Image credit: Monty Python - via Fox Sports
Is Downshifting Elitist?
When I posted on George Monbiot's denegration of the war on plastic bags last week, it created quite a stir. Now Monbiot is at it again - defending his assertions that reducing plastic bag waste is good, but focusing on plastic bag waste is a distraction. You'll find no argument for that position here - I've lost count of how many press releases I've received for fancy new reusable shopping bags this Earth Day. What caught my attention though, was a comment on that post from Joolzz, a disgruntled resident of rural England, complaining about the waves of 'middle class nitwits who then preach to us about the virtues of their organic cotton ponchoes'. Besides being a highly entertaining read - this comment highlights the challenges that environmentalism faces in shedding its elitist image. Read on for more from Joolzz, the 'working class peasant':
Our villages are being taken over by middle class nitwits who then preach to us about the virtues of their organic cotton ponchoes… when weve been (having) to buy our clothes from jumble sales! These people and their horrid sprogs (usually called India and Jasper) then lord it over us poor uneducated savages…
You still retain cars, you encourage the springing up of over-priced artsy-fartsy shops and outlets that take the place of ‘normal butcher/baker/greengrocer shops. Bread-making courses at £100 a day? Welcome to Dorset! Artisan Delicatessens? Welcome to Castle Cary or Wincanton in Somerset. You look down your nose at us - the rural poor - when we are waiting for the bus, in the rain, to get to our cheese factory job. We arent making *hand crafted goats cheese* you see!
What High Fearnley-Whittingstal doesnt show you or tell you is the sheer genius in ekeing out a living in these poor areas that most us have to engage in. We cant keep chickens as we cant afford to buy or rent a house with a garden. You guys have got them already. The you refuse to engage in our simple pleasures with us because we live in Council houses.
It's a tough charge to counter - I myself have moved to a semi-rural area in North Carolina, and have taken to beekeeping, mushroom growing and large scale composting - and I'm not alone. What do the original residents make of us newbies?
It's hard to say - unless you go to church, or drink at the one local bar, I have so far found very little opportunity for social interaction. The one thing I can say is that I never, ever look down on those who lived here before me, especially those who eked out a true living on the land. It's one thing to make your money blogging, and grow asparagus in your spare time. It's quite another to break your back every day trying to feed your kids.
Similarly, I refuse to judge those who do not have the trappings of a green lifestyle - the reusable bags, the biodiesel car, the solar panels, or whatever- but I see others in the green movement who clearly do. As a UK national living in the US, I'll bet that my carbon footprint trumps many of my SUV driving neighbors, simply because I visit my family now and then. I'd rather work towards bettering my life, and the lives of those around me, than bicker over who really is, or isn't, green.
One other thing to consider - I regularly hear charges of elitism leveled at higher-income folks moving into rural areas, or into poorer inner city neighborhoods - but it seems that there is very little any individual can do by themselves. Should we simply maintain a strict system of class segregation? It seems more important, then, as individuals to behave with respect, compassion and community engagement wherever you end up living - and as a society to create opportunity for sustainable livelihoods, affordable housing and a myriad of opportunities for us all to interact. Sustainability will only be sustainable when we are ALL on board - and if 'green' starts feeling like an exclusive club for those of us who know about no-dig gardening, then we are all doomed.
By the way, I do not (yet) own an organic poncho.