Lately I've been hit with these philosophical fits that I just have to spill out onto the page. I carry around a small notebook with me to jot down thoughts when they happen. I've wanted to share them, but often don't because it's a lot of stream of consciousness and exploratory reasoning. Also, the subject matter is decidedly heavy. But here I am, spilling out a whole essay on some of my latest thoughts, and I suppose I'll consider it therapeutic just to have written and shared it. No worries if you don't make it through. I will likely be adding to this collection in the future. We'll see how it goes. I welcome healthy debate and constructive feedback, always. 🙂
Early on in my adulthood I started learning all about the sad state of the earth and our species, and how far we've fallen away from what's natural and healthy. I started reading and researching and getting my hands dirty, and it proved to be greatly satisfying. It also proved to be incredibly overwhelming and, often times, terribly depressing. In my lowest moments, my feelings surrounding this work presented as pure grief and I would find that I was immobile for a while. When I did mobilize again, I would work really hard to meet this specific criteria, which was based in the belief that each individual's choices really mattered and that a change in lifestyle would transition us into a sustainable way of life. I would sort of oscillate between these two states, and it became clear to me that I was up against a giant. I couldn't be zen enough about my measly contribution to the effort, especially when I felt like every day there came more devastation, more exploitation. I couldn't compete. And yet I kept seeing messages that I was the answer. That my choices made the difference.
Then about 5 years ago I read Derrick Jensen's book Endgame, and while I know that he is a controversial author for many, I felt like it was the beginning of my journey back to reality. The one point that I think I really took home was that people aren't actually bad, despite all the evidence to the contrary. People are simply animals who have been jolted out of their natural way of being, and subsequently born into a culture of abuse. Abuse cycles and perpetuates itself through the culture, and will continue to do so until we break the cycle and cut off the abuser. In short, we've been set up. It's become so difficult for anyone to live even close to sustainably or self-sufficiently, or more specifically to exempt ourselves from the abusive systems and have a relationship with a healthy one. The system is totally rigged. My main point being, I realized that if I was aiming for perfection or even anything close, I was doomed to fail.
Not only was failure inevitable for me, but taking the approach I had in the past (that we could simply fix our problems by all individually making different choices) put me in the uncomfortable position of essentially having to judge everyone's lifestyles. What a terrible and exhausting thought- I and all my neighbors were each personally responsible for the decimation of the natural world and the inevitable downfall of the human race. Even if that were true, that our individual choices and lifestyles made that big an impact, I still would resent it because it would pit people against each other. In that vein, it's exactly why I despise any corporate "save the environment" campaign. They always reinforce the idea that it is the individual that holds the power on this issue, and it's a straight lie. It's just what they want to keep us from really demanding change. As long as we're bickering over who's living more ethically, we're isolating each other, generally being self-righteous about things that are incredibly difficult to measure, and, most importantly, we aren't calling out the real offenders.
Now this is not to say that personal choices don't matter. They do. And each person, if they so choose, has to figure out how to navigate this f'ed up system to attempt to live as ethically and healthily as they can. But those choices are just a drop in the bucket when it comes the environmental destruction. Without a doubt, the problem is industry. That big corporate machine that keeps chugging away. The problem is the few sociopathic leaders who run things. I really think it's that simple. Unfortunate and simple. And, yeah, people could choose not to indulge, but it wouldn't make the difference. It's really an oversimplification to think that the massive problems we face is just a symptom of consumer choices and various lifestyle choices. Knowing that now is freeing to me. No solutions are easy when it comes to this problem, and I'm not saying that our consumption and our lifestyles don't need change. Certainly they do. But the realization that my brothers and sisters are not the worst of it keeps me from wanting to go completely nuts. We're in this together still. I really believe that.
I was having a conversation with a friend recently. She watched me fold up paper towels (we use it for our growing medium) for sowing the microgreens. I use four layers, a total of 6 squares of paper towel per tray. As she watched the process she carefully mentioned a concern for how much paper it must take to run this operation. She asked about how many trays and how often each week. That's a lot of paper. I nodded in agreement. It isn't ideal, of course. My ideal would be that we all homestead and are completely self-sufficient, and the only microgreens we see are the thinnings from our garden each year. As things are, though, we grow these pretty and zesty little garnishes on paper towel under fluorescent lights in the spare bedroom of our house, running a dehumidifier and fans at all times.
In conversations like these I've found myself moving pretty concretely away from defensive to, honestly, reassured and invigorated. I love it when I and someone else can look at an aspect of the destructive culture and try to think honestly about it. I am reassured by the fact that routinely, when the thoughtful people I care about are personally confronted with an issue, they ask themselves really good questions and openly acknowledge problems. I also really love the opportunity to talk about this stuff with others, to brainstorm and look at the big picture. I don't take it personally anymore, because it's not on me that the system is broken. Not participating in a flawed system only leaves the dirty work to others, so I've chosen to get my hands dirty, so to speak. It's only on me to keep trying to do better, and most importantly to dare to approach the problems in my work so I can see the truth about this stuff.
Taking the micros as an example. The motivation to grow them wasn't to save the world. It was fairly simple- it afforded us the opportunity to launch ourselves into farming when we didn't have the land to do so. It gave us a chance to fill a food niche, and locally. They offer some unique nutritional benefits and are a local green we can produce year-round. People like them and they are healthy. Without our micros, restaurants would still be garnishing their fancy plates with some non-local plant. Maybe it would be organic, or maybe it would be doused in chemicals. Regardless, it was a step forward. Most importantly, it got us growing- building our skill level, all while simultaneously contributing to and working against some of the problems with being a part of this system.
To better explain what I mean, I'll go back to the earlier example: I don't like using all the paper towel… in principle. In practice, we're far more efficient now than we used to be. We used soil as our growing medium before, and while it seemed to be the more natural choice, we also used far more water and each bag was wrapped in thick plastic. Inside the bag was a mix of compost and peat. Peat moss that is being harvested and shipped unsustainably from peat bogs. That method was less successful and sterile, so up until recently we sowed over twice as many trays to get the same result. That meant more plastic, more soil, more plastic from the bags of soil, more fossil fuels from transporting the heavy bags of soil from wherever they came, more water, more seed, more personal work and time. Not so black and white anymore, is it? Developing our methods have taken time and an honest look at things. If I wasn't doing this, I wouldn't know those things. It seems obvious, but it's not. We're not done improving yet. I feel grateful for the opportunity to mess up in the best way I know how. Reminds me of this thing that my mom's friend says "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly". Words to live by.
These are glimpses into the reality of our predicament that, in my experience, only come into light when we actualize the experience for ourselves. I can think of so many examples like the one above. We have to continue to bring these processes home, simply so we can actually see what needs fixing. If there's anything I feel I've learned about the human species, it's that we're more short-sighted than we believe we are. I mean, we have to be to even be in this position at all. But I'd like to accept the fact that we can't see or care much beyond our own noses, and I'd like to work with that. You know, to use the tools we've got. I want to continue to bring the this stuff home, so we can fix it.