Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"World at Gunpoint"

"Or, what's wrong with the simplicity movement"


A FEW MONTHS AGO at a gathering of activist friends someone asked, “If our world is really looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?”

The question stuck with me for a few reasons. The first is that it’s the world, not our world. The notion that the world belongs to us—instead of us belonging to the world—is a good part of the problem.

The second is that this is pretty much the only question that’s asked in mainstream media (and even among some environmentalists) about the state of the world and our response to it....

The third and most important reason the question stuck with me is that it’s precisely the wrong question....

The larger problem with the metaphor, and the reason for this new column in Orion, is the question at the end: “how shall I live my life right now?” Let’s take this step by step. We’ve figured out what the gun is: this entire extractive culture that has been deforesting, defishing, dewatering, desoiling, despoiling, destroying since its beginnings. We know this gun has been fired before and has killed many of those we love, from chestnut ermine moths to Carolina parakeets. It’s now aimed (and firing) at even more of those we love, from Siberian tigers to Indian gavials to entire oceans to, in fact, the entire world, which includes you and me. If we make this metaphor real, we might understand why the question—asked more often than almost any other—is so wrong. If someone were rampaging through your home, killing those you love one by one (and, for that matter, en masse), would the question burning a hole in your heart be: how should I live my life right now? I can’t speak for you, but the question I’d be asking is this: how do I disarm or dispatch these psychopaths? How do I stop them using any means necessary?

Finally we get to the point. Those who come after, who inherit whatever’s left of the world once this culture has been stopped—whether through peak oil, economic collapse, ecological collapse, or the efforts of brave women and men fighting in alliance with the natural world—are not going to care how you or I lived our lives. They’re not going to care how hard we tried. They’re not going to care whether we were nice people. They’re not going to care whether we were nonviolent or violent. They’re not going to care whether we grieved the murder of the planet. They’re not going to care whether we were enlightened or not enlightened. They’re not going to care what sorts of excuses we had to not act (e.g., “I’m too stressed to think about it” or “It’s too big and scary” or “I’m too busy” or any of the thousand other excuses we’ve all heard too many times). They’re not going to care how simply we lived. They’re not going to care how pure we were in thought or action. They’re not going to care if we became the change we wished to see.

...They’re going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care whether the land is healthy enough to support them.

We can fantasize all we want about some great turning, and if the people (including the nonhuman people) can’t breathe, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but that we stop this culture from killing the planet. It’s embarrassing even to have to say this. The land is the source of everything. If you have no planet, you have no economic system, you have no spirituality, you can’t even ask this question. If you have no planet, nobody can ask questions.

What question would I ask instead? What if, instead of asking “How shall I live my life?” people were to ask the land where they live, the land that supports them, “What can and must I do to become your ally, to help protect you from this culture? What can we do together to stop this culture from killing you?”

While I get the concepts of the world being at gunpoint, etc. I question his target - the simplicity movement. I also question whether he is actually trying to "stop them using any means necessary". Which suggests violence, etc.

I also don't think that the simplicity movement is the problem. On the contrary - one would think that the simplicity movement - that is the people who identify more or less with that - are doing more than most. Simplicity is the opposite of clueless consumption. Mindfulness is the opposite of cluelessly shooting wolves from planes, etc.

Could everyone be doing more? sure. But I am infinitely happier with people who, when are wondering how to live their lives are choosing to live them better, to grow their own organic food, shop at Goodwill, live with less air conditioning (or none) or whatever - as opposed to people who figure that the way to answer the question "how do I live my life right now?" is to deny there is a problem, to consume as much as they can, and/or to live hedonistically.

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