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Gabes Torres: Reclaiming Abundance Under Capitalism

ILLUSTRATION BY GOOD STUDIO/ADOBE STOCK

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Is there a way we can be critical of our cultures of consumption, while also preserving the spirit of abundance? Perhaps beyond preservation, we can reinvent the meaning of abundance altogether.

Whenever the holidays draw near, it is easy to remember the sensory details that represent the season: the smell of cinnamon, peppermint, and chestnuts. The textures from picking apples and pumpkins. The noise from holiday dinners and planning. The anticipatory rush and stress of holiday shopping and sales.

These symbols of the coming season can be exciting, but the holidays themselves can be unnecessarily expensive and excessive. In most cases, our levels of consumption contradict our values and attempts to divest from capitalism, and our celebration is permeated by the allures and beliefs of this system of oppression. Is there a way we can be critical of our cultures of consumption, while also preserving the spirit of abundance? Perhaps beyond preservation, we can reinvent the meaning of abundance altogether.

Abundance is an idea that gets thrown around a lot, especially in spiritual, wellness, and money-making manifestation spaces. These industries are predominantly whitewashed and appropriated by White women. Because of these exploitative and hyper-visible platforms, abundance gets grossly misinterpreted by treating it as an individual experience of success and a material form of security. These misinterpretations are often based on the fear of scarcity. 

Industries and corporations capitalize on our fear of scarcity. An example: Holiday sales have expirations to their discounted prices, which sends a message that sale items are limited. Sales are widely known as incentives, but critiqued more deliberately, they function more like hidden threats: If you do not buy this product immediately, it will run out. Somebody else is going to take it from you first, and you will miss out on reaping the benefits of this product.

On an episode of the Finding Our Way podcast, Alexis Pauline Gumbs highlights a pillar of capitalist ideology: “You could say that’s like one tagline for capitalism. ‘Capitalism: Because your life is scarce.’ … That’s pretty much what it teaches.” When the idea of abundance is capitalized on, the emphasis is scarcity: Internal and external resources are running out. Time is running out. Opportunities are running out. Discounted products are running out.

Reclaiming abundance is to understand and remember that, naturally, we already have all that we need. All that we are and all that surrounds us have always been enough. The problem is the political and economic structures of the powerful have privatized and polluted natural resources, which has resulted in the inequitable distribution and allocation of said resources. This then exacerbates our anxiety around scarcity and poverty. In a way, our anxiety is informed, because the world’s major pollutants—hyper-industrialization, militarization, and global capitalism—aggravate unnatural scarcity and our fear of it. It makes sense that we want to consume more and more, and we are anxious and fearful if we don’t.

The system has established a status quo that contradicts our ecological relationships, and because of that, it is important to remember the message of abundance and to live by it: How can I be a collaborator of abundant ecosystems rather than a consumer? 

A foundation of abundance is the concept and practice of reciprocity. We have forgotten or are under-taught our capacity to participate in the survival and flourishing of non-human species—just as much as they do for us. A timeless example is how plants breathe out the oxygen we breathe in, and we reciprocate effortlessly with the carbon dioxide we exhale that keeps them alive. By simply existing, we benefit countless species that also benefit us. 

Author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants Robin Wall Kimmerer discusses how reciprocity goes beyond the concept of sustainability. More than sustaining the natural resources needed for the human species, reciprocity is a concept that says that “not only does the Earth sustain us, but that we have the capacity and the responsibility to sustain her in return.” In fact, what if we have the inherent ability and sense of responsibility to sustain the Earth? As instinctual as breathing, what if we are naturally wired for her survival and flourishing, just as she is with ours? If that is the case, then how is that not abundance?

This brings into question the countless stories about the so-called rivalry between humanity and nature. Climate journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis once wrote, “The story of inherently destructive humans is the most mainstream.” She discusses how storytelling in popular media overemphasizes humankind’s tendencies to destroy the environment, and that these tendencies are innate in us. She proposes a shift in our narratives by telling a different story about our built-in capacities. What if we are intrinsically wired for mutual reciprocity, and capitalism exacerbates a fear of scarcity (or weaponizes it) to make us forget or neglect it?

As the holidays approach, mutual reciprocity is a notion and practice that can keep us grounded, especially when we are susceptible to the noise and pressures of overconsumption during the holidays. In this practice, we can start by evaluating our respective degrees of complicity to capitalist systems—the systems that interrupt our natural state of reciprocity, and therefore our experiences of abundance.

This evaluation process involves asking questions like: What are the products that I’ve been purchasing? Which corporations are these products coming from? Who are their shareholders? What policies and bills are they funding and supporting? Are they funding pipelines? Are they major fossil fuel industries? As long as we live in this world, we can’t escape capitalism, and it is not a matter of “if” but “how” we are complicit. But that doesn’t mean we can’t actively diminish the extent of our complicity. In this process, we not only ask what we can give to the ecosystem, but also what we can give up for it. As Kimmerer says, we have both the capacity and responsibility to sustain the Earth. Imagine what we can do once we believe that we are intrinsically wired for it.

These ideas and invitations might seem radical or even stressful when we’ve been conditioned in a society that fears loss and sacrifice. It can feel like the cost is high. When it feels like it is, just imagine the immeasurable cost it took for the Earth and non-human species to get to where we are today. Will the cost of what we give and give up for the Earth ever amount to what she gave and what was taken away from her? Abundance begins with the conscious choice to reciprocate the nourishment and protection that the Earth gives us. It is with sustained mutual exchange where abundance unfurls and flourishes.


GABES TORRES is a psychotherapist, organizer, and artist. Her work focuses on anti-colonial approaches and practices within the mental health field. She also focuses on abolitionist organizing on a global scale. You can find most of her work on her website.

First published in YES! Magazine. Included in Vox Populi with permission.

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