual-
Fromm, Erich. (1956)The Art of Loving. New York: Harper Perennial Modern
Hanh, T. N. & Berrigan, D. (1975) The Raft Is Not The Shore. New York: Orbis Books.
hooks, b. (2000) All About Love: New Visions. New York: Harper Perennial.
hooks, bell. (2000). Building a Community of Love: bell hooks and Thich Nhat Hanh.
Lion’s Roar. January 1, 2000, Retrieved from http://www.lionsroar.com/bell-hooks- and-thich-nhat-hanh-on-building-a-community-of-love
Klein, Naomi. (2016). It was the Democrats' Embrace of Neoliberalism that Won It
for Trump. The Guardian. November 9, 2016, Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/rise-of-the-davos-class-sealed-americas-fate
Krznaric, Roman. (2013). The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing
Them Can Change Your Life). Yes! Magazine. December 27, 2013, Retrieved from http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life
Maté, G. (2008) In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Maté, G. (2012) Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction and
Destruction of American Childhood. [video] Retrieved from Democracy Now
McCoy, Peter. (2016) Radical Mycology: A Treatise On Seeing & Working With Fungi.
Portland: Chthaelus Books
Merculieff, I. Going to the Heart of Sustainability with Ilarian Merculieff. [video] Retrieved from YouTube Web site:
Stamets, P. 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World. [video] Retrieved from TED
 Eros, sexual passion; Philia, deep friendship; Ludus, playful love; Agape, love for everyone; Pragma, longstanding love; Philautia, love of the self
 This Cherokee story goes that there is a fight going on inside a man and there are two wolves of both evil and good and the one that prevails is the one that the man chooses to feed.
 This is a First Nations way to express language for animals without using the word “animal” itself which can be hierarchical in language structure.
 King believed in the creation of the Beloved Community that all relationships even between oppressor and oppressed were rectified in his non-dual understanding of community.
 David Orr, “Hope in a Hotter Time,” in Hope is an Imperative: The Essential David Orr (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2011), 324.