I am reading Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies at the moment and weirdly they sound like the voices of my mother and grandmother, the voices of faith which could be quite stubborn and sometimes even off-putting but spoke to me of God. Mies in particular is anti-abortion, anti-contraception and I can’t quite see things her way although her critique of liberal feminism in many ways hits home.
But the call from both of these women to treat life as sacred, to treat the human as more than a consumer-producer, to be fair there is a sense of “walk humbly with our God” even if they are not specifically talking to me of faith, or at least not a Christian one.
The part I felt I would share and reflect on is a small section of a chapter called “Liberating the Consumer” by Maria Mies. Mies says that part of the problem is capitalist patriarchy has taught us that we have to buy things and consume them to meet our needs. The fact that humans have needs is undeniable (I have never had much patience with the idea of asceticism and I always saw it as a form of anorexia when all the “virgins” in the medieval period starved themselves holy. I felt resentful for the way faith and popular society, while presented to me as two oppositional things both wanted to control women by starving them into passivity!
So for me I am very ready to believe that I have needs (and wants)and Mies admits that some needs are “fundamental” and reframes to that we need to look at the “satisfiers” to open up that there might be more than one way to satisfy a need (and in fact answers other than capitalist ones might work better).
So if fundamental needs are
subsistence- health, food, shelter, clothing, etc
protection- care,solidarity, meaningful and reliable work, etc
affection- self-esteem, love, care, friendship
understanding- being accepted, studying, learning, analysis
participation- responsibilities, sharing, rights, duties, decision making
leisure/idleness- curiosity, imagination, games, fun, relaxation
creation- intuition, imagination, work, play, curiosity
identity- belonging, differentiation, self-esteem, autonomy
freedom- autonomy, self-esteem, dignity, self-determination, equality
Elsewhere she an Shiva deconstruct and deeply critique a capitalist or neoliberal conception of “freedom” as individual, apolitical (or claiming to be), value-free and without moral duties.
I like these nine needs because to me they make up a rich and worthwhile life not just a life spent labouring. Material/biological needs are acknowledged, but so is the need to belong, to contribute, to critique, to create. Mies goes on to show us that these needs are behind consumerism, that we have been mesmerised into assuming a shopaholic version of these needs.
subsistence becomes- fancier foods, magical remedies for things (including equating health with narrow constructions of beauty), fashion etc
protection- border protections, surveillance cultures, passwords, enclosure of the commons etc. “private” is from the Latin to deprive.
affection is reduced to dating, networking, trying to impress people, social media, beauty products and the weight loss industry (many of these observations are my own extrapolations so for goodness sakes don’t blame Mies for them but read her chapter if you want)
and so on.
How do we look for ways to meet our real, genuine needs (which we should not feel guilty for having) without overusing the world or exploiting others? Because the woman in a slum in India or Africa has the same needs and as much right to have them granted as I, a middle-class white Australian do.
There is not an easy checklist but there are things that fill multiple needs. Communities do a lot of good things. Let’s consider a community garden (I hate gardening, but arguably I need to get over that or find a way to cook or babysit for community gardeners or something). A community garden produces subsistence (food). affection (because friendships may develop), participation, creation…etc. Joining a union we can insist we get freedom, leisure, identity, participation, etc. Public libraries give protection, understanding,identity etc (which reminds me when I finish this book to see if Sophia library want it.
Mies shows though that unlike shopaholism which is geared at soothing but not really satisfying a need; rich, strong communities are able to fill multiple needs and the filling of my needs becomes not a competition against you but can actually make me part of filling your needs too. Other writers like Monbiot and any sensible economist are saying similar things too in terms of sustainable, equitable futures (the only sort of future we will survive).
Dare I wonder if this is quite similar to the message and praxis of Jesus? Actual Jesus not the Constantined version.
This was not in the lectionary, I have not made myself angry or sick by looking at that patriarchal framing this week. I will go out on a limb though and assert that this IS very much the Word of Godde.
Thanks be to Godde.