The Economics Of Play

22 Mar 2016 10 Share

SURFING WORLD MAGAZINE | Issue 372 Out Now

How our global monoculture keeps us from surfing

Interview by Dave Rastovich and Lauren L. Hill

When asked as a teenager what I wanted to be, I always had the same answer: happy. I saw the struggle of adulthood all around me: punching time clocks and handing over eight-to-ten hours of your day, five days a week… at least. Plus, a job on the side to make ends meet. Sullen eyes, pasty skin, modern diseases of a sedentary life like carpal tunnel syndrome, stress induced shingles, beer bellies, and a general feeling of malaise. I wanted to get as far away from that definition of adulthood as possible.

What I didn’t realise until I met Helena Norberg-Hodge and John Page is that these symptoms are not inherent to adulthood. They stem from a sickly monotonous global economic system. One that operates at inhuman speeds, forcing us to largely sacrifice wellness, community, family and leisure time in order to keep up with the illusory goal of constant economic growth.

Helena and John are pioneers of the localisation movement, early champions of the farmers’ market boom, and visionary economists who offer a tangible way forward from the failed experiment of global industrialisation. Their award winning film The Economics of Happiness reveals the myriad of ways that localisation presents solutions that beget solutions. That bringing systems of production and consumption closer to home – as in the case of the farmers’ market – means creating a thriving local economy by supporting local farmers and their families, reducing the environmental impact of food production, cutting down on packaging, and having access to healthier food as a result. Almost everyone wins.

SEE ALSO: Jock Serong On, Requiem For The Reef 

In our surfing world, we all love to be a “local” somewhere, to belong to a place and a community. Perhaps with the guidance of ideas like Helena and John’s we might transform the old surfing paradigm of “localism” into more than just defending waves from crowds of outsiders.

SW: Why can’t we all just go surfing whenever we want to?

Helena Norberg-Hodge: Well I really think we need to look at the way in which over several hundred years we have created lives that are related directly to the use of fossil fuels and that it has trapped us inside a system where we are basically, as citizens and consumers, running faster and faster. For instance, there was a study done in America between 1970 and 1990 showing that the average American was working one month more per year in 1990 than they were in 1970.

When you look at it globally, you see that the global economy is pulling more and more people into the same centralised system with the same World Bank, and the same major corporate influence on government, and that is what is speeding up our way of life.

We have to look at the way in which we accept the idea that more technology is a better thing; that technology saves us time and makes us more efficient. But if we really step back and look, we will find that it has created a type of efficiency whereby only a few big corporations, and only a few people, can more efficiently extract wealth. Whereas the majority of us are working harder and faster than ever before. Than ever before! Which means fewer and fewer people can afford to play and enjoy life, which includes going surfing.

John Page: Along with that has come the sense that if you are not engaged with the things our culture deems as important and worthwhile, if you’re not “doing” a proper job and getting money in the bank on a regular basis then you are some sort of loser. In a lot of places, what has developed is this idea that it is not socially acceptable to have time to do things like surfing. It’s like we all have to be busy doing the things that our modern culture values.

Helena: Yes, I think that there are two things going on here: the structural and very real pressures of the system and also the psychological pressure from culture that are both pushing us in that direction.

Photo by Juan Medina / JCM

Photo by Juan Medina / JCM

[PHOTO ABOVE: Scarcity anxiety, or the self-imposed irrational fear of not getting ours, is increasingly creeping into crowded line-ups the world over. It’s easy to forget that we live on a planet that supplies infinite waves in the ocean. So we still sink into a fear that if we miss this next wave, or if we give someone else a wave, there won’t be enough for us to catch ourselves. This manifests in territorial displays via localism, and in our bizarre fascination with wave pools, that yet again see us collectively turn away from ourselves as the root of our problems, instead turning to the illusion that more and more technology will solve all our problems.]

SW: So is there another way?

Helena: For me, and for many people who are studying the economy and particularly have the opportunity to also look at more traditional cultures and different societies, you see very clearly that of course there is another way. In fact, many other ways are possible, but the unfortunate thing is that the dominant sources of information, the mainstream media and academia, are so enclosed in the assumption that this is the only way, the global way.

SEE ALSO: The Short History Of Surfer Greetings

But when you step back and question that, you start to see that part of the problem is that we are talking about a global monoculture, that people all over the world are taught to basically be the same stereotype and live in this type of way. Again, when we step back and realise that diversity is a principle of life, then we also realise that the global monoculture is directly linked to massive uses of energy and that even if we do shift to renewable energies, this particular monoculture direction is taking us towards ever more energy consumption and ever more technology which uses up so many rare minerals and other materials. So it is fundamentally unsustainable, it is fundamentally anti-life.

The “other” way is a multitude of ways where we respect and embrace and deepen our connections to the living world, which will enable far more freedom in terms of both individual and cultural expression. And also to live freely in ways that will massively reduce our energy consumption, and in particular fossil fuels. As a path, it would enrich our lives.

What my network of colleagues around the world and I are saying is: please, please look at the evidence and experience of people who have lived among a diversity of cultures that had not yet been pulled into that dependence on monoculture fossil fuel global culture, and look at how much leisure they had. It’s not that it was paradise and there was no illness, but those ways of life were slower and there was far more time for play, and the play included lots of singing and music and sometimes even surfing. It included time out, maybe combined with fishing or hunting or tending to animals, time out in nature and more connected to life around them and to other people. And it was intergenerational. So we absolutely have to get away from the assumption that this global monoculture way is the only way. We have to reject that monoculture principle because it goes against a fact of life, which is diversity.

Photo by Tabone

Photo by Tabone

[PHOTO ABOVE: A recent article by American writer Dashel Pierson jokes that Kelly is preparing for the end of the world by buying up or into companies that will support all his future needs in a post-apocalyptic world. Chia seeds, energy drinks, fake wave pools, surfboard construction, and clothing. Not to mention the personal laboratory box of water filters that travels with him. Everyone’s ideas of play vary infinitely, with a life as fantastical and strange as KS’s, I guess we couldn’t expect to see the economic aspect of his life be anything but the same.]

SW: When you say “that monoculture principle”, what falls under that category?

Helena: Well, the very striking thing that I found in Ladakh and Bhutan, Mongolia and amongst the Masai and many other traditional peoples, is that what is being pushed is one standard consumer identity. The role models are essentially white and Western. Even if they are Bollywood, for example, they are still very Western identities. Things like the white wedding and the white Christmas predominate. Even in the Sahara desert there are white Christmases with Santa Claus. It is literally imitating this one consumer culture, and the imagery that people have responded to is an increasingly urban and energy intensive consumer culture. This is reinforced by homogenous schooling systems, with schoolbooks that will tell you that you are backward and primitive if you are in any way using your hands for your livelihood or are out in nature. The schoolbooks will say we have to do everything we can to get these illiterate backward people into the city.

We really want to do a book about this, how in literally every city in the world you have the same high rise building made with the same materials, built by the same companies and increasingly we now know those materials are toxic and more and more people have allergies to them. These urban high-rise ways of living are being presented as necessary because we are living on a crowded planet, but it is exactly the opposite. They lead to such an increase in energy consumption and they create this artificial scarcity and competition for those artificially scarce materials.

This same situation is occurring with, say, chairs. We have white plastic chairs being plopped into every culture and ecosystem around the world selling for a dollar a piece while locally made chairs using local wood and cloth are disappearing. So much of that has disappeared that it is hard for us to see that contrast now. But in places like Ladakh and Bhutan in the 1970s and 1980s you could see very clearly how completely artificial it was that this chair that uses fossil fuels that involves wars and involves enormous technology to extract the oil and convert it into this little chair, and it sells for less than a locally made chair made from bamboo or rattan or cloth. That just doesn’t make sense to me, does it make sense to you?

The power of happiness & play, Photo by Woody Gooch

The power of happiness & play, Photo by Woody Gooch

SW: It sounds exactly like what happened with surfboards. Instead of locally crafted wave riding vehicles being made of timber sourced locally, probably the majority of the estimated 35 million surfers on the planet are riding stark, white petrochemical boards. And we know that the cheapest ones, like “pop-outs”, also happen to be the most energy intensive in terms of production, shipping and packaging.

What are some of the actions we can take to turn this around? Say, if you lived in a little coastal town here in Oz, what can we do in our daily lives to usher in change?

Helena: The first thing that I would suggest is that we open our hearts and our minds to the possibility of other ways of looking at the bigger picture. And then to spread the word. In order for us to be part of a culture where we have the time to surf for hours every day, and where we can still be productive and creative and be part of a way of life where we have shelter over our heads, whether we pay rent or build it ourselves or whatever it might be, in order for that to happen we need to move away from the “I” to a “we”. To a “we culture”.

In order to create that “we” we need to raise awareness so that we have a kernel of a group or a culture around us, a group of people who want to take steps. For me, that’s the most strategic way. But if you want to look at what you can do immediately, as an individual, you need the courage to say that, “I’m not going to go with this herd… into this cage.” Basically, “I’m going to be confident enough to listen to my deeper wisdom.”

I am so keen for people to try and do that with at least one friend rather than on their own. One of the reasons people are falling into the monoculture direction is that we just want to belong, we innately want to be together, we evolved in groups.

Vibes on the beach, Photo by Kristokski

Vibes on the beach, Photo by Kristokski


Tags: surfing , world , magazine , lauren , hill , rasta (create Alert from these tags)

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