Tuesday, July 26, 2016

You're Just Like Everybody Else: Coops, Missionary Work, and the New Eden

Given that the Honest Weight Food Coop began life as a countercultural alternative to the mainstream and looked different, at least initially, from the mainstream, there are still many at the "Coop" who think that Honest Weight has a moral obligation, has a mission, to transform the world. For some Honest Weighters, Honest Weight should serve as an beacon whose aim is to transform the eating habits, health care habits, and political and economic habits of the Capital Region of New York and beyond.

The question arises, however, how an institution that since the 1980s has increasingly come to look like the mainstream corporate world it once criticised and wanted to be different from, can convert others to an alternative political and economic lifestyle? Can Honest Weight convert people to alternative political and economic lifestyles when it mimics mainstream political and economic culture? How can an institution that looks much like the mainstream institutions that it once condemned and didn't want to be like, offer an alternative to the mainstream corporate, money obsessed, narcissistic, and environment destroying world?

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder argues that it can't. For Yoder you cannot build a alternative beloved, in his case a beloved Christian community, by mimicking mainstream culture and institutions. For Yoder only truly alternative beloved communities can serve as a living witness to alternative arrangements that are more ethical, moral and environmentally sensitive and friendly and only alternative beloved communities can remake humans and human communities into communities that put agape into practise and action. For Yoder, in other words, being mainstream or becoming mainstream is not a viable means to the end of transforming humans and, in the process, transforming human life and human communities. For him only a community that is inherently separate, distinct, and different from the mainstream can convert humans from their old lifestyles to new ones.

If Yoder is right, and I think he is, then it will be impossible for an Honest Weight that looks little different from Kroger, Whole Foods, or CVS and acts much like Kroger, Whole Foods, and CVS to transform either humans or the world. All an Honest Weight that is corporate can do is replicate mass capitalist society with its bureaucracies, hierarchies, narcissisms, and wars.

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