I’m a Jensen junkie…
Posted On May 25, 2010
"We fear death. And not just the death that all experience, but another that scares us far more than the real death that comes at the end of our phony lives. This other death that we fear even more comes before the real death- sometimes long before- if it comes at all. This is the death of our socially constructed self. Once that self dies, then who will we be? We cannot face the possibility of actually living, of actually becoming who we really are and who we would be had we not been so violently deformed by this culture. We cannot face the possibility of being alive, of living, so we turn… to jet skis and off-road vehicles, to Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Magic Mountain, and Six Flags over Everywhere. Most of us would prefer our real, physical selves die, and indeed the world die, rather than face the realization that, given our social situation, the world would be better off without all of us who allow our socially created selves to continue to breathe, to work, to labor, to produce- and that, of course, is the real point." (Derrick Jensen, What We Leave Behind)
How much of what we do is based on this socially constructed self? How important is this socially constructed self? Is this self based in love, thoughtfulness, friendship, community, and all the things that we hold precious in this life? Or is it rather based in an abusive relationship with this way of life that involves fear, exploitation, and greed? How much of what we do makes sense when we think about the consequences to the natural world? How much of our destruction of the natural world is actually optional? When I really think about it- it all is. Imagine this- humans, being together and actually enriching the natural world rather than destroying it.
Another quote of his that has been really getting at me lately:
"What’s the point? Is it to accumulate wealth? If you were to ask 10,000 people if their main goals is to accumulate wealth and material possessions, the overwhelming majority would say no. But if the answer to this question were to be based not on their words, but on how they spend most of their waking hours, the answer would be a resounding yes." (Jensen, A Language Older Than Words)
It also got me thinking about something Jeff said the other day about our morality being about what we do and not what we say. If we don’t condone the practice of factory farming, and yet we eat factory farmed meat, then what sense does that make? If we want cancer to make an exit, then why haven’t we boycotted the use of plastics in our everyday lives? Why would we allow for the production of ANY product to contribute to the toxification of our environment? I think the answer is that this culture has made us insane and totally detached from what’s truly happening. We make direct choices all the time, with full knowledge of what kind of damage they cause, and do it anyway. What does that say about our morality?
The easiest example I can think of is the conversation I had with my sister a few years ago discussing the decision to not buy new anymore. We were talking about how jeans are hard to find used- especially for her (I’m more average sized, but she’s always been tall and lean). There’s this store in the mall that has the perfect measurements and everything, and she was kind of mourning the loss of that option. Then she said something that I’ll always remember when I get down to making a sacrifice like this- she said that what had been helping her was to imagine all the people and things that had been exploited in the process of making those jeans, gathering them into a room, and having to explain to them why she needed to buy them. It was a powerful picture, and needless to say, one that keeps you looking through the racks at the thrift store. It was so powerful because she was able to find a way to no longer outsource her responsibility. Just because we can’t see those people or those decimated land bases, just because we don’t own those corporations and didn’t invent the culture, it doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible. We are DIRECTLY responsible. We have to remember that. And then we’ve got Jeff, the comedian, saying "Oh I know what I’d say to that room full of people! I’d say ‘…but did you see how good my butt looks in these jeans? I mean, you people do good work! Now look at my butt in these ones… not so good."
* I’d like to make a note that I do not feel that we should feel badly about what Monsanto is doing just because we are buying veggies at the store. I do think there are ways to boycott this stuff, but I don’t think the responsibility lies entirely on individuals. I’ll always argue that a larger responsibility belongs to those big dogs pulling the strings.
I read a story a while back about a social experiment. The same people were presented with two scenarios. The first scenario was this: a train track splits. On one side there are 10 people, on the other side just 1. The people won’t be moving, and a train is coming (I know, a crappy situation that would never happen, but bear with me…). You have a switch that allows you to control which track the train goes on. It’s headed straight for the group of people, but if you flip the switch it’ll head towards the single person. 9 out of 10 people said they would flip the switch. The second scenario was similar, but this time there’s just one track. You are on a bridge with the single person overlooking the track with 10 people on it. The only way to stop the train is to push the person beside you onto the track, thereby slowing the train enough (somehow) to keep it from hitting the group. 9 out of 10 said they wouldn’t do it.
Isn’t it interesting how what is essentially the same situation can give us such drastically different answers? I see the same thing happening with our natural world. We wouldn’t directly give someone cancer, but we buy products that basically cause it. We wouldn’t kill or torture an animal, but we eat meat every day. We don’t condone sweat shops or slave-labor, but we buy new clothing from department stores. We wouldn’t pollute a child’s air and water, but we help to cause it with practically every choice we make. We need to stop outsourcing our responsibility, then we’ll start to make the changes necessary to save this place, and ourselves.
Jeff and I have been talking about getting rid of our TV. We only really watch stuff off of the internet (we’ve hooked our TV up to a computer like a monitor), and the occasional PBS show. Even so, I keep feeling this pull to get rid of it. Then I get scared and don’t want to. I don’t want to get rid of that luxury. I want to be able to watch movies and entertain kids easily when I can’t get something done… I mean, TV is so present in modern life. Then yesterday Jeff and I were talking about it again. I’ve always been the one to bring it up, and we grumble and stall and then for some reason yesterday Jeff was so about it. He just said, "Yes, let’s do it." Then he told a co-worker about the decision and she was concerned. I guess she’s often concerned about us and our decisions like this. Jeff told her that every decision that we make is in an effort to get in touch with our spirituality, our love, community, and justice. I thought that was so lovely, and it was a good thing to focus on when trying to make some of these tough decisions.
For us, I do think that getting rid of that shiny box will bring us together more, keep us working on our creative efforts, help our attention spans and our focus and our patience, we’ll get more sleep, Jeff and I will have more quality time together, and both Vera and I (and new baby) will learn how to work together better. I could say that we’d just monitor it, but I’m not sure I can trust that we would. It’s too easy to let Vera watch for a couple of hours when I only meant for her to watch a little. I just can’t always trust that I’ll have the self-control. Besides, I bet we won’t miss it after a while. Plus, I’ve often seen it as a time suck. Jeff and I lately have been watching about an hour and a half every night, and that’s modest viewing compared to the majority of people in this country. Even so, if that were to become a pattern for the next ten years (which it totally would if we didn’t get rid of it), then we’re looking at spending 5,475 hours just watching television. That’s a total of a little over 228 DAYS- just in a decade. I read that the average person spends about 4 hours a day… take 10 years of that, it’s just over 608 days. That’s almost a fifth of your life that decade! And that’s not even your waking hours- just total. Anyway, it’s feeling right, and a little weird.
Don’t worry about me too much. I’m making a point to read more fiction alongside all this stuff… I’m cracking open The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver today. 🙂