I am giving up on building generational wealth and focusing on creating ecological wealth. One that doesn’t materialize in our hands but showcases the mind, spirit, and heart how to make a blueprint for the continued wellness and existence of multi-species. Ever since I was young, I grew up in poverty, and the fear of not having enough money was ingrained in my younger self that it prevented me from being able to build relationships with living systems. My survival was rooted in scarcity and individualism as I further navigated higher socioeconomic areas in my career. The American Dream is a value that many immigrant families grow up with, thinking that serving in global capitalism brings great gifts. Ecological wealth is a cultural framework that differs from generational wealth and attaches actual value to a set system of local knowledge, culture, and species’ continued existence.
What worries me about generational wealth is its reliance on the current capitalistic system exploiting the land, people, and animals. While people continue to fight for redistribution of wealth, the preceding structures of generating wealth are still perpetuating harm therefore building generational wealth will not mean so much for younger generations or families when there is no liveable planet. The war for minerals, water, food, and so on further indicates that these valuable living elements are disregarded for their sacred systems and reduced to an economic value in capitalism. Rocks, water, fauna, flowers, fungi, stone, sand, and other living / non-living species cannot see their sacred wealth of living with species coexistence because capitalism deems them different. The capitalistic system never gives nature the gift it has gifted everyone but instead reinforces the mindset of reducing cultural knowledge. What we ask from the Earth and what the Earth gives to us must be returned reciprocally.
The Displacement Of Local Knowledge Leads To Uniformity
Pulling from Vandana Shiva’s book and work, Monocultures of the Mind, local knowledge is seen as inferior in dominant science models, especially in economics. The loss of that knowledge and removal of its intent has harmed people, especially in rural farm areas. Ecological wealth is not about romanticizing the past but a futuristic approach that centers on the need for local biosystems and the liberation of multi-species. Where these types of values are not new, they stem from Indigenous science, western science, and peer-to-peer education. Countries in the Global South have been plundered from their knowledge only to be reduced to sheer numbers of economic inputs off their lands and resources.
Ecological wealth includes cultural, spiritual, and religious knowledge at the forefront of its pillar to preserve and tend ecosystems. Generational wealth can sometimes be fixated on fixing physical issues in people’s lives, such as having a roof under their heads, buying food, access to healthcare, or ensuring that there is good education. While these should all be simple human rights, I do not blame any parent, especially BIPOC folks, who are trying to reach these measures because they understand what it is to be in a disadvantaged system that is not designed for them. Ecological wealth is a building block for those interested in achieving collective liberation in their work by ensuring the land is liberated from dominant mechanistic systems. The dominant capital structure loses the spiritual and ecological components. But these value systems have always been discussed in Indigenous ways of living. What difference does it make to build long-term capital for our future generations when they do not know how to value the land they stand on and understand that the space they live in must be in coexistence with other non-human species.
Generational Wealth And Its Parasitic Relationship With Capitalism
Escaping capitalism is one that I used to fantasize so much about without realizing that we cannot simply opt-out from our oppressors that continue to punish our communities globally. The phrase ” we are not free until we are all free ” is why I continue to educate. I still partake in a capitalistic society, and like many of us know that capitalism will not disappear the next day, there are ways in which we as a society can build around the existing system and abandon the oppressive values it carries. While I am not saying that those who are currently building generational wealth for their respective communities are doing it wrong, I merely want to be able to extend the conversation of ecological being an additive to the discussions. As people work for economic property in the structure, there must be an underlying agreement that the current system is not valuing ecological wealth. People must actively learn how to deconstruct that framework and redevelop a new foundation for ensuring planetary health is within their definition of wealth.
It is a scary world that people are living in today with rising housing prices, energy bills soaring, lack of access to healthy food, expensive healthcare, gun violence, and laws that continue to harm all genders abroad — how can people keep themselves thinking about ecological wealth when all they’ve learned growing up is needing money to survive. I tend to forget that it wasn’t the government programs that kept me alive but the community. The mutual aid programs ensured communities were eating, the retired educators who tutored us for free when the public schools were failing us, and the people who made me laugh despite going through tragedies. For first-generation students, the idea that going to college and graduating with a four-year degree from the university will solve all the family woes is simply untrue. The United States is entering a recession that will plunder the poor and working-class people. Mutual aid, a function of ecological wealth, plays a considerable role in developing resiliency simply because it is defined and crafted by the people.
Those Born In Generational Wealth & Without Share The Same Fate?
For people who grew up in poverty, the majority being Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, there is a sense of a scarcity upbringing that they carry because many families expect them to be their generational wealth. Whether for them to have a better life than they did growing up or to ensure that their unchecked traumas do not manifest within their children, the pressure to build financial stability is prioritized before physical and mental health. No one is told about the traumas they’ve developed from being deprived of love and resources. What is only told is the success that they achieved. These blows to the child and younger self are in motion in later years, where the pain crystalizes into trauma only to reflect in platonic or romantic relationships. Only in my mid-20s have I found that my health has massively degraded where the health issues I have are a result of long-term stress, environmental contaminants, and the poor systems that I was raised under to have the severity of health issues as people in their 50’s.
More than ever, younger people are anxious about the climate crisis and the thought of having to protect another living system is overwhelming. In contrast, capitalism has already threatened their livelihood and disempowers many of them because they were never given a chance to define what wealth meant. More than ever, people who grew up in poverty have trauma from the fear of not having enough money, food, or resources, which is truly hard to unlearn during crises globally. The systems have indoctrinated poor children and families by moving to a country in the Global North where all the issues will be solved. However, that is simply untrue in a system rooted in the continued expansion of exploitation. People who are displaced from wanting a better life are not the issue. Capitalism ousted people from their safety and they had to fend for their existence because all living beings deserve to live in a safe, healthy and ecologically sound environment.
Those who grew up in generational wealth carry a lot of privilege. While any parent would want their child to have a comfortable life, it doesn’t protect them from what they may experience physically and mentally. The idea to uphold generational wealth for the next generation adds pressure to those who are not for the money but rather the purpose of building an equitable future that truly treats all species with respect. Perfectionism within a generational wealth family means that there is no open room to explore the dimensions and depth of ecology without having an economic value attached to what is being studied. Another fear they face is being financially removed for challenging the wealth their family generated.
I am someone who understands that with money, there are strong family power dynamics that create asymmetrical relationships. I have come to an understanding that even within the elite, those born into those families sometimes have a role in serving in continuing to maintain global economic powers. I am not saying that they have it worse than those who grew up in poverty because anyone growing up with economic privilege has access to more resources. But I have understood that those born with massive wealth are also oppressed regarding their identities.
What does building ecological wealth look like in practice?
It’s not so much set processes or steps to take. I like to say how dominant systems of science have us focusing on the logical side and way less on the emotional side. We need a balance of logic and emotion to understand humans’ Earthly emotions. After all, when people choose to fall in love, work, or collaborate with someone, they use both sides to find common ground. I have found that the practice of building ecological wealth is cultivated within our hearts, lungs, hands, speech, feet, eyes, ears, and thoughts. I don’t think that building generational wealth should stop but rather remind them that if they are building a better future for their communities and families, it must include Earth.
Consider the following when building ecological wealth.
- What local systems am I currently contributing to or seeking to learn from in my community? How do you communicate with the fungi kingdom, animal kingdom, and plant kingdom, what are the stories it shares with you, and how do you listen to the species when partaking in foraging? There is a deep curiosity for the language of the unknown in multi-species because those stories are sacred to their respective kingdoms, making ecological wealth precious and able to share without privatizing.
- What set of practices have I looked down upon in my life? In basic economics, we learn that the term unskilled labor refers to practices of working requiring minimal hours to master a career, which is entirely elitist and reductionist. From shoe repairs, sewing, dry cleaning, gardening, upcycling, construction, cleaners, customer service, or cooking. These practices are not unskilled, simply devalued in the dominant economic model. Instead, we should reframe in examining our biases towards these skills as parents and grandparents carried them within their practices. All species partake in these methods, whether we look at humans, animals, fungi, fauna, or plants. They upcycle, decompose, reuse, and heal.
- Striving away from isolationism: Children, people with disabilities, and elders are at the highest risk of being left alone and forgotten in their communities because the dominant structure deems them unprofitable to society. When there is a disconnection between generations, there is a loss of knowledge and reductionism of values that are not being spread. For people who feel a deep sense of disconnection within their community, do you know your neighbor? The person who owns the store down your street? BIPOC struggles with this when relocating to areas that have been historically least diverse, but that is not to say that BIPOC does not exist or live there. It simply means that the love for each other is stronger than ever and must be built.
- Teaming with sovereignty and liberation led-movements: It is no surprise that Black and Indigenous communities have been building ecological wealth because they recognized that their existence is a part of the solution to liberating everyone from the ecological crisis. Understanding Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty are essential to our ecological wealth because the models of ecological wealth are already embedded in ancestral communities. Ecological knowledge is not new knowledge. Simply, ecological knowledge has been devalued in capitalism and is highly valued in local Indigenous & Black communities at the forefront of wealth.
- Abandoning individuality adopting collectivism: The American Dream indoctrinated many immigrant families to believe in the nuclear family of living in a two-story home with a backyard pool and the suburbs. Perhaps many people my age may not be able to afford a home for our parents in the current housing market or even achieve the big house they’ve dreamed about but how much is truly needed is vital to ask.
Ecological wealth is practiced through stories, dancing, arts, love, and tending to each other. The wealth that never rots or shines but the one that is everlasting in the hearts of the land. Adopting ecological wealth in our work shapes our decisions for the future.