Dead Horse Bay is a short documentary produced for ABC News by Robin Nagle, Anthropologist in Residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation. It first aired on April 3, 2016. It's about a historic landfill site and contemporary national park in New York City. The following blog post is made up of my somewhat random responses to this video.
Beaches and treasure; they’ve always been linked.
I have spent my whole life walking repeatedly on the same short stretch of beach, and picking things up. (A sort of ritual; a meditation; a labyrinth, taking me closer and closer to myself. To my origins. To my source.)
My favourite thing to pick up has always been blue beach glass. Beautiful garbage. Small shards of human history.
The beach as reliquary; as midden; as a place where treasures are still buried (and unburied).
At first it was for small, personal acts of charity. Helping to finance a person’s medical care that wasn’t going to be covered by insurance. Helping to pay the legal fees of someone who’d been wronged. Helping to finance a family whose home had been destroyed. Helping to fill gaps and right wrongs. (Refugees starting over and the displaced trying to get back home.) Sticking one’s finger in the dike where governments and insurance companies and banks were failing. Filling the gaps in the financial infrastructures with small (and sometimes big) acts of humanity; of compassion.
But then crowd sourcing quickly became about funding people’s private aspirations and ambitions. And I have to admit, I thought: why should I give money so that another person could make money? That’s what banks are for. That’s what stock options are for. That’s what the Dragon’s Den and the Shark Tank are for.
On one level, we have always funded other people’s dreams and ventures. That’s the unwritten contract on which capitalism is based. The consumer supports the producers, the manufacturers, and the distributors with the choices they make in how they spend their money. With small (and sometimes big) acts of consumption.
And this is where it gets interesting. Crowd sourcing has democratized money and opportunity in ways we are still imagining. It puts the average person in the position of making decisions about the kinds of ventures they want to support. It gives people with even a small amount of money the opportunity to shape and influence the world they live in. It creates a sort of natural selection process for organizational start-ups and aspirations. And it could potentially be a game changer. An alternative vision.
What if we decided to fund the things that were important to us? What if we decided to use our small stashes of money to back somebody whose ideas and initiatives could really make a difference to us? What if those choices turned out to be different from the choices made by the people who think they call the shots? The old boys’ networks? The Dragon’s Dens?
What if we used our money to support things that don’t even make money?
We do it every day.
Capitalists make the mistake of thinking that people are motivated solely by money; and as a society we have accepted this diminished view of ourselves. That each of us can be defined by our role within the mechanisms of production and consumption. That anything of value can be bought and paid for. That “value” and “cost” are synonymous.
And perhaps they are.
The things that are of the greatest value to us are the things that cost us. Not the things that pay us. The things that we are willing to take risks for; not the things that keep us safe. The things that we are willing to spend/expend for. (Time, energy, money….) To give-up for. To lose for; not to win. To be diminished. To be depleted. To be scarred for.
To become less for.
Our small (and sometimes big) acts of faith.