Are We Slaves or Servants?

SEF News-Views Digest No. 88 (4-15-15)

In the context of a consuming, growth-oriented culture, are we modern-day humans living as slaves or servants? That is, are the material things (objects, plants, animals, and people) we spend time and energy caring for enslaving us, or do they provide service opportunities for accomplishing positive ends? Let’s begin by defining both terms.

slave is generally considered one who is forced to work hard in service to a dominating person. Hence, slaves have little choice but to do the master’s bidding. However, it may be argued that a slave relationship may occur willfully, as when submitting to the domineering demands of another person, object, or cause. For example, a soldier in battle is expected to explicitly follow commands by superior officers, without questioning, a situational response that effectively turns them into “temporary slaves”—even though he/she is serving a noble cause (freedom). Moreover, disobeying orders to engage in battle may lead to a court-martial and disgrace.

A servant, on the other hand, is generally thought of as one who is in the employ of another, such as a person, a business, a corporation, or government. In a way, any employee may be considered the servant of an employer, albeit granted limited freedom to quit at any time. For an extreme metaphorical example, imagine the current top one percent of the world’s wealthy citizens as employers (masters) of the 99-percent population. There’s accumulating evidence that this plutocratic, faux-elite group exercises great power over all human institutions, supported mostly by a gigantic servant base: WE, the people.

This master-status role conflicts with the familiar Biblical interpretation of a leader’s servant role: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant’” (Matthew 23:11, ASV). This injunction suggests that leaders holding power over others need to feel and display deep humility, altruistically motivated to serve others by way of causes that benefit the common good. Although many of the top one-percent citizens are solid citizens who willingly serve others, it seems fair to state that a larger portion is primarily devoted to serving egoistic, self-aggrandizing, materialistic interests.

(Since this commentary is longer than usual, please continue reading at the end.)

ENLIGHTENMENT (• Expectations • Ideas • Beliefs • Psychology)

> The Archdruid Report: The Burden Of Denial (John Michael Greer). It’s not that deniers don’t get it; they just wish that those of us on the fringes would quit reminding them of the imminent impact, so they can spend whatever time they’ve got left in as close to a state of blissful indifference as they can possibly manage. The non-negotiable foundation of any meaningful response to the crisis of our time can be summed up conveniently with the acronym L.E.S.S. ( Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation).

> Resilience: How America Became An Oligarchy (Ellen Brown). How did we lose our democracy? Were the Founding Fathers remiss in leaving something out of the Constitution? Or have we simply gotten too big to be governed by majority vote? The stages of the capture of democracy by big money are traced in a paper called “The Collapse of Democratic Nation States” by theologian and environmentalist Dr. John Cobb.

> ENSIAHow Does Climate Stack Up Against Other Worst-Case Scenarios?  (Gernot Wagner, co-author of Climate Shock). What we know about climate change is bad. What we don’t know makes it potentially much worse. But climate change isn’t the only big problem facing society. Opinions differ on what should rightly be called an “existential risk” or planetary-scale “catastrophe.”

> Resource InsightsHow The Climate-Change Debate Got Hijacked By The Wrong Standard Of Proof (Kurt Cobb). The deniers in the fossil fuel industry and elsewhere are attempting by sleight-of-hand to get both the public and policymakers to abandon the preponderance of evidence standard used primarily in civil trials–and which is similar to evidence-based public policymaking–in favor of another judicial standard designed for criminal trials, namely, beyond a reasonable doubt.

ENVIRONMENT (• Natural Resources • Wildlife • Climate)

> National Geographic: Six Degrees Could Change The World.  This 12-minute video summarizes in a capsule format what could potentially happen if and when the world warms to six degrees. A must-see video for all world citizens!

> The Washington Post: Climate-Change Deniers Are In Retreat (Dana Milbank). What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede. The latest attempt to deny denial comes from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful group that pushes for states to pass laws that are often drafted by industry.

> MPR: Water Conservation Strategies In The Face Of Climate Change. In this “Climate One” program from the Commonwealth Club of California, several national and California water experts discuss the fairest and most effective ways to conserve water, and the impact of climate change on water security, freshwater supplies, and the health of the oceans.

> Oil Price: Who Will Control The World’s Water: Governments Or Corporations? (Michael McDonald). Regardless of one’s views on the efficiency of government or the effectiveness of corporations, it is clear that the world is entering a new era where water is now fair game as an economic resource. And that is a scenario that presents both major risks and major opportunities for mankind.

> National Geographic: America’s Most Endangered Rivers Of 2015 (Amy Kober). This year’s report underscores the importance of healthy rivers to every American,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers. “Whether it’s for clean drinking water, ample water supplies for farms and cities, abundant fish and wildlife, or iconic places vital to our heritage, we all have a stake in protecting our nation’s rivers. [Minnesota’s St. Louis River is ranked 8th most endangered]

> Eco Watch: Tim Dechrisopher: The Church Should Lead, Not Follow On Climate Justice. Part of the role of the church is to remind us that we are more than consumers. Like many organizations, churches can bring to life our role as citizens, community members and family members. In addition, churches are uniquely suited to develop our identities as children of God, pieces of an interdependent web of existence, or bearers of divine sparks of creativity.

ENERGY (• Carbon Based • Renewable)

> Resilience: Changing Human Circumstances (Colin J. Campbell). [A capsule historical summary of humankind’s energy use] It may be asked if Homo sapiens will be as wise as his name implies and avoid extinction, the fate of many species in the geological past that exhausted the resources of the niche in which they lived. There is much that can be done to prepare for the changed circumstances. It is a critically important subject that is beginning to attract increasing attention.

> ENSIA:  Look What’s Cooking In Renewable Energy (Phil McKenna). Thanks to technological advances and a ramp-up in production over the decade, the point at which sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind cost the same as electricity derived from burning fossil fuels (grid parity) is quickly approaching. In some cases it has already been achieved, and additional innovations hold huge promise for driving costs even lower, ushering in an entirely new era for renewables.

> Climate Progress: U.S. Power Sector In 2015: More Renewable Energy, Less Carbon Emissions (Natasha Geiling). A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has some good news for anyone who supports a greener American energy sector: 2015 will be a “transformative year” for U.S. power, as more natural gas and renewable energy will combine with fewer coal plants to create a 20-year low in U.S. power sector emissions.

> Post Carbon Institute: The Law Of Diminishing Returns (Richard Heinberg).  This 6-minute video is part 1of a 4-part video series released in conjunction with Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels. Heinberg explores how we may well be hitting our defining moment, the point o diminishing returns–in our economy, the environment, and energy production.

ECONOMY (• Finances • Commerce • Global-Local)

> The New York Times: Middle Class, But Feeling Economically Insecure (Patricia Cohen). In addition to lost jobs and stagnating incomes, how Americans feel about their security and prospects (psychological frame) and how they stack up in relation to their parents, friends, neighbors and colleagues (sociological frame) are just as important as purely economic criteria. And on both these counts, middle-class Americans say they are feeling increasingly vulnerable.

> Resource Insights: The Puzzling Flattening Of Carbon Emissions And The Problem Of Global Growth (Kurt Cobb).  Whether economic growth for all the world’s people will return is an open question. The system by which we’ve governed the world economy, a system dependent on central banking, central government spending, the build-up of huge and unsustainable debt, and the ever more rapid depletion of fossil fuels and other resources is showing its decrepitude.

> Peak Prosperity: The Fatal Flaw Of Centrally Issued Money (Charles Hugh Smith). Centrally issued money centralizes wealth and generates systemic inequality. But the inequity that is intrinsic to this system is politically, socially and financially destabilizing, and so this system is unsustainable. In Part II: The Future Of Money, we consider what the landscape will look like once the current system of central bank-issued credit-money implodes. Which new form(s) of money are most likely to rise from the ashes?

> Common Dreams: How Tax-Dodging Corporations Avoid Paying Fair Share—Or Any Share At All (Deirdre Fulton). A new report from Citizens for Tax Justice makes a sharp case for corporate tax reform. The 15 Fortune 500 companies cited in the CTJ analysis represent a range of sectors within the U.S. economy, from toy maker Mattel to financial services corporation Prudential to broadcaster CBS to media giant Time Warner.

EQUITY (• Equality • Health • Social Concerns • Political Power)

> LA Times: Why The Middle Class Is Doing Even Worse Than You Think (Michael Hiltzik).  One of the great mysteries about the U.S. economy today is the discrepancy between the objective and subjective pictures we have of the middle class. The numbers say that the middle class is doing OK or even improving its lot; middle class families themselves say they’re being crushed under economic hobnail boots.

> UN News Center: At Americas Summit In Panama, Ban Urges Nations To Pursue Prosperity With Equality. There is growing realization of the link between business health and the health of societies, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, pointing to corporate social responsibility initiatives, investors’ moves away from fossil fuels, and increasing minimum wages around the world.

> Grist: America Has Fewer And Larger Farms. Here’s Why That Matters (Darby Minow Smith). [Watch 3-minute video]. As the total number of farms goes down, the number of big* farms is going up. According to an analysis by Food and Water Watch: “Communities with more medium- and smaller-sized farms have more shared prosperity, including higher incomes, lower unemployment, and lower income inequality, than communities with larger farms tied to often-distant agribusinesses.”

Resilience: The Essentials Of Resilience In A World Of Growing Chaos (Robert M. Christie). Many groups in communities all over the nation, and across the planet as well, are organizing to take local actions to either resist or replace the control of their lives by the corporatocracy. If they create enough momentum, these actions will evolve into the new economy. The resulting eco-community based life in harmony with our living earth systems will become the ultimate resilience.

ENGAGEMENT (• Goals • Activism • Solutions)

> Organic Consumers Union: ‘SOS: Save Our Soil’ Shows Innovative Approaches To Sustainable Agriculture (Dr. Mercola). Worldwide agricultural soils are poisoned with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and allowed to wash away from over-farming, overgrazing, and erosion. A PBS documentary (part 1 of a Food Forward series) highlights a few “food rebels” who are finding innovative ways to create a more sustainable food system.

> Sierra: Why Aquaponics Could Revolutionize Food Production (Eliza Strickland). Inside a former brewery in St. Paul, MN, a company called Urban Organics is perfecting a new model of aquaponic food production that combines fish farming with hydroponic vegetable cultivation to create an efficient closed loop system, where water and nutrients are perpetually recycled. The indoor farm, about the size of four tennis courts, uses 2 percent less water than a same-sized conventional farm.

> Resilience: High Tunnels Can Bring Benefits To Farmers And Schools (Peter Huff). By looking at best practices in high tunnel use and Farm to School activities, the report identifies innovative approaches with the potential for linking the two practices more effectively.

> Streets MN: Why Should Minnesota Cities Focus On Bikes Anyway? (Betsey Buckheit). Bikes are accessible to most citizens, and talking about riding bikes brings urban design and transportation planning down to earth. By thinking about bikes, particular experiences, specific intersections, individual streets, and different kinds of riders or improvements can generate discussion, debate and disagreement.

> MPR: FAQ: Where To Recycle Your Old Electronics (Elizabeth Dunbar). Here are some helpful guidelines and options to consider in getting rid of old electronic devices.


> Eastside Food Coop: Movie Night-Fed Up (new info about food & exercise), Wed., April 15, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Granite Room, Central Ave., Mpls. Free – RSVP required ( or 612-843-5409).

> Dakota County Electric and Lakeville Friends of the Environment: Solar Vendor FairWed., April 22, 6-9 p.m., Heritage Center, 20110 Holyoke Ave. Lakeville, MN.

> MN Environmental CommunityMN350: Earth Day Climate Rally at the Capitol, Wed., April 2212:30-3 p.m., MN State Capitol building, 75 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, St Paul (Speakers include: Ellen Anderson, Mark Seely, Julia Nerbonne, Kate Jacobson, Representative Melissa Hortman, House Minority Leader Erin Murphy, Will Steger’s Jothsna Harris, and more!) Info: Earth Day Climate Rally, MN350 Facebook page: Click here

> MoveMN: Rally at the Capitol for Mass Transit, Bike, and Pedestrian Paths, Thurs., April 16, noon- 1 p.m., State Capitol, front lawn, 75 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, St. Paul. Map here Contact: Adam Yust, Senior Campaign Organizer – Move MN (; (o) 651.789.1404 or (c) 651.470.3231)

> Sierra Club: Twin Cities Enbridge Tar Sands Resistance Tour Stop, April 29, 6:00 p.m., Mpls.- St. Paul, Location TBA

> Sierra Club: An Evening with the Cousteau Family (Topics: sustainability, conservation, stewardship & innovation), Thurs., May 7, 7:00 p.m.Beth El Synagogue, 5225 Barry Street West, Saint Louis Park, MN. Info: 952.873.7300.

> Midwest Solar: Midwest Solar Expo 2015, May 13-14, Hilton, Minneapolis. Info: Midwest Solar Expo 2015

> CERTS: News Alert: Made In Minnesota Solar Thermal Rebate Now Available To Entire State. The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced that it will offer rebates for solar thermal systems statewide as part of its Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program. Info: MiM update & project ideas >>

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Are We Slaves or Servants? (Editorial Cont.)

This introductory information is offered to stimulate thoughts about our relation to material things, including all life forms. Some questions arise: Are we acting like slaves or servants in relation to our many possessions? Are we materialistic slaves if we allow unused objects to accumulate in our homes, objects that require attention that could be given to more important, highly valued items or pursuits? Are we addicted to material growth—more money, a larger home, another car, new furniture, a new toy? Or do we constrain our consumerism, limiting ourselves to items needed for living a wholesome, resilient, sustainable lifestyle?

For a positive example, consider a young family fulfilling most transportation needs by walking, biking, and using public transportation. In addition, the family also owns a dependable, safe, economical automobile that is maintained in excellent condition for as long as possible. Is this the norm in America? Nope. Driving everywhere, for every reason, at anytime, is the norm. So, are we slaves or servants when it comes to our beloved automobiles?

Going a step further, are we either slaves or servants in the various roles we play—as parents, employees, caregivers, volunteers, and so on? If we feel we have no choice but to fill a certain role, we might as well think of ourselves as slaves. But if we undertake our prescribed roles willingly, serving worthy causes with love and devotion, we may be rightly considered as “good and faithful servants”.

Finally, as for creating greater resilience and sustainability, I’m sure you’ll agree we need to eliminate any concept of slavery in our worldwide collective effort to create a sustainable existence for future generations. We can begin this noble quest by relinquishing slavery to consumerism, and promoting all initiatives that serve the common good.

By Clifton Ware

Sustainability Education Forum Editor-Publisher Dr. Clifton Ware is an international figure in the world of voice pedagogy. During the the past fifty years of teaching students how to sing -- both nationally and internationally -- Clif developed his signature "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique". What distinguishes his method is its holistic approach, simplicity, and effectiveness. Siingers find that they are able to ensure their vocal health while cultivating their own unique, expressive sound. This approach stands in sharp contrast to faddish techniques that encourage mimicking the vocalism, style, and qualities of other singers, possibly limiting their own vocal imprint and even harming their vocal instrument. The "Efficient and Authentic Voice Technique" produces singers that enjoy vocal power, range, ease, individuality, and a liberating learning process.

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