Scott Sanders on the recession

May 11, 2009
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One of Indianaâ??s better-known living authors, Scott Russell Sanders, has spent most of his career writing about our relationship to the environment and our sense of place.

Sanders newest book, â??A Conservationist Manifesto,â?? published last month by Indiana University Press, argues that weâ??d be better off if we viewed ourselves as stewards and citizens rather than consumers, because weâ??re using so many resources that the environment canâ??t sustain the pace. Perhaps worse, all the consumption hasnâ??t made us happier.

In that light, will the recession change the way we think and act? In an e-mail, the IU English professor said the recession prompts both fear and hope.

Sanders fears the layoffs, foreclosures and other pain associated with the downturn will be used to justify greater emphasis on private wealth and less focus on such â??common wealthâ?? as human community, soils, schools and the justice system. Funding for education, the arts, public transportation and health care, are still at risk, too, he believes.

â??Our politicians and business leaders have historically favored private wealth at the expense of the common wealth, and that bias is very much in evidence at the present time,â?? he said. â??In short, I fear that the economic slump will reinforce our tendency toward selfishness and short-term thinking.â??

Sanders hopes the recession will trigger a rethinking of how we live and the â??â??free-marketâ?? ideology of unregulated greed and unlimited growth that drove us into this mess.â??

Much needs fresh thought, he said: Home building, electricity generation and travel. Medical care, food production, land preservation. â??My highest hope is that the current economic disarray will lead people to reexamine their priorities, and to move toward a materially simpler and spiritually richer life.â??

What do you think? Has the recession triggered your own introspection? If so, what have you concluded?
  • Based on Helkens' excerpt included above, it sounds to me like Mr. Sanders is engaging in some hefty circumlocution to disguise the fact that he is hoping our current economic malaise will engender a more heavily social-democratic state. Hardly a right-winger myself, I have nonetheless spent enough time in academia after two masters' degrees to be able to identify some very stereotypical thinking among scholars in ivory towers, and Prof. Sanders seems to embody all of their stereotypes. Shared responsibility would have a lot more credibility in the American ethos if it didn't always carry with it the tenor of paternalism when spewed by professors. It appears as though they are among the benighted few wise enough to determine which entities we should channel our common wealth instead of making our own decisions how to use that wealth to support ventures that we value, which could very well meet the goals of human community, soils, schools, and the justice system but through conduits of individual philanthropy rather than involuntarily extracted and pooled resources. However, if Prof. Sanders wishes to step up to the plate first and devote 80% of his income to buying land to donate to the government for a park, funding a new magnet school, or starting a charity that supports drug-addicted homeless people, he has my blessing. Otherwise, he cannot help but come across as a finger-wagging academic scolding the rest of us for not embracing his brand of Marxism, which I'm afraid has become a cliche no less tedious than the sanctimonious, judgmental Evangelical Christian, advocating an entirely different system of beliefs but otherwise engaged in a very similar polemic.
  • Sassafras neatly summed up my opinion on Mr. Sander's opinions.
  • We have our newest sports palace, but we can't cut the grass in our neighborhood parks. Res ipsa loquiter.
  • Reality
    I like reading about successful people, but sometimes, those same people who have achieved so much in our capitalist consumer system, turn on that same launching mechanism once on top. They drone on about social justice and the 'community' and the evils of modern day capitalism. Hogwash. These people have put targets on our kids for failure, sloth and dependence. The government, endowed by people like Sanders with total power, literally kills, in body and spirit. I reject his premise that the community should control what I eat, drive, do and fund. Socialism is a monstrous system admired by many, until they realize only the most powerful thrive under it. Sanders is proof that a great mind can be subverted, and I hope parents are challenging his teachings.

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