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A hopeful approach for the future of international relations.

Redirect teen rebellion towards idealism and self improvement.

Read excerpts from unpublished book: Science, Religion and the Search for God —Bridging the Gap.

Poems of society, the human condition, and spiritual discovery.

Our student activities and curriculum materials instill an environmental, cultural, and global perspective, and integrate various academic disciplines.

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Archives 2002:
Vol. 1, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Hope for the Future
Six Part Series on Science and Religion
First Three Parts of the Series on Leadership
Archives 2003:
Vol. 2, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Series on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society

Art and Politics
Living the Good Life
Teaching Teens
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Archives 2004:
Vol. 3, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness
Is "Liberal" a Dirty Word?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All

Archives 2005:
Vol. 4, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Standing up for Humanity
Unity in Diversity

Thought and Imagination
Imagination and Healing
Lessons of Katrina
Intelligent Design or Evolution

Archives 2006:
Vol. 5, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-Violent Political Change
Sustainable Development
Legalizing Torture
Living Without an Enemy
"Fast Food" is really "Slow Food"


Related Articles about Responsibility, the Future and Consciousness:

Hope for the Future
Series on Leadership
Series on Global Consciousness
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Conflict, Harmony and Integrity
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-violent Political Change
Living Without an Enemy
Protecting Children: Words and Deeds

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March, 2007
Vol. 6, Number

This Month's Article

Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival

When I entered the Peace Corps in 1968 the United States was a superpower less than a year away from a manned landing on the moon. We were prosperous and occupied with two wars: Vietnam and the “War on Poverty.” We were at the pinnacle of civilization even though we were struggling with violent war and civil rights protests, and we were shocked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. These latter events exposed the dark side of our national psyche. Personally, I probably represented the highest that any young American could aspire to in post World War II America. A middle class youth, graduate of one of the top ten universities trying to live the ideals of our country, product of the American Dream.

At the same time a counter culture was growing. Hippies were refugees from the American Dream of the 50’s and 60’s. They had had it all and they now believed that the consequences of their materialistic upbringing and arrogant nationalistic fervor were turning life into a political, social and environmental wasteland. Thus, many dropped out, seeking a more natural life somewhere between a communal agricultural society and a spiritual ashram. The foundation of the movement was much more than drugs, sex and rock-and-roll although they played their part in defining the culture and creating a decisive break with the past.

Publications that were born and grew during that time brought the word “alternative” into our vocabulary and manifested as a lifestyle. It was a term that meant for many what the Declaration of Independence meant to the colonists — the beginning of a new society. Mother Earth News was born, a resource of ingenuity for the “back to the earth” movement (there were even plans for home-made hybrid cars). Mothering magazine, which advocated natural childbirth, breastfeeding, backpacks, herbal remedies and no television was the handbook for new families. Organic Gardening magazine grew to reflect a new health and earth oriented consciousness. Diet For a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé put a global perspective on food choices. Self-actualization and environmentalism became spiritual paths that expressed the interdependence of all life. (The word “sustainable” was not yet in the public consciousness, and the first “Earth Day” had yet to be celebrated.)

Arriving in the village where I did my Peace Corps service was like stepping out of a time machine. I had left the most technologically advanced country and ended up in the Iron Age, a journey of some three thousand years back in time. The villagers in this sub-Saharan area of the northern Côte d’Ivoire lived in family compounds made of adobe and thatch and practiced communal agriculture. My first culture shock was that with all my education I did not have the skills to survive. Of course I had a job to do, which explained my being there, but without that job I could not have supported myself in that economy.

My job was to aid in the development of housing for Ivorians who would create the infrastructure of public services in the bush, and parallel to that, help the rural areas of this newly independent country develop economically. My second culture shock was that I was to be an instrument in changing an organic, traditional, communal society that was self-sustaining, non polluting and peaceful; where spiritual concerns governed material practices. This was just the type of society that my contemporaries back home were dropping out to create! I felt like I was living in the utopian society for which my generation was searching. This created an inner crisis of opposing values.

Eventually I realized that to not participate in change was also a type of arrogance. Who was I, who had had all the material conveniences that technology and wealth had to offer, to tell people that their society was fine the way it was and that modern life was undesirable — violent, dehumanizing and polluting. Upon further reflection I realized that the hippy movement, whose social and environmental values I believed in, mostly attracted educated middle and upper middle class people who were rejecting what they had, not what they didn’t have. Very few poor people or minorities were hippies. Philosophically, the latter were struggling to have the material wealth of the American Dream. This was also the goal of the developing world.

Now the planet is at a crossroads, and the dilemma I faced as an individual in an African village, is the same dilemma the industrialized nations face in relationship to the demands of all the developing nations. Does a country like the United States, where practically every driver owns a car, have the right to say that the planet cannot sustain every driver in China having a car? If every family in the world had the same standard of living as every American family, the death of our planet by over-consumption and pollution would be hastened.

Additionally, who is to say that the American lifestyle is even a desirable way to live? In 1968 muscle cars were all the rage, with 400+ cubic inch (6.7 liter) engines sucking gas at twenty-five cents a gallon. We no longer buy cars like that, but the rest of our lifestyle guzzles resources much as those monster cars did. Those cars are not sustainable and neither is our current way of life. I recently viewed two books by photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio: The Hungry Planet— What the World Eats, and Material World— a Global Family Portrait. One can experience culture shock from page to page as one travels from Chad to Guatemala to Egypt to Germany to the United States. Viewing the week’s groceries of the typical American family one’s emotions may travel from shock to shame. The typical American diet is a formula for waste and disease for humanity and the planet.

The industrialized nations can no longer serve as models for development. To maintain our health and the health of our planet we need to meet the developing world halfway. Americans who are willing to go to war to preserve a “way of life” must question if our dependence on oil and consumerism to maintain that “way of life” is really desirable. We already see the “alternatives” proposed by the “counter culture” of the 60’s becoming mainstream. American automakers were threatened by extinction until they downsized. Hybrid cars have moved from Mother Earth News to the autoplex. Organic foods can now be obtained in most supermarkets. Environmental survival and global warming are now popular political issues.

What was considered “alternative” in the 60’s is now seen as a necessity of adaptation forty years later. Culture shock comes when change is forced upon us — when we are forced to adapt to an alien way of life. Survival, however, may force us to change. People in the industrialized nations can avoid the shock of cultural revolution if they intelligently change to adapt to the new demands of evolution. Survival is not antithetical to a good quality of life. The hippies were radical and on the fringes of accepted society because they were the pioneers of the future. They were responding to the tide of evolution without intelligent guidance. Like all pioneers they paid the price of experimentation, of trial and error. However, their instincts were correct. Peace, ecological consciousness, and a spiritual perspective are the requirements for survival. Now we have a name for those qualities: “living a sustainable life.” There is no longer an alternative.

Peace Corps — Celebrating 46 Years: March 1, 1961 - 2007

© 2007 Richard Sidy


Related SNS Press Articles

"Sustainable Development is Nature's Way"
"Fast Food is Really Slow Food"
"Living the Good Life"
"Life is Calling"
"Standing up for Humanity"

Community Supported Agriculture - resources

Local Harvest

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center - USDA


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Archives 2005
Volumn 4
January: "Standing up for Humanity"
February: "The Wake of Disaster" – a poem
March: "Unity in Diversity
April: "Life is Calling"
May: "Entertainment" – a poem
June: "Thought and Imagination" part 1
July: "Thought and Imagination" part 2
August: "Imagination and Healing"
September: "Malice or Neglect? – Lessons of Katrina"
October: "Protecting Children"
November: "Intelligent Design or Evolution?"
December: "Building with one hand, destroying with the other"
Archives 2006
Volumn 5

January: "Conflict, Harmony, and Integrity"
February: "Satyagraha or Soul-force and Political Change"
March: "I Know I'm Not Alone - Wisdom of Michael Franti"
April: "Human Programming and Conflict Part I"
May: "Human Programming and Conflict Part II"
June: "Soccer Diplomacy"
July: "Sustainable Development is Nature's Way
August: "Parallel Universes"
September: "The News is not New"
October: "Legalizing Torture"
November: "Living Without an Enemy"
December: "Fast Food is really Slow Food"

Archives 2007
Volumn 6

January: "State of Fear"
February: Criminal Justice - "The Powerful Over the Weak"
March: "Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival"
April: "March Madness"
May: "No Child Left Behind" Leaves Many Teachers Behind
June: "Personal Ecology"
July: Criminal Justice - "The Ethic of Custodianship"
August: "Exploring the Mind - part 1"
September: "Exploring the Mind - part 2: The Poetic Mind
October: "How Much Pain Can We Stand?"
November: "When Languages Disappear"
December: "Is it Enough to be Tolerant?"

Archives 2008
Volumn 7

January: "Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future "
February: "Beyond the Bush Years"
March: "The Imaginary Economy - Part I
April: "The Imaginary Economy - Part II
May: Questions from Prison
June: "iGods and Connectivity"
July: "Energy Independence"
August: "Tribalism and the 2008 Elections
September: "Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice"
October: "Have We Been Willing Slaves?"
November: "Are We Ready for the Future?"
December: "Are we done learning from pain?"

Archives 2009
Volumn 8

January: "Awakening"
February: "When Sacrifice is no Sacrifice"
March: "The Good New Days"
April: "The Power of Metaphor"
May: "The Conflict of Mythologies"
June: "The Time is Right"
July: "The New Anarchy"
August: "The Art of Living"
September: "Outrage"
October: "Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?

November: "Effect of the manufacturing culture on the American Psyche"
December: Who are the Real Game Changers?

Archives 2010
Volumn 9

January: The Music of Place
February: Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
March: Sense of Place, Sense of Self, Sense of Humanity
April: Why Do People Serve?
May: Decentralizing Food and Energy
June: Beyond Reading and Writing — Ecological literacy
July: Organization or Organism?
August: Fear and Cynicism = “Inter-fear-ance”
September: Are we afraid of our "Better Angels?"
October: Choosing Our Battles
November: Meeting the Need
December: A Living Canvas

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