Mickey Z.: So much of the American experience is based on myths like the two-party system, “land of opportunity,” and more. How do you offer a more nuanced view of US history in your work?
Paul Street: I agree on the power of those great American myths and would add some other and related ones: the notion that the United States is a benevolent force for democracy and good in the world; the idea that that the profits system is a form of freedom and democracy; the myth that we can achieve significant democratic change simply by voting in quadrennial corporate-crafted and candidate-centered elections; the notion that we live in a “post-racial” era wherein racism has been mostly defeated; the myth of an independent and objective media. What I try to do to explode these and other key national legends is fairly similar to what you and other American dissidents like Bill Blum and Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn do.
1. More farms, less agribusiness. Agribusiness substitutes chemicals and machinery for labor and employs remarkably few people. Small organic farms are far more productive per acre and bring the people back.
2. More repair, fewer products. Instead of tossing those shoes, that toaster, that computer, let’s fix them—and employ repair people in the process.
3. More recycling, less mining.Ray Anderson of the Interface flooring company says we already have enough nylon to meet the world’s carpet needs forever. The same may be true for aluminum, steel, copper, and other easily recyclable materials. We just need good systems for recovering them.
4. More renovations, less construction. Our nation has 129 million housing units. We build new ones and let old ones deteriorate. How about renovating what we have and in-filling our cities to use existing sidewalks, gas pipes, water mains, and roads?
5. More restoration, less destruction. Whether it’s forests, Superfund sites, or oil-laced wetlands, it’s time to restore. Some restoration can even pay for itself, as in restoration forestry where folks make products from the fire-prone, small-diameter trees normally considered too small to market.
6. More bike paths, fewer highways. They both cost money, but one is good for our health and good for the planet. What’s not to like?
7. More local businesses, fewer megastores. Locally owned stores employ more people per goods sold and you can often talk to a decision-maker about your purchase.
8. More dishwashing, fewer throw-aways. What if we got rid of all the disposable containers in fast food restaurants? At my friend Ron Sher’s Crossroads Shopping Center near Seattle, the food court vendors share a common crockery supply. No trees needed. It works.
9. More education, less advertising. Let’s face it. Advertising is about making us feel inadequate for something we don’t yet have. What if we stopped subsidizing advertising with tax breaks and focused on educating people to lead satisfying lives?
10. More clean energy, less fossil fuel. Here we do need new stuff—wind turbines, solar panels, insulation, passenger trains. Politicians are providing some—though not enough—funding for these sources of “green jobs.” It’s the other items on this list they’re not even talking about—but need to.
This song came on my iPod while I was cruising, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t really listened to it before. I think certain songs got lost in my generation because we’ve had mp3’s and don’t have to listen to a whole tape, record, or cd. This song is epic.