Homeless problem or human problem?

The question of whether to provide a legal camp for the homeless of Ashland presents a vital opportunity for citizens to show that human rights take precedence over commercial interests. At that, the question of whether humans need to be structured by purely economic means brings up larger issues facing our future as a species.

The spike in homelessness and unemployment over the past few years mirrors the state of decline we see in the American economy and the stature of the first-world, industry-fed lifestyle generally. Every day more dire news streams in about the imminence of global meltdown, whether due to the degradation of the climate and the biosphere, peak oil, desertification of farm land or the depletion of rare earth materials necessary to continue production.

Alongside these issues we see progressive increases in rates of health problems such as cancer and heart disease, mental illness (especially depression, estimated to be the leading cause of disability in the U.S. by 2020), autism and other developmental disorders and myriad ailments associated with mass-manufactured food.

With these imminent concerns facing not only us but all future generations, little seems to be happening to avert or even curb the hardships they pose. But is disaster unavoidable?

Some see the rise of these new problems as stemming from the recent boom of civilization, before which these problems were unknown to humans living in hunter-gatherer societies. For 2 million years people lived in nomadic bands thriving peacefully on the bounty of nature. Only in the past 10,000 years has civilized life appeared and spread across the Earth, reigning in a majority of the population only after the Industrial Revolution. At the time of Christ's life, only 1 percent of people lived in cities or supported themselves by agriculture.

Looking today on a global landscape deformed by toxic emissions, deforestation, modernized infrastructure and industrial warfare (whether against people or plants and animals), we might want to wonder whether "primitive" lifestyles — lifestyles revered by many homeless Ashlanders — aren't more sane and reasonable for our whole species. Sigmund Freud noted in his 1930 essay "Civilization and its Discontents" that, "this (industrial) subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which (civilized people) may expect from life and has not made them feel happier."

Likewise, on the note of health, Richard Heinberg observed, "S. Boyd Eaton, M.D., et al., argued in 'The Paleolithic Prescription' (1988) that pre-agricultural peoples enjoyed a generally healthy way of life, and that cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, emphysema, hypertension and cirrhosis, which together lead to 75 percent of all mortality in industrialized nations, are caused by our civilized lifestyles."

But this evidence for an alternative is so far off our political spectrum defined largely by two parties who both endorse industrial growth that the public still considers it unrealistic and radical. As William H. Keotke notes in "The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and Seeds for the Future", "The problem is beneath the threshold of consciousness because humans within civilization (civilization comes from the Latin, civis, referring to those who live in cities, towns and villages) no longer have a relationship with the living earth."

Many homeless people, however, do have such a relationship. Even those who find themselves without roofs against their will find that the cover of trees and stars is as good a home as any. For those who value the freedom a natural lifestyle affords them, a plot of land to call their own (i.e. a campground) contradicts their ideals of a free earth.

As Chief Seattle said: "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? This idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?" When Nancy Boyer asks in 'Out in the Cold', "Is this a mind-set that our younger generation has that things are free?" one might ask where others got the idea that the earth should be owned, and whether that idea serves our future generations.

So, while a designated place for Ashland's domestic-minded and disabled homeless (whom I've helped to walk and fed many times) will greatly benefit them, the "green" homelessness many practice will still stand as a powerful sign of the times and a pathway waiting for the rest of humanity to join in the coming decades. That is, if we wish to finally veer from certain collapse and re-enter the healthy, fulfilling, peaceful balance with nature we once knew. I, for one, would like to see Ashland Creek full of salmon again! Foxes agree!

Coyote Meyocks lives in Ashland.

Share This Story