When my family moved to Vermont in 1993, it was due in no small part to the fact that we thought the Green Mountain state was different from most states, very different. We perceived Vermont to be smaller, more rural, more democratic, less violent, less commercial, more egalitarian, more humane, more independent, and more radical than most other states. It seemed as though Vermont might provide a communitarian alternative to the dehumanized, mass-production, mass-consumption, narcissistic lifestyle which pervades most of America – an alternative to a nation obsessed with money, power, size, speed, greed and fear of terrorism.
Unfortunately, we were mistaken. Vermont has lost its soul. Not unlike every other state, Vermont has succumbed to all of the tenets of technofascism including affluenza, technomania, e-mania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism. All too many Vermonters have embraced an empire which is too big, too intrusive, too materialistic, too environmentally irresponsible, too militarized, too imperialistic, too violent, too greedy, too undemocratic, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and local communities. Notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary, most Vermonters still believe that only the federal government can solve all of our problems all of the time.
This myth has its historical origins in the fact that throughout the twentieth century four threats provided the glue which held our nation together – World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Ten years after the Soviet Union imploded President George W. Bush introduced us to a new threat, one of our own making, Islamic terrorism. The Vermont Congressional delegation has done everything within its power to keep the myth of terrorism alive. Its members support the illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Israeli genocide, the deployment of Vermont National Guard troops abroad, F-35 fighter jets at $115 million a pop, a Vermont based drone aircraft center, and recruitment to Vermont of a firm which designs, manufactures, and tests weapons of mass destruction – all to prevent Vermont from being attacked by Islamic terrorists.
The inescapable conclusion from all of this is that Vermont has been palling around with the wrong crowd. Some of the people who hang out at the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, Corporate America, Wall Street, and the Israeli government are not good folks. Vermonters have little in common with those who control the Empire. They are into nihilism. Vermont needs to find some new friends with whom to hang out.
Maybe it’s high time Vermont began to distance itself from the money, power, greed, and violence of the Empire and seek out friends who share some of the values for which Vermont was once known such as human scale, democracy, sustainability, economic solidarity, power sharing, egalitarianism, and community. Five small countries which might be receptive to overtures of friendship from Vermont include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.
What these five European nations have in common is that they are tiny, very affluent, nonviolent, democratic, and socially responsible. They also have a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community. Although Denmark and Norway are members of NATO, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland are neutral. Once considered classical European democratic socialist states, the four Nordic states in the group have become much more market-oriented in recent years. Not only is Switzerland the wealthiest of the lot, but it is the most market-oriented country in the world, with the weakest central government, and the most decentralized social welfare system. Not unlike Vermont, Switzerland has a long tradition of direct democracy. What’s more, all of these countries work, and they work very well. Compared to the United States they have fewer big cities, less traffic congestion, less pollution, less poverty, less crime, less drug abuse, and fewer social welfare problems.
Two other small countries with whom Vermont might try to develop a relationship are environmentally friendly Costa Rica, which has no army, and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Since 1972 the king of Bhutan has been trying to make gross national happiness the national priority rather than gross national product. Although still a work-in-progress, policies instituted by the king are aimed at ensuring that prosperity is shared across society and that it is balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment, and maintaining a responsive government.
How might Vermont go about reaching out to some of these countries so as to learn from their rich experiences? First, Vermont, particularly Burlington, has a long history of sister city relationships with a number of countries throughout the world. This list might be expanded to include relationships with some of the aforementioned nations. Second, the University of Vermont might set aside a few scholarships each year for students from some of these countries. Vermont college students who study abroad might be encouraged to study in these countries as well. Third, both state government and civic organizations might sponsor exchange programs with these potential Vermont role models. These are inexpensive ways in which Vermonters might broaden their horizons and connect with others who share many of their core values.
This is a call for Vermont to reclaim its soul by extending the hand of friendship to a handful of small countries from whom we can learn how to decentralize, downsize, localize, demilitarize, simplify, and humanize our lives, so that one day we might live without the Empire.
Thomas H. Naylor
March 15, 2011
Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.