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Part of the process of repairing the quilt of humanity involves mending the damage caused by such things as racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism, to name just a few. To be effective in this mending process, we need to recognize that the threads of races, gender, sexual orientation, and class in particular are tangled up together in such a way that they can only be untangled and repaired together. In her book, where we stand: Class Matters,bell hooks speaks directly about this:

To challenge racism or sexism without linking [my italics] these systems to economic structures of exploitation and our collective participation in the upholding and maintenance of such structures, however marginal that engagement may be, is ultimately to betray a vision of justice for all. (p. 161)

And, hand-in-hand with this is the need to understand and change certain cultural concepts that not only stand in the way of re-connecting what has become fragmented, but continue to create damage throughout the entire quilt. Among these are the cultural beliefs in materialism and consumption. hooks speaks to that as follows:

Confronting the endless desire that is at the heart of our individual overconsumption and global excess is the only intervention that can ward off the daily call to consume that bombards us on all sides. (p. 48)Obviously, the culture of consumerism must be critiqued and challenged [we all need] to undergo a conversion [to enable us] to center [our] lives around nonmarket values. [I]t would mean that we embrace anew the concept of interdependency [my italics] and accountability for the collectiveness of all citizens that is the foundation of any truly democratic and just society. (p. 129)

A vivid illustration of the far-reaching damage of current cultural beliefs about acquiring and building wealth is the recently published book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, written by John Perkins. (I recommend you borrow this book from the library rather than purchase it because I don’t believe the author deserves to continue to get rich from his experience as an “economic hit man.”).

This book provides a frightening amount of detail about many of the processes that maintain global imperialism. Perkins speaks of his former role as an economic hit man.Economic hit men are the individuals who go into developing countries on behalf of U.S. corporations (like Halliburton, etc.). They make forecasts about the economic benefits that will accrue to these countries if the World Bank loans them funds to build infrastructure.

These forecasts are based on smoke and mirrors designed to demonstrate how building power plants, airports, and other such things will increase these countries’ GNPs. Based on these forecasts, the World Bank provides the loans and the U.S. engineering and construction companies like Halliburton and Bechtel do the work. What is not focused on is the fact that while the overall GNP of the country may increase, it is only the U.S. companies and a few wealthy families that benefit economically as a result.

According to Perkins, of every $100 of oil taken from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need it and $75 goes to the oil companies. (Page xxiv.) So rather than providing benefit to the vast number of citizens in these countries, these loans result in worsening economic conditions and the enormous environmental damage caused by the construction.And, even worse, later, when the counties inevitably default on their loans, their leaders are then in the U.S.’s debt and subject to our political manipulation.

And, of course, if the leaders of these countries do not then act in accordance with the U.S. wishes, the CIA is sent in and they are overthrown in military coups or end up dying in plane accidents.Perkins articulately describes the way American values enable this global imperialism:

[The system is based on] the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary: that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation.This effect is reinforced by the corollary belief that the captains of industry who drive this system should enjoy a special status. When men and women are rewarded for greed, greed becomes a corruptible motivator. When we equate the gluttonous consumption of the earth’s resources with a status approaching sainthood, when we teach our children to emulate people who live unbalanced lives, and when we define huge sections of the population as subservient to an elite majority, we ask for trouble. And we get it.In their drive to advance the global empire, corporations, banks, and governments (collectively the corporatocracy) use their financial and political muscle to ensure that our schools, businesses, and media support both the fallacious concept and its corollary. (p. xv).

The drive to constantly consume more and more, coupled with cultural values that reward individuals rather than community are ripping us apart. This is why it is so important to work against the culture of materialism and consumption that dominates in the U.S. and is constantly spreading further.The Quilt of Humanity ModelTM

Approach to the Culture of Materialism and Consumption: If I were asked to consult to a youth leadership organization to help them to train youth, I would work with them to help them replace the messages of materialism and consumption with a culture of community and interdependence.

I would develop workshops using the Quilt of Humanity ModelTM.I would encourage the young people to explore ways the culture of materialism and consumption impacts them in their daily life (i.e., the way that culture leaves them feeling they need to purchase certain things in order to fit in) and have them use threads to depict this impact.

Then, I would have them investigate how this culture impacts people in other countries (i.e., how certain products are made in other countries with the use of child labor and sweat shops) as well as how it impacts the environment as a whole (i.e., while the earth’s resources are dwindling, our drive to consume leads us to purchase more and more things that cause damage to the environment) and have them use thread, pieces of fabric and batting to illustrate this.This would help the students learn about the connections between what happens here and elsewhere as well as between their daily actions and the larger environment.