Searching For Macrobiotic Values In A Post 9/11 World (an article from June 2007)
This article was written in June of 2007 and appeared in the magazine “Macrobiotics Today”. Since then, the world has changed: Obama became U.S. President and the new First Lady plants an organic garden at the White House; food awareness sweeps the nation; and despite economic hardship, there is a sense that our national and global priorities are returning back to an order that values global harmony, peace, health and environmental sustainability above corporate greed, exploitation and fear.
A Period Of Consequences
Things have been bothering me ever since 9/11 and it’s not the fear of terrorism or even the Iraq War that I am talking about. The aftermath of 9/11 brought a sense that the modern world is finally falling apart and that the dream of creating a peaceful world has become less important then simply avoiding the inevitable and unpredictable conflicts and apocalyptic events that will flare up around the world, wherever they may occur. To borrow from Al Gore’s words, it feels as if we have entered a “period of consequences” that are not only environmental in nature but one that reaches into every corner and aspect of our world; as if we passed a point of no return and must brace ourselves for the inevitable collapse that will come. It is a sobering and depressing thought which has left me wondering about and longing for the innocent and wanderlust days of dreaming and working together in a community toward of a world of peace, health, happiness and harmony with the nature.
East Meets West
Growing up in the sixties and early seventies in Boston my siblings and I were at the heart of a macrobiotic movement intent on the peaceful merger of Eastern and Western cultures as the cornerstone in creating world peace. Emboldened by the destruction that was World War II and the new threat of total nuclear annihilation my parents, Michio and Aveline Kushi, and their elders firmly believed and actively pursued the peaceful union of the opposing East and West world views as the means to create total peace. As a result, our parents introduced many Far-Eastern things to the West for the first time in a comprehensive package for daily living. Japanese and Asian food products such as Miso, Seaweed, Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan; oriental medicine including Acupuncture, Shiatsu, and traditional lifestyle and culture including Futons and Noh Drama were all part of the package that has come to be known as “macrobiotics.” Our house became a constant parade of open-minded hippies whom were seeking a peaceful alternative to the never-ending war culture that was epitomized by the Vietnam War. They were draft-dodgers who intentionally failed their physical recruiting exams by weakening themselves through fasting or eating minimally. They eagerly embraced the vision of my parents and sought to change the world by working for them and helping them grow companies like Erewhon Natural Foods, the East West Journal, many macrobiotic restaurants, the East West Foundation and East West Centers around the country. It was a time rich in creativity, ambition, inspiration and utopian ideals. East and West were finally coming together and the movement had an unintentional yet ideal mascot in the form of the rebel-rocker, peace-loving, mind-blowing, make-love-not-war union of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Next Stop – World Peace
The 60s and early 70s was a time of tremendous optimism fueled by what seemed to be the end of inequality and racial prejudice thanks to the civil rights movement; the end of the suffering of women thanks to the feminist movement; a time when real people could stop war by peacefully protesting and singing “Give Peace A Chance” and, a time when, for the first time in human history, we could see pictures of our home planet from the moon. The future never looked brighter and it was only a matter of time when the general population would see the logic to adopt a more ascetic macrobiotic lifestyle that would make our unhealthy and polluting ways obsolete. It was only a matter of time that we could see the end of world hunger and the creation of self-sustainable communities with alternative renewable energy technology around the world. It was only a matter of time that we could finally render nuclear weapons and war obsolete. It was a time when it felt like anything was possible and that world peace was, indeed, inevitable.
Beyond world peace, the type of future world that was imagined was one without keys and locks, without money, guns and nuclear weapons. A place where there were no reasons to steal or be greedy; a world foretold by Samuel Butler in his book, “Erewhon”, where the sick were confined to eat a simple diet until they got well and criminals were hospitalized and treated for their mental problems and where major disagreements were decided by playing games. In the future we had unlimited energy harvested from the electro-magnetic field of the earth. We flew in UFOs even into outer Space. All our food was grown not just organically but wild and natural. It was a place where we made no distinction between dream-world and reality; where we could communicate telepathically and where our intuition was strong enough to avoid every single natural disaster that nature could dish out, including pole shifts and interstellar collisions. We took care of the earth and the earth took care of us. It was place where everyone was enlightened and in love and, yes, while there were difficulties and challenges all of them were fully embraced with the deepest gratitude and humility. It was true paradise on earth that was expected to come with the changing procession of the earth’s axis. It was everything John Lennon sang about in his song, “Imagine” but even more so.
The Death of Optimism
But alas, in a post 9/11 world, the already fading optimism of yesterday has finally vanished in a world filled with terror and the dreams of a peaceful world seem further away now than ever before. Diseases are still widespread and rampant as ever and the US is again in another never-ending war. The fight for organically grown foods may have been won, but the larger battle for whole natural foods seems to have been lost as genetically modified patented life forms become ever more so pervasive. Even the efforts of Al Gore to make Global Warming a priority appear to be a Quixote-like cause that is too late against an adversary too great, namely, the global Corporate American Agenda whose prime objective, it seems, is to grab all the oil and all other natural resources before they’re all gone and to ensure their own market dominance around the world.
What happened? How did it come to this? Where are all the dreamers of yesterday? How could our present world be so dominated by war and corporate greed? How could there continue to be an issue between our affluent selfish needs and the care for the environment and the impoverished? Has the past 40 years of macrobiotic grassroots efforts made any real difference? While it may have helped many to become healthier and live longer and while it certainly has helped to popularize organic foods, it otherwise really doesn’t seem like it has affected the world in any significant way. Why or why not?
I think the best way to begin to find an answer to this question is to reexamine ourselves as macrobiotic adherents in political, social and economic terms and value systems. While certainly some of the imaginings of the future utopian world were a bit far-fetched what has always remained a core value in macrobiotics has been that of individual personal freedom. People were encouraged to think, live and eat by their own free choice and whatever that was they would reap the rewards or suffer the consequences, which needed not be dealt with or served by any human authority because nature and the universe itself would take care of it. Macrobiotics provided the ultimate expression in personal freedom and was in keeping with the core values of a democratic, free-market society, championed, of course, by the ideals of the United States Constitution.
After World War II the world was polarized between capitalist and socialist ideals. The two systems offered diametrically opposing views of economic equality; one promoting it as an individual right and the other as a social obligation. The period from the 50s through the 80s was dominated by the struggle between these two world views, highlighted by the Cuban missile crisis and nuclear arms race, the Space race, the rise (and fall) of the Berlin Wall, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and ultimately ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a victory for capitalistic ideals and a testament to upholding the rights of the individual and the value of a free market world. It was a final “I told you so” for economists, bankers, the multinational corporate elite, political leaders and your average G.I. Joe of the free world. The democratization of former Soviet Republics was less significant than the idea that their citizens were now free to make as much money as they could without interference. The capitalist free market world view no longer faced any opposition. The world truly has become the oyster for the corporate and black market elite especially with China also opening itself up to free trade. We are now living in a time and a world where the freedom to make as much money as possible not only goes unchecked but is backed by the most powerful government and military in the world. What does this really mean? Is this a macrobiotic ideal?
The loss of Soviet communism, while inherently oppressive, was also the loss of top-down system that, under ideal conditions, should have been able to ensure the welfare of the collective good in a way that everyone could understand and support. In this way and idealistically speaking, people had their economic roles and they knew what everyone else should be doing and if, for some reason, someone got out of hand well then the government would deal with them. In this way, addressing common or worldwide concerns, like environmental issues would have been relatively easy: you just make it government policy then everyone must comply or else! It seemed that it would work in theory, but alas, it failed because it did not take into the basic consideration that people like to be free to do anything and that they especially don’t like being told what to do. And so the free-market world has prevailed.
A Free-Market World At All Costs
Now I am not an economist, political scientist or any other expert on socio-economic political affairs. I only know what I personally experience and what I see happening in the world. What I personally see is that there is fundamental cost to maintain the free-market world as it is. It is a cost that is taken for granted and one that mostly goes unnoticed. I am not talking about environmental costs and I am not talking about the exploitation of impoverished countries and people around the world. I am even not talking about the manipulative control that corporate powers have on governments around the world. I am also not talking about the specific loss of some freedoms as the result of the Patriot Act and the War on Terror. What I am talking about affects everyone who joins a free-market world and strives for success in it, as is their right. It is inherent in the system itself, but, as I will explain later, it doesn’t have to be. The cost is very basic and has to do with the fact that a free-market economy is competitive by its nature and is that we lose our trust in each other.
In a competitive free-market world, especially when things become desperate, people will do anything to get ahead and win. Friends become enemies and strangers are potential threats. No one can be trusted and everyone is out to screw you – at least until they get what they want from you. It’s a “dog eat dog” world, it’s a “rat race” and “greed is good” and it’s every other miserable cliché you can think of. The fear created by the War on Terror is nothing compared with the ongoing daily fear of getting screwed by the people around you. Though we may not necessarily be greedy by birth we become that way as soon as we enter the free-marketplace. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the nicest person can become the most hideous monster in an intensely competitive world. We can become a fearful, suspicious, manipulative, lying, cheating thieving miserable person. That is the cost of a competitive free-market world.
The Keys to Financial Success and Power: Lie, Cheat and Steal
In a free-market world Money becomes everything. Money is power, money is freedom, and contrary to the popular notion, money will buy you love and will get you a better version of all the free things in life and the fastest way to get money is to lie, cheat and steal. You lie to your customers, you cheat your suppliers and you steal from your competitors. (A kinder, gentler way of saying this is that you exaggerate to your clients, you try and get the best deal from your suppliers and you emulate your most successful competitors but when push comes to shove it easily can turn into the nasty version.) Along with lying, cheating and stealing another key business practice is to hide secrets and withhold information, sometimes known as “trade secrets” and sometimes known as covering your tracks.
The competitive market-place is saturated with fear, secrecy and deception. Businesses are fearful of competition. They are afraid of revealing their “trade secrets.” They often hide the truth of many aspects of their operations. Lawsuits abound whenever possible and are advantageous. These things are so common place that consumers automatically assume that they can’t really trust any big business and it is not questioned. People mostly expect and are forgiving of this type of behavior because it is believed to be a necessary evil of our free-market world.
Many successful businessmen made their initial fortunes in illegal or nearly illegal businesses and they simply applied their prowess to a legitimate trade. Swindling, dodging, evading, lying, cheating and stealing and so on has become so pervasive that people openly idolize and make heroes out of those who do it best and get away with it. As of this writing the movie “Oceans 13” just opened and is about a bunch of guys who illegally screw another guy who is illegally screwing the rest of the world. Also just out and one of the most successful movies to date is one about (what else?) “Pirates.”
When Greed is Really Bad
Yet, at the same time, there seems to be a new documentary every month showing how the corporate free-market world is screwing either the planet or the people one way or another and getting away with it by manipulating governments. “Fahrenheit 911”, “An Inconvenient Truth”, “Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers” and the forthcoming “Sicko” are a few of the many films that directly or indirectly implicate blind corporate greed and government corruption. The intent of these films is to wake up the ire of the public to take action against those companies by calling for, at a minimum, a severe restriction of their operations. The future looks bleak in that it appears that it will be a struggle between the free-market corporate liars, cheaters and stealers against the masses that have been victimized by them in one way or another.
Not all corporations are evil and inconsiderate of the environment and the welfare of the people. In fact, most aren’t and furthermore, there are many businesses today striving to provide services or products that help the environment, serve the local community, pay their suppliers and employees fairly and offer aid to worthwhile causes whenever they can. But the bad behaviors of the other corporations have colored the waters for everyone such that unless you personally know the people and the inner workings of a company you can’t really tell the good from the bad.
Freedom is Natural
In the political struggle between an unbridled free-market world versus those that seek to regulate it through government in the name of the environment, equality and the common good I predict that the side that promotes freedom will win and that means the side of unbridled free-market world. Freedom has always won. The cause for freedom, throughout history, has always been the winner and it always will be.
Freedom is also a core value in keeping with macrobiotic principles. But then so is care for the environment, equality and concern for the common good. Clearly there is something lacking in allowing a free-market world to operate without restraint yet any regulation would also be contrary to organic growth. How are we to reconcile this in a manner that is in keeping with natural order?
Openness and Truth
I do not claim to have the answer but I do have an idea. I believe what is missing in today’s free-market world is a structure that encourages and supports voluntary transparency, trust and cooperation.
Having been involved in the development of an organic certification program I witnessed the tremendous amount of effort that the industry has done to ensure that products are grown organically and are free of contaminants from field to grocer. Due to the adherence of a strict and detailed paper trail one can trace any certified organic ingredient in a product on a grocery store shelf all the way back to the exact date and plot of land where the organic ingredient came from and when it was grown. The only problem I saw was that this information was only available to the certification organizations and not to the consumers. Because it was not made public it was clear to me that organic certification would still face doubt from consumers whom were already skeptical about everything else. I suggested to several businesses to make this information public via the internet. It is obvious to me that the more that a company freely discloses about itself the more it will stand a chance of being highly successful. But all of them were fearful of competition and did not want to disclose their sources.
In an entirely other field, namely, alternative health, I have seen many persons suffering from terminal illnesses hide this fact from their closest family and friends only to reveal it (while shedding tears) for the first time to strangers in a macrobiotic seminar. It became clear to me that the effect of being open and truthful was the first step in healing. It was also the first step in creating social network of support and the people who did this had a far better chance of beating their illness than those who did not. It made me think that if disclosure of one’s health was the start of healing, what would the disclosure of other things normally hidden, like business secrets, be the start of? Could we regain a culture of trust? Could it be the start of the healing of the world?
The Four Taboos
These observations led me to look at all areas that we normally do not disclose or talk about. It led me to formulate an idea that I call the “Four Taboos.” So far, I have come up with only four distinct areas that we generally are very private about and do not readily disclose. These are:
- Health and food
- Religion or personal beliefs.
Indeed there are laws that protect us from unwanted disclosures for many good reasons, which I need not go into, other than to mention that these laws are in place as a result of a world based in fear, deception and abuse.
Each of these areas have their share of misery, suffering and problems yet how much of this could be eliminated by creating a social climate of openness, trust and cooperation? In terms of health and food, it means creating a social network of family, friends and health care professionals that support your own choices in dealing with your specific health problem. In terms of sexuality, it means building a social structure that is safe and nurturing for individuals, relationships and families. In terms of money, it means building a free-market world based on cooperation and not competition and, in terms of, religion and personal beliefs, it means creating a world of shared values and respect for individuality and freedom.
Macrobiotic Values In A Post 9/11 World
Freedom is, undeniably, a core macrobiotic value as it is an integral part of our nature. We should be free to live life as we please (so long as it does not infringe upon the freedoms of others). History has shown that people would rather fight for their freedom and possibly die in the process of obtaining it than live in slavery and under oppression. Yet freedom alone is not enough. Today’s free-market competitive world has created a condition of never ending wars, widespread poverty and destruction of our environment. The solution to this is not to restrict the free-market through an oppressive government but instead to nurture a voluntary grassroots effort that builds a culture and climate of transparency, trust and cooperation.
Nature is free and open and hides nothing and when left alone it flourishes. Macrobiotic principles and values should be based on nature over man-made laws and concepts. Macrobiotic leader and promoter, George Ohsawa and his followers, like my parents, taught this and yet the movement as a whole and its many followers still operated in a world dominated by the competitive fear based free-market world and that was never questioned or challenged. While the macrobiotic movement helped to foster the organic and alternative health industries, the macrobiotic businesses that were created still operated in and promoted a climate of mistrust, secrecy and deception that is typical and inherent of today’s competitive free-market economy. That macrobiotic businesses compete with each other instead of cooperate together is a self-defeating contradiction of their own values. They should, indeed, voluntarily come together and cooperate with each other to be in keeping with their macrobiotic principles.
The world is the way it is today because we allowed it to happen that way. We allowed it to happen because we never questioned living in the competitive free-market culture of fear, mistrust and deception. As a result, governments serve corporations that care for nothing more than the dominance of the marketplace.
I believe that it is time to change this world by regaining the most basic macrobiotic values as a way to live, be and do business in the world. It is time to freely build a new free-market economy that promotes a culture of openness, trust and cooperation. Those companies that wish to continue to keep secrets and be deceitful and competitive will naturally disappear overtime. Those companies that continue to lie, exploit and steal will eventually have to close because the people will choose to buy services and products from those that are open, supportive and nurturing. It is time to rediscover and live by the macrobiotic values of freedom and living in harmony with nature and with our fellow human beings. But, it is only time if you decide it is so yourself and then voluntarily take action now to make it so.
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