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Reflections on Disconnection (And What We’re Doing About It)
Written by Rachel Wohlander
December 8, 2017

California is burning, again. Every week there seems to be something new to be sad, anxious, and outraged about. Then fatigue zaps the energy that could be spent on working for change. So what can we do to come together, and fight for the people, places, and values that have been targeted? Our great hope is that Terra Cultura will be a seed of progress towards social, economic, and environmental justice. Yes, we need massive policy and paradigm shifts, but we can also strive to construct microcosms of the world as we imagine it could be. If we bring together enough creative thinkers and doers, each intent on collaboration and education, while cultivating diversity and deep respect in our communities and habitats, perhaps we can construct a model worth replicating. Through building resilient communities, we will be better equipped to instigate positive change. We certainly can’t do it alone.

Corporatism depends first on our disconnection. The less local, immediate, and interpersonal our experience of the world and each other, the more likely we are to adopt self-interested behaviors that erode community and relationships.

For too long our power to commune and spark action has been systematically targeted. Since the progenitors of the modern corporation first formed in the 17th century, “real things, such as human beings, land, and resources only mattered inasmuch as they kept the credit side of the balance sheet bigger than the debt side,” writes Douglas Rushkoff in Life, Inc, How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back. This is a book I come back to a lot these days, and highly recommend. Here’s an especially relevant excerpt:

“Corporatism depends first on our disconnection. The less local, immediate, and interpersonal our experience of the world and each other, the more likely we are to adopt self-interested behaviors that erode community and relationships. This makes us more dependent on central authorities for the things we used to get from one another; we cannot create value without centralized currency, meaning without nationally known brands, or leaders without corporate support. This dependency, in turn, makes us more vulnerable to the pathetically over-generalized and fear-based mythologies of corporatism. Once we accept these new mythologies as the way things really are, we come to believe that our manufactured disconnection is actually a condition of human nature. In short, we disconnect from the real, adapt to our artificial environment by becoming less than human, and finally mistake carefully constructed corporatist mythologies for the natural universe.”

Rushkoff points out that the more disconnected we are from one another, the more easily we are manipulated. It becomes harder to unionize or organize. We have moved from telling stories around a campfire, to gathering around a radio, to sitting in front of a single family room television set, to having TV’s in every room, to having hand-held mobile screens that go everywhere with us. As our experiences become more mediated and abstracted, we become more isolated and de-socialized. If this existence is unsatisfying and lonely, we only become more likely to turn to consumption for happiness.

The suburbs are a good example of deliberate disconnection. Rushkoff writes that, in popularizing suburban living, “The agenda of real-estate speculators drove both land use policy and the psychology of home ownership,” adding that “Lifestyles were developed around the needs of a corporate product, rather than the other way around.” When everyone has their own private house in the suburbs to maintain on the weekends, with they’re own private tools and gadgets, they’re less likely to be staging the revolution, or even just connecting meaningfully with their neighbors. Rushkoff explains, “Each home was to be its own fiefdom. Self-sufficiency was part of the myth of the self-made man in his private estate, so community property, carpools, or sharing of almost any kind became anathema to the suburban aesthetic.” Home owners, shouldered with debt, became commuters traveling to and from their homogenous suburbs in their private vehicles. They interacted less frequently with people who were different from them than they would have in cities, or on public transportation. The decline in foot traffic meant struggles for local businesses, and fewer encounters with neighbors. House ownership became less about making a home, and more about an investment.

So how do we reconnect to each other, to the makers of the items we purchase, and the farmers who grow our food? How do we begin to think more locally and communally? How do we value people and the environment for their inherent worth, and not see them as commodities to be exploited? How do we join our neighbors to address nuanced local needs, then build strategic coalitions, and true intersectional movements?

I recently saw a sign in the suburb where I grew up that read: “Build Community, Think Local!” and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. While the intentions are good, the actual design of the neighborhood makes community and local commerce almost impossible. Most of the businesses are chains, with employees who commute to work from other suburbs; there are few pleasant, public places for community gathering; neighbors seem to be in their homes or in their cars and rarely interact; there are almost no festivals, rituals, or events to bring neighbors together. People crave connection, and we need well-loved spaces to meet. This is why we aim to make Terra Cultura a social and cultural hub, in service of the needs of its community, where all are welcome, and ideas and projects are supported. It will be a place to get reconnected with land, and materials, where we can teach each other how to grow our own food, and build our own houses, in sustainable, resource-efficient, and community-oriented ways. We will reclaim our commerce and our communities.

So how do we reconnect to each other, to the makers of the items we purchase, and the farmers who grow our food? How do we begin to think more locally and communally? How do we value people and the environment for their inherent worth, and not see them as commodities to be exploited? How do we join our neighbors to address nuanced local needs, then build strategic coalitions, and true intersectional movements? Well, we’re trying to figure that out through this evolving blueprint that we call Terra Cultura.

We do know we are stronger when we work together. That is why Terra Cultura starts with cultivating resilient communities, who are empowered through education and collaboration to advocate for change. Terra Cultura recognizes that cultivating resilient, empowered communities requires upholding the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, while simultaneously working to dismantle systems of oppression, exclusion, and discrimination. Just as biodiversity is an indicator of the strength and resilience of an ecosystem, we believe that incorporating all perspectives, experiences, and cultures is necessary in order to create strong communities who will work towards a more just future. We welcome all people into our community, embracing diversity in all its forms, including but not limited to race, ancestry, place or origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, philosophy, religion, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental ability, socio-economic status. 

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the state of things, you’re not alone. At the least, each crisis lends a chance to take care of one another, and mobilize for change. Terra Cultura is a place where you will be welcomed and safe.  And together, we’ll keep on fighting for a better future.

Written by Rachel Wohlander

Rachel Wohlander is a co-founder, and the executive director of culture and education at Terra Cultura. She is an interdisciplinary artist and educator with a background in performing arts and creative writing.

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