True or false: it's ok for one to beat a dead horse if the horse is asking for it.
Once again, a thought-provoking and inspiring post from Causabon's Book: What Does It Matter?.
When talking with friends and acquaintances, whether of like mind or not, there is question that often comes up, one which is disheartening both in its frequency and its content. The question is - surprise - what does it matter? What does it matter if I eat one less egg, plant one more tree, forego one more luxury, volunteer for one more hour, or even inspire one more person? Isn't it true that whatever good I do today will be just about cancelled out by whatever my neighbor does tomorrow or whatever Coca-Cola will do in the next two minutes*? Isn't it true that even if all 7 billion of us went organo-vegan, changed our light bulbs, abandoned fossil fuels, composted all our poo, and stopped supporting corporations, it would still be too late to save the planet as we know it? Even if we as a species just up and vanished.
Some people ask the question because they're exceedingly clever and feel it justifies them in buying and using and consuming whatever they want, or at least can afford. Maybe it does. Some people say it because they're exceedingly scared and honestly feel like no matter what they do, it won't be enough. It probably won't. Some people say it when they're just too tired of feeling like they're opposed to everything about the system they live in, when they need to give themselves a break, just for a minute, or for a bite, when they need to feel like they're not asking too much of themselves, which of course they are, and which of course they have to be. I say it most days and have said it in each way, and probably in other ways as well.
It was this sort of frustration, this thing that deep-down I hate to acknowledge but can't get away from, that pushed me from recycling to hounding others about recycling; from taking shorter (and colder) showers to eating less meat (which saves water); from eating less meat to not eating to meat to eating (almost) no animal stuff to growing and buying as much local, organic stuff as I can; from riding a bike to agreeing to volunteer with Daegu's Eco-bike group; from whatever I do now to whatever I can think up to do next.
As stated above, the problem is that the problem is** (or problems are, depending on how you want to look at it) so bad that none of these are enough. This is why I want to involve others. This is why I am trying to start Daegu Green Living. This is also one of the reasons I feel like I ought to be more involved in protests. While direct confrontation is tough for me - I'd rather quietly go about doing my best, and I'd rather go about thinking I'm an example, and I'd rather go about writing blogs, and I'd rather go about showing movies - I am coming around to the idea (thank you, Derrick Jensen***) that it really is necessary. What good is meek and modest silence in response to the wholesale slaughter of the planet and so many of its species, to the mass victimization and immiseration of entire peoples and cultures and, to the ceaseless destruction of any chance of fairness, equality, peace, or perpetuity? Shouldn't people be upset? And noisy? And nuisances? I have a friend who hates PETA for their tactics, but will going vegan ever put an end to factory farming or vivisection?
This idea - that protesting is more valuable than "merely" attempting to live a life consistent with my ideals - fills me with a certain amount of guilt (as if I needed more). Am I trying hard enough? Am I directing my energies and using my privileges in the most effective ways? Could I be doing this or that instead? Or, better, in addition? Am I a wuss? It was with these kind of thoughts as (ever-present) background noise that I found Astyk's words powerful:
"This prioritization of protest over the emergence of an ordinary, sustainable life is understandable in a society that prefers the large and shiny to the small and domestic, and that demeans daily personal actions and ways of life as unimportant. I have in much of my other work attempted to articulate the ways in which our personal actions are in fact, political and the conventional distinctions between personal and political intellectually bankrupt, and while I may have made a modest fame in doing so, I've mostly failed so far. This is problematic because it is precisely the emergence of a life worth living - and that can be lived by all the 7-9 billion people who will share our planet in the coming years that is most urgently necessary. If creating and modelling some sort of preliminary life of this sort is my project, I come to it well after Berry, and less gracefully. Still, such a vast project with so few participants can always use one more.
"This is the best that will ever be said of even our most successful efforts to preserve a world in which people can go forward - that we will fail to do enough. Despair, the logical companion of failure is part and parcel of the project - Carruth's poem, Berry's essay are both fundamentally about despair, about failure and the responsibility of those who fail. The odds are good that changing our way of life will not result in anything that we can call success on a world scale, that it is too little, too late. I don't think there's any point in denying this. Nor do I feel it is worth denying that most of the time, even if we succeed in some measure, it will feel as though we aren't doing enough, are paying too high a price, are losing the wars and all the battles. Most of all, we won't get the credit we would for marching and waving our signs, because such things emerge in part as a shorthand for the work of daily action. Without the shorthand to signal our protest, many of the unimaginative won't see it - some of us may forget to see it.
"It isn't an easy project in a world that assumes a great deal of energy and emissions, that says freedom is consumer choice and that participation is mandatory and that wealth is our goal. So when you are in the garden, when you ride your bicycle or walk, when you explain to your neighbor yet again why you don't want their lawn chemicals on your yard, when hang your laundry, when you deliver a meal to a neighbor who is ill, when you say "no, we don't do that," when you teach your children who you are and why you do the difficult thing, when you try and convince yourself that you aren't too tired, when you get up in the morning and it looks like all you've done is pointless remember this - you are doing something hard and vast and new. Without your work and courage there is no hope at all for all of those with the courage to chain themselves at the gates. Without those who chain themselves at the gates, enough people will not know what you have done. With both together, change begins."****
* If that.
** No typo.
*** Can I beg you again to read Endgame?
**** If I deleted the quotation marks, could I trick you into believing that I had written that?