Friday, May 16, 2014

Hippocartic Assurance

"Agreement is easy, support is hard."

Agreement is easy, support is hard. One requires little more than talk, while the other requires effort. When it comes to the rural environment agreement is not in short supply. Much akin to the abundant supply of genetically modified starches, many of us agree with a nostalgic view of rural America and small town life. We agree that family farms are important, that small town life is virtuous and preferable to the malfeasance of urban living. There is no dissent in our preference for the taste of farm fresh eggs and unanimous agreement that someday we all will purchase a little country land to tend to for ourselves. It goes beyond rural, for every red blooded, star-spangled American knows that the beauty of this great land is a national treasure. So whether it be to protect the home of the eagle or a spotted owl, many tend to agree with the Sierra Club that the environment needs to be preserved and protected. Although not all of us will backpack our way into the  wilderness attempting to find ourselves, there is consensus that this land will be preserved from the forces of a modern economy. While we would loathe seeing a set of golden arches adorning the shores of Jenny Lake, the increase to our 401k’s would quickly justify this small cost of progress.

We are intoxicated with the idea of rural. Even the most suburban and urban of dwellers often claim a connection and affinity for the “country” life. It’s not all that different and perhaps even more pervasive than the masses of self-proclaimed Irish every St. Patrick’s Day.  Our intoxication blinds us to the reality to the costs of a modern economy. As long as we can make an annual pilgrimage to a “family” operated pumpkin farm, we can remain indifferent to the monoculture landscape knowing that we are contributing to the “local” economy and supporting “local” farms with our purchases. As long as the product has been property marketed to conjure images of a family farm, organic production, and a balanced relationship with the environment we seem adequately satisfied that all is right with the world. 

Support is much more difficult to obtain, for support requires a change in behavior. In contrast to agreement, support requires self-reflection and critique. Changing behavior confronts aspects of our nature that are easier to ignore, greed, gluttony, hedonism. It exposes the fact that we’ve all been lying to ourselves and each other, it exposes the fact that the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes. Acknowledging and changing behavior requires us to confront our own perceptions of masculinity, heritage, and come to terms with an undeserved sense of entitlement to our way of life. 

Recognizing this is perhaps a leap that humanity needs to acknowledge and address together. Our patterns of behavior have proven that we are but simple creatures with little ability to comprehend the world around us yet alone fathom our significance in the grand scheme of it all. Despite our advancements, we’ve continued to behave as infants or perhaps adolescents. We’ve found a good thing yet lack the self discipline to restrain ourselves. Our perception of ourselves has not kept pace with our other technological advancements, collectively we are left wondering “why?”, baffled by the ways of a world which refuses to capitulate to our divine right to global dominance. 

Thus, we continue trying to justify a pattern of behavior that alleviates our guilt through the purchase of products that define our acute awareness and concern of environmental plight.  LED lightbulbs, low flow toilets, electric cars are all used to justify the habit of leaving the lights on, flushing away more sin, and driving more often. Our minimized impact provides a false sense of assurance that we are in fact better than our peers and entitled to live the way we do because we have made sacrifices. How interesting it is that spending more than $1.00 on a light bulb becomes impractical and a day using public transportation is completely out of the question. Spending a small fortune on speciality garments manufactured by environmentally conscious pacifists in Boulder, CO is an investment in quality while adjusting the thermostat a few degrees is untenable. Marketing has tapped into our own undeniable guilt and given us a reason to justify our behavior, although technology may have minimized the impact of our behavior to our pocketbooks it’s done little to address the accumulating environmental debt. 

We are exceptionally well adept at obtaining our own forgiveness. Our actions are nothing short of hypocritical.  Preserving small pieces of the environment has justified the rampant destruction and erosion of a greater asset. Agreement has come easy for humanity, for it is the equivalent of politics and nothing more than hollow words. Support remains elusive. Support does not come from buying a product or freeing ourselves from suburbia to an expansive rural estate. Support requires that we acknowledge our own shortcomings and make an active effort to change the way we live. Support demands that our responsibilities must take precedence over our rights. To progress we must acknowledge that this dilemma will require more than “liking” or “tweeting” our way to a solution.

Support remains elusive for we are in fact fallible and limited creatures. In terms of evolution, only recently have technological advances afforded us the freedoms we currently enjoy. For much of our history and even to this day we have proven ourselves especially skillful at responding to direct threats. The problems that currently present themselves are not direct threats, they are the beginnings of a crisis that will unfold in the not so distant future and have ramifications for humanity for this millenium and the next. Yet, we remain timid restrained by our own divisive methods. Despite all the knowledge at our disposal, we have essentially stagnated. It begs the question, is it not our responsibility to continue humanities journey? Is our current surroundings the ultimate goal? The apex of our existence? Why should we wait for an immediate crisis to propel us forward? It is my belief that we infact have the capacity and ambition to continue the journey, motivated not by conflict but by a mutually shared vision. 

This current challenge presents a choice where by humanity itself may take ownership. Rather than simply being born into our current existence, we alone have the ability to transcend our primal motivations and make a choice to protect the future not leverage it for instant gratification. In the words of David Orr, "I remain hopeful" for this juncture in the story of our existence. We must not be optimistic of the outcome or wallow in despair for those are words of inaction, they require no change, no critique, and no ownership on our part. As individuals and communities, we must remain hopeful that our efforts to build complete communities will result in a better world and a better future.