Lately I have been contemplating this idea that “you can’t stop the future,” as a well-known Annapolis area blogger recently wrote in reference to the Crystal Spring development. While factually true, statements like this can be used to justify the dominant paradigm and are inherently misleading. In fact, it harkens back to a time more than 50 years ago, when farms were being cleared for the first subdivisions and shopping malls: “Well, you can’t stop progress,” people would say, shrugging their shoulders as if certain forms of change were inevitable. To this, I ask, “Who defines progress, and who says we need it to be happy?”
Studies show that happiness only increases with material wealth up to a certain point. In order to maintain a certain quality of life in an area, humans require basic levels of resources: food, water, shelter, clothing, space, education, and a means to provide these things for themselves. Once people reach a certain level of material standard of living, such as that typical of the middle class in developed countries, personal happiness and satisfaction tapers off even as material wealth continues to increase. In other words, beyond a certain amount of monetary wealth, there is a diminishing return of true happiness.
But what makes life deeply meaningful and fulfilling for people? The answer goes beyond the material: things like family, health, community, spiritual practice or belief (some call it religion or faith), a sense of purpose, and ultimately, service to others and the community.
Now, like all places, Annapolis has a limited geographic area. We are defined by our space and place on the planet. A limited geography means limited natural resources: water, forest, wildlife, space, etc. Many cultures throughout time have understood these limitations and lived harmoniously within them. This is because they understood that when individual or collective greed ran up against limited resources, serious problems arose: soils eroded, forests burned, droughts occurred. The needs of the society outweighed those of the individual, and this became fundamental to their cultural existence and spiritual beliefs. Land was held as sacred, plants and animals were treated with reverence and respect.
Our culture is beginning to realize the wisdom that other cultures have had for millennia. Over last 20 years or so there has grown an increasing disillusionment with consumerism and conventional definitions of success, happiness, and wealth. Yet this process is still very young, and we still have much to learn that we used to know on a very intuitive level. If you ask me, this is true “progress”: enlightenment. Knowledge and awareness. Deep understanding. Consciousness.
Many elected officials, including those in Annapolis, however, still lag behind this underlying popular sentiment. They are still caught up in the dominant paradigm of growth for growth’s sake. They believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that only increased revenue can save us. Yet does this do anything for our spiritual growth or well-being? Does it strengthen our community bonds? I would argue that no, in fact, it serves to entrench economically elite interests where power is concentrated, among our elected officials and the legal halls of power.
Such faith and confidence in growth for growth’s sake comes at great hidden costs. Our economy has been based on extraction and consumption: extracting the resources from the land, the labor from our fellow community members, the life from the very soil on which we live.
On an international and global scale, these costs are manifesting themselves in the form of potentially irreversible catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. Yet all of these systems are finite and limited. This is the conundrum we all now face: our world is one global village, dealing with the limits of our natural resources and the waste that results when we “consume” them.
Statements such as “you can’t stop the future” represent the old way of thinking that profit at all costs is king, even if it’s for the few at the expense of the many. Crystal Spring will profit out-of-state developers and a handful of investors. The majority of us will have to live with the consequences: the increased traffic, the storm water runoff and pollution in the air and the water, the school overcrowding, the noise, the loss of our open space and forest, all of which give us our current quality of life. If the future means losing all of these things, then we must change the present to ensure the future we want.
The Iroquois believed that we should only make decisions that will benefit seven future generations. On some level, many citizens are aware of this moral paradigm. It is now time that we shift this creed from the background into the forefront of our consciousness. Annapolis is our piece of the global village. It is time for us to take responsibility for the present moment and how it will impact the next 7 generations of Annapolitans. That is why we cannot permit a development like Crystal Spring.
Friends of Crystal Spring Farm and Forest.