I hope I can bring up Gone With The Wind (GWTW) without being written off as one of those white dudes. No, I don’t have a secret admiration for slavery. Yes, I agree; the movie (and the book – that was 1 400 pages of my life I’ll never get back) whitewashes a brutal system and tries to paint the Ku Klux Klan as a god-fearing neighbourhood watch scheme. So I understand why African-Americans don’t see it as the “classic” that their starry-eyed Caucasian countrymen do.
Margaret Mitchell and ‘30s Hollywood created a comfortable myth, “a land of cavaliers and cotton”, in which the Wilkes’s and O’ Hara’s are “good” slave owners whose chattels – just like children, really – are grateful to be governed so paternally by Christian white folks (who only occasionally threaten to “sell them south” – and then, only when they’re really stressed).
Then along came the industrial revolution, and people were “encouraged” to give up the land and move to the city as labour units. Has anyone put any serious thought into sending the workers back to the land?
It ignores the beatings, the humiliations, the rapes, the murders and the obscenity of treating human beings as property; I totally get why it won’t be on Spike Lee’s ten-best movies list. Still, the music’s lovely, isn’t it? Jokes aside, there is one bit of truth in GWTW that does apply to South Africans, whatever our complexion. It’s the line when Scarlett’s Irish father is trying to get her to appreciate the plantation Tara. “Land, Katie Scarlett!” he splutters. “It’s the only thing that lasts!”
Once upon a time, land – and water – was all a family needed. You can grow food and fibre on land, and graze livestock; pretty much all you need to keep your clan fed and clothed. When you had a surplus, you sold or bartered it to buy the things you couldn’t produce on your land. Then along came the industrial revolution, and people were “encouraged” to give up the land and move to the city as labour units. The idea was that the food and fibre would be farmed commercially, and then sold to the city dwellers. They would be able to afford it, because they had wages, in return for industrial manufacture. But people had to buy the goods manufactured so that those wages could be paid; and if the workers were spending their money on food, who was buying the goods? Ah, yes: “expanding markets”.
I’m no economist, but this looks like a deadly spiral. If that system runs out of markets to expand into, it stalls. Throw in a few financial wizards to play around with the value of an invisible, imaginary invention called “money”, and at some point, the whole world must get stuck in a huge financial crisis. Sound familiar?
Has anyone put any serious thought into sending the workers back to the land? Nobody is unemployed on a farm; whether your only skill is hoeing and weeding, or you know all about solar power, there’s a job for you. And the land is there – the state owns lots, as do the churches; even before we get around to “redistributing” commercial farms. Home-owning suburbanites have lots of it, too, although they tend to fill it with lawns and pretty flowers. It’s going to take a sustained publicity campaign to get them to pull up the roses and start growing their own food, but maybe pointing out how much they’ll save at Woolies will help.
I don’t expect this to be a popular idea. I’m suggesting a fundamental reorganisation of the way we live. But when people realise that we can either try to live sustainably rather than chasing consumption and profit, or we have to find a whole extra planet to replace the one we’re exhausting, perhaps that fundamental reorganisation won’t seem so impossible after all.