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A Revolution of Values

Published June 2, 2008

by iris_author

Fourty years ago, Reverend Martin Luther King echoing his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, took to task materialism in the same breadth as the racial oppression he had been fighting his whole life. King knew that materialism, or more accurately, consumerism, was a slow acting poison that once entrenched, would forever control the destiny of his people. Furthermore, he foresaw how it had already taken root in American society along with the militarism that was then subjecting Vietnam to hell on earth:

"if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." (April 4, 1967)

José Ramón Machado Ventura, First Vice-President of Cuba’s Council of State, reiterated this same prophetic theme in his address to the 5th European Union / Latin America and Caribbean Summit meeting in Lima, Peru, on May 16-17. In a session on “Sustainable Development: the Environment, Climate Change and Energy,” Ventura remarked:

"Sustainable development requires a revolution in our values and in the way we confront the inequalities of today and the challenges of tomorrow. We must launch a global energy revolution, sustained by savings, rationality and efficiency."

Cuba has stood for this alternative world free of King's giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism. In doing so, its people have made enormous sacrifices, going without for the greater good of all citizens and countries around the world who have benefited from the small island nation's famous generosity and humanitarian aid. Sadly, Fidel Castro recently had to remind Barack Obama of Cuba's record of international service, as American politicians of all stripes have become used to heaping calumny on a country that has dared to resist and retain its dignity.

Personally, I too have long believed that only a revolution of values can begin to address the challenges of sustainability. For as long as our lives are measured by material success and possessions, there will always exist powerful pressures to consume upwards. This is stoked by our consumer society that consumes us by engaging in the limitless production of wants and desires (a Buddhist nightmare for sure), all in the name of driving a capitalist economy based on borrow and spend. Moreover, the peer pressure is exerted from generation to generation. How many of us have been judged by the size of our house or car? (And if you rent and use public transit, forget about it!)

The consumption in turn serves to displace higher pursuits and to fill the yawning spiritual void in our lives as noted in the whimsical yet deadly serious road documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?" Channeling the theatrics of evangelical holy roller preachers, Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping takes on the "Shopocalypse", which has turned the holiday season into debt-engorged consumer armageddon. The message of this "church" however resonates with both believers and non-believers alike, as the plague affects us all. In this regard, King and the Cuban Vice-President are also one in calling us out of our Koyaanisqatsi.

Posted in: Blogs | Shopping the Talk

One thought on “A Revolution of Values

  1. Great article… and don’t forget the benefits that planting a tree will have on the environment. Each one will soak up 20kgs of CO2 every year and put enough Oxygen back in the atmosphere to support 2 people.