Saturday, January 8, 2011

On individual action

I started this project close to ten months ago now and thought it would be a project for myself, not in any selfish way, but rather a way to see how far I could go, and to see how much further I needed to go, to be a responsible citizen toward both nature and people. Such individual actions are prevalent throughout the world, and many people undertake adventures involving sacrifice out of religious belief - Catholics give up for lent, and many people in India fast once a week to understand and appreciate food. These actions aren't necessarily undertaken for the environment, although everything has an impact. Rather, these actions are for self-learning and exploration, and to understand and internalise the value of what we have. It is easy for us to get devalue what we have when we have. Real value is felt when we are deprived. At the same time, individual action and sacrifice can be undertaken to show some things are not valuable, but rather degrade the value of everything else because of their existence.

What this project has turned out to be is a commentary on how we have continuously degraded, pillaged and plundered this Earth, a home not only for us, but for fish, microbes, animals, air, water and land. Saying no to trash has meant that I am saying no to consuming objects, and saying no to the extraction of materials that has gone into making those objects, and saying no to how the lives and ecosystems those materials have been extracted from have been negatively affected. It is plain to see these things; you do not need a degree in aerospace engineering to understand ecological harm, social harm, disrespect and tyranny. Sure others will say that good is coming out of our actions, and maybe to some extent there is, somewhere, for someone. But the world we live in is unequal, and where there is a winner, there is a loser. Maybe this loser doesn't have a face, a name, or a home, to you, and maybe this loser lives several thousand miles away. But that doesn't take away from the fact that there is a loser. Governments and organisations shy away from large-scale, sweeping action, because "we don't know all there is to know about what the problem is, and what the end impacts are going to be." In response to this, I would say that I do not need to continuously try to reduce uncertainties in our understanding of negative impacts - all that matters is that there is a negative impact. Negatively affecting the life of even one ecosystem or even one individual is still a negative impact. What if the person affected was you? What if you were the one that wasn't "fortunate" enough to be born in the most powerful nation in the world?

We live in a world where other people tell us what is good for us. Advertisers, marketers and corporations convince people that they are worthless if they do not buy into the frenzy that drives a capitalist society, and an increasingly capitalist world. At the same time they stamp on the voices of those who feed the frenzy - those working in the sweatshops, and those whose homes and forests are demolished so that we can live the way we do. To take a stand against this flies in the face on everything our society is founded on - excess, greed and violence. But how can one person's actions affect the machine of extraction, consumption and degradation? How can one person's actions change the mindset of organisations, institutions, governments and countries whose foundational ethics necessarily result in ecological harm? What is the least one person can do to affect the behaviour of these entities? The ideas that now commonplace and accepted, such as democracy and civil rights were once novel and lambasted. It is the action of individuals, most unnamed, that have forged societies that accept these values. Individual activism has always affected communities of people. We live in a world today of bitter political divide, with lofty rhetoric and little action. Barriers have been erected between people that cannot even guarantee the civility of discussion. Corporations add continual weight to these barriers, because their existence depends on the maintenance of the status quo. There can be no faith put in the supposed "goodwill" of corporations and large organisations, and there is continuously declining faith in the ability of our government to do anything at all. So who is left? You, me, and our idealism.

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