About Me

Musings of a hopeful wanderer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Live better

I now understand that I can't watch documentaries too close to bedtime.

For the past two nights, I've watched two different documentaries that basically ask the same question: how do we live better?  The first, No Impact Man, chronicles a man and his family who decide to live their lives for an entire year with as close to no impact on the environment as possible.  In many stages, they phase out mass-produced food, meat, anything new, anything that comes with disposable packaging, any transportation that emits emissions (including public transportation), disposable diapers, electricity, even toilet paper.  It was really an inspirational story about a family that discovers just how much of our culture is "throw-a-way", from cereal boxes to disposable razors to expired food, and how much they're willing to sacrifice to live a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.  Some of their experiments failed (they eventually had to install a solar panel on the top of their high-rise Manhattan apartment to generate electricity for a refrigeration unit) and some they'll continue (like only buying fresh, local produce).  But really, the message was: we don't know how hard something is to give up unless we try.  We all know we should eat less meat, eat more local produce, buy less stuff, reuse and conserve much more but we all have the idea that it will be too hard, somehow interfere with our lives on too big of a scale.  So they tried it all and it wasn't that bad.  They became better parents, improved their health, strengthened their relationships.  Living more simply, more sustainably, improved their lives in unexpected ways.  I want that.  What am I, what are you, willing to do to be a happier, more wholesome individual?

(Of course, the movie wasn't without problems.  For example, they constantly had cameras around them, so a large amount of energy was used to produce the film.  Secondly, they really failed to underscore just how small an impact personal consumption is in the overall scheme of consumption.  Some statistics point to personal consumption only being 10% of the country's energy use, the vast majority being used, of course, by industry and corporations.  We should absolutely take responsibility for our role and the way we shop and spend money, but we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking that by doing so, we will single-handedly stop global warming.  Most of the power always has, and most probably always will, be with industry. (And don't tell me that we are industry and they only produce what we buy. Until we can have viable, realistic alternatives to unsustainably produced products, we are always going to be stuck with choosing between the lesser of two evils.  Any social scientists knows that structures are more than the sum of its parts and that the capitalist economy is much, much bigger than those who are (forced) to participate in it.))

The second film, The Examined Life, is a series of 10-minutes monologues from contemporary theorists and philosophers who try to answer the question: what is a meaningful life?  Unfortunately, this movie only provided more questions than answers, questions much bigger than my brain can handle but that I will nevertheless try to dilenate here (now my real dorkiness is showing, isn't it?):
What is our relationship to each other and the world, particularly as we become more and more entrenched of the biazarre paradox of the millennial age wherein we are more isolate in our daily lives but are connected through technology in incomprehensible ways?  What is our responsibility as agents in global structures?  I really believe that it's not enough to just do good in our own lives, we must on a fundamentally moral level, prevent as much harm as possible.  So then the question becomes: how do we decide what is morally permissible?  Is it enough that I find industrial farming to be unethical and reprehensible when, in a pinch, I'll eat fast food?  How do we live our lives to reflect our moral compasses in systems that allow few choices?  What would a revolution mean and look like in a world with nearly 7-billion people?  Is that the goal?  How can I revolutionize my own world, my own life?  I deeply believe in Audre Lorde's dictum that the master's tools can never dismantle the master's house, but what other tools are available?

As I enter adulthood I've become intent on redefining what adulthood is.  I don't want to become too comfortable and live my life like so many others because I'm too bored or scared or apathetic to be different.  I don't want to just go through the motions because it's easier that way.  I want to live my life in tune with my values while at the same time trying to figure out what my responsibility is in all this and what my choices are.  I want to live better.

How are you living better?

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