Monday, May 9, 2011

"In being forced to do what is right...

men lose the dignity of being right." ~Wendell Berry

Laura Smith and I were talking last night after a long and thoughtful day in Detroit. Laura is a PhD student in architecture and environmental psychology, and is an interior designer, too. We talked about environmentalism, ethics, and personal motivation. Laura knows a lot about personal motivators for action related to the environment. She said that the two biggest drivers for positive environmental feelings are time in nature, and having a role model to look up to. Of course, what are not motivators for people to change their behaviour are policies, governmental or private, that are enforced top-down, particularly because most all of these policies are based on incentives (here, here, here, here), which don't convince people that the flaw is something deeper than where they choose to spend money, or something like that.

But what may be more of a barrier is the forcefulness associated with policies and law. In no way am I saying that environmental law is not necessary, but the pride of individuals rests in their ability to make choices for themselves. An apt example is the raising of kids, particularly in their teenage years. Deep down, most parents do know what is best for their kids, and they do tell their kids what to do and what not to do. But in being told what to do, there is almost an automatic reaction on the teenager's part not to listen to advice or orders, even though it is in their best interest to listen. That begs the question, How is it that we may have a world in what people choose to do themselves is what is the right thing to do? I know some might think that "right" is a subjective word, and there may be many "rights." Yet, it is clear that most all ecological and social harm has arisen from people doing the "right" thing, be it for themselves or their families. When I say "right" choices, I mean choices that respect and dignify not only people's immediate families (other people), but others (including nature), too.

This drives at a fundamental ethic in which tradeoffs, something I will write about in a day or two, are a thing of the past. Of course, a changed education stemming from a changed ethic seems like a way in which minds can be shaped from the very beginning. There would be no need for laws governing the sanctity of a river or of the air. What this necessarily results in is a reduced goverment, a reduced oversight, and a reduced need to be forced to do something. These are all things that all of us can agree are good.


  1. I agree that changing education and teaching the youth the importance of respecting each other and nature is important and *should* reduce the need for policy. But how do you address everyone else? Like you said, if you enforce policies that try to change the way they live, most people will certainly not react well to that.

    Many issues people and nature are facing today require action that should have taken place years ago, so hoping for the next few generations of youth to change their lifestyle will not be enough to counteract some of the harm done. There needs to be a way to educate the current population and have them listen.

  2. Isn't this the central theme of the movie A Clockwork Orange?