Sunday, August 28, 2011

An honest effort

This post is inspired by my mother's thoughts on my last post, We all start at different places, hopefully to end up somewhere together. She said,

"It's when we recognise the problem, that we have to do something about it. Thats the reason most people don't see or address the problem. It requires effort to change something. Most people don't want to make any effort. It is easier to ignore the problem, and live, than make an effort to change it. So people will always complain about things but rarely will try to find a solution. Effort is the key.

For the privileged, there are few worries. Yes, everyone has their "stuff" that they worry about, but never do we think that we won't have enough food to eat, water to drink, or a place to sleep. The stresses that we face are of a different kind - will I get the particular job I want? Will I be able to get on the very flight I want to be on? What section will I be seated in for Michigan American football games? For many of us that are privileged, it is easy to get through life with few worries then.

Most people do not want to make any effort. By effort I don't mean going to the ticket office to get your tickets (although nowadays everything can be delivered right to your doorstep, including groceries.) What I think this culture has done has allowed many things to be a black box for us. We are able to flip the switch in our living rooms and get light. But what we fail to recognise is that we invoke a massive infrastructure of power lines, engineers, operators, fossil fuel combustion or nuclear fission when we flip the switch. We are unappreciative of the light, but complain when the light fails to turn on. As Aidan Davison has written, in Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability, there is a dichotomy between means and ends.

We have done then is forsaken effort for convenience. I recognise the "effort" (or subtle slavery) that we put in to earn money so that our lives are convenient. But this isn't the effort that I am talking about. The effort I am talking about is the one that is required in response to doing something that is required to lessen our burden on the world, to demolish walls of inequality, to march ardently on the path to sustainability.

What this does is make us think that many things are available without effort. At most the effort that is required for light is the flipping of a switch (and paying the bill), but no more. This then translates seamlessly into thinking that others will solve the problems for us, if they ever arise, and that no effort is required on our part. We hope that the ethereal, murky worlds of politics and policy will result in concrete and tangible outcomes. We then think that effort is not for us. We forget what effort looks like, and what it entails. And then we end up becoming blind to problems, or unwilling to recognise them.

This effort required is more than the convenient and easy, like changing light bulbs and taking cloth bags to stores. These are stepping stones. An honest effort is required of us to stand up to the problems we've created - a moral, ethical, behavioural, spiritual, rhetorical effort.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on sustainability. I'd like to offer this excerpt from a Daedalus article by Werner Heisenberg, 1958:

    Two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese sage Chang Tsu spoke of the dangers to man of using machines. I would like to quote a section from his writings …:

    When Tsu-Kung came into the region north of the river Han, he saw an old man busy in his vegetable garden. He had dug ditches for watering. He himself climbed into the well, brought up a container full of water in his arms, and emptied it. He exerted himself to the utmost, but achieved very little.

    Tsu-Kung spoke: "There is an arrangement with which it is possible to fill a hundred ditches with water every day. With little effort much is accomplished. Wouldn't you like to use it?" The gardener rose up, looked at him and said, "What would that be?"

    Tsu-Kung said, "A lever is used, weighted at one end and light at the other. In this way water can be drawn, so that it gushes out. It is known as a draw-well."

    At that, anger rose up in the face of the old man and he laughed, saying, "I have heard my teacher say: 'When a man uses a machine he carries on all his business in a machine-like manner. Whoever does his business in the manner of a machine develops a machine heart. Whoever has a machine heart in his breast loses his simplicity. Whoever loses his simplicity becomes uncertain in the impulses of his spirit. Uncertainty in the impulses of the spirit is something that is incompatible with truth.' Not that I am unfamiliar with such devices; I am ashamed to use them."