Try to see this post as the first stretching out of a thought or idea of what might be needed to face and resolve the problems which we understand to exist in our world today and in the future. As such, it invites response; it needs dialogue and synthesis, and should not be read as an authorial statement.
We are aware of the world through the texts, or narratives, of its being which are given to us through our understanding and from the mass media. These do not exist in isolation from either each other or from our history-narratives.
What we feel is that we are in trouble. The whole edifice of the natural world, within which we impose our civilisation and our unique collective human being, seems on the brink of collapse – at least, this is a common narrative which appears reiterated in a thousand other narratives, from Hollywood to MySpace.
Dealing with the collective human endeavour is too large a project at the moment, though some ideas arising from these thoughts will impinge upon this, too. What I am addressing here, in the first instance, is our individual and collective relationship with the world.
Here, I want to avoid the tendency towards anthropomorphism which is evident in the conception of ‘Gaia’ or ‘Mother Nature’. This is not a denial of these ideas, nor a devaluation of the usefulness of these ways of seeing our home and our place in it, but a recognition that such anthropomorphism can lead to confusion.
The first idea that I want to explore is that the way in which we live in the world – our relationship to it – is wrong. Wrong, in the sense that we can see that our apparently inexorable pursuit of growth, of expansion, of ‘betterment’ is in conflict with the interest of our environment. The way in which we are conducting ourselves is damaging. The needs and desires which we have lead to destruction and devaluation of the space in which we live.
This might imply that I think we should aim to live ‘in harmony’ with nature. Such an idea is not in itself a bad one, but the presentation of it has become loaded with other meanings, thanks to the interpretation of such a feeling by the defenders of the status quo as somehow risible. It has become associated with ‘hippies’, vegetarianism or environmental activism, romanticism or pastoralism; the idea of the ‘natural man’ which is brought to light in Rousseau and largely ridiculed as unrealistic by modern ‘pragmatists’. Because of the loading of meaning, we can’t make such a proposal without being faced with the hostility of the ‘Establishment’.
There are many, many other ways, though, in which we can discuss the wrongness of the ways in which we live; the inequity of the death of others in the same world as our self-indulgence in luxury; the injustice of the competitive economic model, which seems to lead inevitably towards the virtual enslavement of some for the benefit of others; the persistent destruction of habitat, species, vitality itself, which results from certain industrial and economic activities; and the difficulty of balancing the (perceived) needs of the human society against the survival of the natural world.
We also understand that the conflict of our demands and the viability of natural systems looks, at first, to be an inevitability. And yet we are aware that we should be doing something, should be trying to stop this destructiveness. We know why; if we destroy the means of survival, we cannot ourselves survive; there exists no known mechanism of a purely man-made existence, devoid of the resources of nature. We want the resources which the world provides, but not the destruction that the extraction of such resources seems to demand.
Another time, I’ll think about some of the issues that this analysis brings up. For now, I want to concentrate on a simple proposal. The argument for this is that, even though the reasoning is incomplete, the understanding of the need for it is already here, in our society. We know that this is what we have to do if we want to ‘save the world’. The proposal is this:
The time has come to start a gentle revolution. (Perhaps, indeed, it has already begun).
Does this mean we need to overthrow the government? No. I am not calling for war, or bloody overthrow. The revolution needs to take two forms; one of action and one of understanding. To prevent the possibility of serious and shameful destruction and human suffering in the present and near future, action is necessary now. To develop a better relationship with the world in which we no longer threaten the destruction of the means of our existence, a new understanding is needed.
This is why I use the term ‘gentle’ revolution. It requires no violence – it is, really, anti-violent in both its object and its methodology. But it does demand change. As suggested before; first and foremost a change in what we do, then a change in the way we relate to the world. This priority is not a logical one; normally, we would expect the second to precede the first. But in extremis, we must be active; decision first, reason as we go.
What ‘actions’ are we talking about? The familiar and simple ones: small, painless (and normally costless) changes in the way we live our lives. These little actions are all manifestations of an attitude to our lives and the world; we must change the sense we have now of what it is we need, or want. I am not talking here of the fundamental needs which are denied too many in the world; security, health, sustenance. We must always allow that these needs must be met. I am talking of the ‘need’ to acquire, or possess objects; of the ‘need’ to consume; what sense does it make to have ourselves defined (and permit the definition) as the end-users of ‘product’? This is to see ourselves the way the salesman or economist wants us to see; as the ‘market’ for ‘stuff’.
As well as changing the way in which we define ourselves as a ‘needing’ society, so we also must look at the simple interactions with resources which underpin our everyday lives. We have become, by accident or design, a society which first acquires, or consumes, then disposes. Worse than that, we don’t just dispose of the no-longer-wanted; we also waste. We waste at a level which is almost unimaginably vast. And we waste in a world where others are in want. The morality of this is too plain to need saying. In order to change this, we have to be more aware of the value of each object which we already possess, not as a token of our status in an artificially constructed ‘competitive’ society, but as an object sufficient to the need we felt when it was acquired; no longer the endless demand for ‘more’ or ‘better’ or ‘newer’ (what nonsensical creatures we are), but instead, an acceptance of ‘good enough’. We need to learn that we can never be ‘satisfied’ by acquisition – it engenders a vicious circle – so we can find satisfaction (‘satis’, after all, means ‘enough’) in already having what we need, and recognise the sense of a need to replace what we have with something ‘better’ as intrinsically non-sense.
The first actions of the revolution are inactions; we slow down the rate at which we consume the world’s resources. The consequent actions are replacements; having developed a sense of satisfaction, we go on to increase the effectiveness or utility of what we use. Though this at first appears to involves a contradiction (we must acquire more efficient objects to replace the less efficient ones we now have), it is only so in the short-term. By increasing the efficiency of our use of resources in our tools (generally, devices which require an external source of energy to use), and determining to stick with our choices for a reasonable ‘lifetime’ of the product (ie, not replacing it in six months time), within a short time, the saving exceeds the new consumption.
All of this is underpinned by something of which we are already aware, but which we will need to bring out into the open as a new narrative of existence if it is to persist; the responsibility we have to ourselves, our families, tribes and communities, to firstly maintain, then improve, the natural environment in which we all live and which which we all depend.
If I remember, I’ll follow this train of thought another time. In the meantime, I’m going to sort out the recycling and pump up the tyres on my bike.
Be – sensible.