In this picture, Marika from Skoteino Crete toasts our group and downs a glass of her homemade raki. Marika, who is best friends with Christina who makes lunch for us, has just returned from her home next door with her gift of a glass of raki for each of us.
Marika, who has little, is eager to give to us. Hers is but one of many gifts from the heart we receive on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Why is it that we who have so much do not give as spontaneously?
One answer is that capitalist individualism has taught us to count our worth by how much we have and to fear for the day when we will have nothing.
These words may be a cliché, but they hold a profound truth nonetheless.
Heide Goettner-Abendroth tells us that in matriarchal societies with small-scale sustainable agricultural economies, people did not hoard or save for a rainy day. With the labors of their bodies and minds, they took only what they needed from the land. When there was a surplus, they gave parties, sharing what they had with others. Even with the coming of patriarchy, ancient matriarchal customs of generosity survived among rural farmers.
In a recent FAR post Sarah E. Robinson discussed a critique of Indian scientist Vandana Shiva’s activism against the capitalist exploitation of rural India. Shiva’s work to stop Monsanto’s genetically modified crops is a part of her larger campaign to change western development programs which she renames “maldevelopment.”
According to Shiva western development programs in India (and around the world) are based in the spirit of capitalism which counts the value of work according to the criterion of profit. By capitalist standards, rural sustainable agriculture economies are considered “unproductive” because they produce for local consumption but not profit. But these economies are not valueless. When not threatened by war, racism, or excessive taxation by overlords, small scale agricultural economies have fed and clothed people and provided them with all they needed to live for millennia.
Traditional rural economies were not capitalist. They did not use money as a form of exchange. They did not have banks. They did not encourage saving as there was no money to save. When times were hard, people pulled together and helped each other. Trade has always been a part of rural economies. But traditional economies were not based on the idea of producing excess products, to be sold to others at a profit. No one got rich on the backs of others.
While the capitalist mindset defines traditional rural economies as unproductive, Shiva and other environmentalists view them as living examples of the productive, sustainable, and bioregional relationship to the land that visionary environmentalists struggle to imagine.
Development programs in India (and elsewhere) disrupt and destroy the environment, damming and diverting rivers and cutting down forests for large scale farming of crops that can be sold for profit. The idea is that money placed in the hands of a few will eventually be spread around so that everyone’s standard of living will be improved. In truth, as Arundhati Roy states, in India “800 million . . . have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us [the 300 million members of the middle class].”
To see value in traditional rural economies requires a transformation of capitalist values. It requires us to see the meaning of life in terms other than making enough money to buy more and more things.
In the small village of Tylissos in Crete, Maria lives in a small home centered around a courtyard with a kitchen garden to one side. She now has an electric stove and refrigerator; her modern bathroom is next to her bedroom rather than outside; and she can communicate with her children by telephone. But she must still go into the courtyard to get to her kitchen, and in the summer she often cooks over an open fire.
Maria’s son and daughter have moved to Heraklion, and since her husband died, she lives alone. Her children beg her to live with them in the city. But she insists that she will not. When we ask her why, she tells us, “When I am in Heraklion the walls close in on me and I cannot sleep. Here, I have my courtyard and my garden and I can breathe.”
Like, Marika, Maria is generous with what little she has, offering tea, coffee, and her own golden raisins to our group.
In order to understand why Shiva and Roy are fighting against western development programs in India, we must be able to see value in a way of life not based in saving, hoarding, and trying to get more. Surely rural life is improved with telephones, electricity, and flush toilets. But that may be all the development that is needed. The maldevelopment programs Shiva and Roy are fighting displace people from their villages, creating urban poverty and destroying sustainable relationships with the environment passed down over the centuries.
So much is being lost. So much is already lost.
Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter) spring and fall–early bird discount available now on the 2015 tours. Carol can be heard in interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and the forthcoming Turning to the World: Goddess and God in Our Time. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.