Sunday, October 30, 2011

On appropriateness

The forward march of "progress" is something most all of us hold on to very dearly. We constantly envision that the future will be a better place than the past. Human ingenuity and cunning, exemplified through our continual taming of nature--be it disease and death, damming rivers to provide us with energy, or seeding the oceans with iron to make algae grow and absorb carbon dioxide--we hope will liberate us from the current inevitability of scarcity, of mortality, of aging, of conflict over those things which sustain us.

Many times what is left out in our decisions is whether or not our choices are appropriate given time, place, and circumstance. What do I mean by appropriate? By appropriateness, I mean a sensitivity to factors other than personal ones. We tend to think solely of what we want when we make a choice, without really thinking about how those choices fit into larger patters of choices, of decisions, of outcomes. We tend not to think so much nowadays about history, about cultural context, about outcomes. Rather, the possibilities of instant gratification tend to out blinders on our purview, on what we consider as possible alternatives to the "best" choice, on the "cost-benefits" of our choices.

Vagaries, you might think. Let's make it a little more concrete. I was talking to Mrs. McRae a couple of nights ago about the bridge being built in Detroit. We talked about the social justice and sustainability issues raised by the bridge, and how with or without the bridge, the issues facing the residents of Delray will be difficult to address, given the vicious cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and ecological degradation. To build a bridge starts by first making the choice of building the bridge. The bridge, from an engineering perspective, must meet certain criteria of safety, no matter how it looks. Yes, over time, engineers have come up with more and more elegant ways of engineering, of building. But when if it came down to it, brute force engineering would be used to make the bridge. But what about how the people of Delray feel about the bridge? What about the context of the bridge in Detroit, in its history? How does the bridge further ingrain us in an oppressive and ecologically degrading culture, or how much does it liberate us from that culture?

On the same token, do we advocate for Western "solutions" to the "problems" of non-Westerners? How much do we push conventional medical procedures on the peoples of Africa and South America? How many computers do we give them? How many times do we tell ourselves that we are "right" and that they are "backward?" What about our own lives? Do we continue to buy into what this culture throws at us? Its continually more "functional" gizmos and objects? I think appropriateness dovetails nicely into appreciation, into saying, This is enough, I do not want or need more. Because in our continual want for more, we always tend to find deficiencies and limitations in the material objects we are ever reliant on.

No comments:

Post a Comment