Man, at this rate, Sharon's next book will be published and on the shelves before I finish the book club posts. But, I'm determined to speed things up since I know a lot of you have finished reading it a long time ago.
So, here's the third discussion post for the Depletion and Abundance book club. Now, be forewarned, I'm a little critical of these chapters, but I am really enjoying the rest of the book.
Chapter 6: Talking Population with Old Men. You'll have to forgive me on this one, but I had a real hard time getting through this chapter. Every time I tried to pick it up, things just grinded to a halt. I know Sharon has a background in demographics, but this chapter just didn't engage me as well as the others. I didn't want this to keep holding me up so I just sorta breezed through it.
So, here's my short synopsis of this chapter (and mind that I really didn't read the whole thing closely - I just skimmed through it, so it's possible I missed something): overpopulation is bad for everyone and the environment. If you have a lot of kids, try to live with a low-carbon impact and you'll end up actually using less resources than the average American family with no kids.
Chapter 7: The Permaculture of Family. The gist of the early part of this chapter is that, throughout human history, children have spent the majority of their lives with both parents every single day. This continued up through the transition to agriculture and really ended only in the modern era. Sharon states that this lifestyle is a more ecologically and environmentally sound form of family life and that it, ultimately, leads to greater psychological happiness.
This is where I differ with her a bit. I'm sure the children enjoyed being around their parents more often, but that time was spent working. Now, I'm not saying that a bit of work isn't good for children, but up to and during the industrial revolution we really saw the end of childhood as we know it today. In other words, children were considered to be just as useful and responsible for earning their keep as an adolescent or adult. This certainly doesn't necessarily preclude happiness, but it by no means suggests to me that these children were psychologically happier than children who spent their childhoods playing, albeit not at their parent's side while doing so.
Sharon also contends that, after decades spent living apart, we have created a society that "valorizes apartness and fears closeness". I would argue that people have chosen to live apart because they prefer it and, for the first time in history, a large group of the population could actually afford to do so. Given the choice of living under the thumb (or roof) of one's parents, in-laws, neighbors, relatives, what-have-you, most people prefer to live on their own.
I don't think it's because people fear closeness, it's because it's difficult for people to get along. Without some extenuating circumstance forcing them into living together (financial reasons, etc.), I believe that most people would choose to live in smaller family units away from the prying eyes of others.
Another point that Sharon makes is in discussing how "labor saving devices" (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc.) have stripped much of what was valuable and interesting in domestic work, rendering home labor boring. I'd have to contend that most domestic work is boring, particularly if you don't have a choice about the matter.
Doing domestic work as a hobby (like line drying clothes, washing dishes by hand, etc.), can be enjoyable and quite satisfying. But, if you have a huge list of manual labor tasks to get through and no quick alternatives to employ, scrubbing the clothes in the tub and wrestling with the dirt on the floors with a dustpan loses its luster real quick. She claims that "what the reduction of domestic work to cleaning did was take away the fun and excitement..." I don't think there's a whole lot of excitement in scrubbing toilets, but then again, maybe I'm in the minority here.
The last bit of the chapter deals with relying on family to help with housing and elder care. The argument that it's stupid for adult children to work a ton of hours in order to pay the costs to support their parents or grandparents in a nursing home assumes that those children wouldn't mind taking on this task themselves. For the most part, many of these adult children don't have the skills to take on an elder (and with people living longer, these elders have increasingly more physical and mental disease).
I think the underlying issue with this scenario and the idea that people would be much happier also assumes that you actually like your parents/grandparents and this wouldn't be a tremendous burden to either party. It's also possible that the parents/grandparents wouldn't like this situation either. If it works out for all parties involved in that everyone agrees that this is a doable arrangement and the older generation doesn't have significant health problems, then this certainly would be ideal, but I reckon that those families are in the minority. It isn't just social pressures that stop people from doing this, it's because, again, they don't want to. Of course, if economic pressures force one into that situation, it's a valuable arrangement, but I wouldn't argue that the people are happier for it.
Chapter 8: Raising Kids in a New World: Family Life and Education. In the first section of the chapter, Sharon discusses what I like to call "the toy situation". That is, Americans buy their kids too many toys and too many toys made out of crap. She urges us to buy non-toxic, more sustainable toys and in lesser quantities.
Now, while I agree with her, sometimes it's difficult to entice children with the hand-hewn wooden toys when brightly colored and molded Legos are calling. Now, I'm not talking about the cheap crap, just the environmentally unfriendly toys. So, in order to keep some semblance of family peace, I'm all for buying the coveted goods, just in small quantities.
Let me also state that, starting in this chapter, things really started taking off for me with her book and I was really excited with what she had to say. Now, Sharon and I may not agree on a lot of things, but it seems like we both end up at the same result regardless of our motivations.
In the next section, Sharon starts talking about something near and dear to my heart - adding ecological and agricultural education to our children's lives. As she mentions, expecting public/private education to provide this is not exactly realistic and it's something that, most likely, parents will have to do themselves. So, teaching your child about the native flora and fauna and learning where your water and electricity come from is a great start to an education that most adults don't even have. Throw in growing food and they are well on their way to self-sufficiency.
Sharon also discusses alternative or mixed forms of formal education for our children. I believe the solution is really dependent on a number of factors, specifically the availability of parents, proximity to schools, children's temperament and/or learning ability and strength of school districts, that I think it's difficult to extrapolate out a suggestion. What works for one family doesn't work for another. While I still disagree with her that the school systems will collapse in the coming years, it certainly doesn't hurt to have educational materials on hand just for your own edification.
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part One
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Two
Depletion & Abundance - the book club
Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change