Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some thoughts on control

One of the central themes that has come up to the surface in thinking about trash, waste, and ecological harm is the notion of control. Control comes in many flavours and shades, and operates (or not) at scales ranging from extremely macroscopic (large government, transnational organisations), to extremely microscopic (the self, our being).

At times we feel as if we are in control of our lives, and at times we feel like we must move with the macroscopic flow of our societies, regardless of how we feel. At the largest level, control operates at the scale of government and industry - laws and policies dictate what is acceptable and what isn't, what will be mass produced and what will not. In this situation, there is very little that each one of us can do. It is as if decisions are made for us; for example, the electricity we use will come from coal, and there is very little I can do to stop that. Either I can choose to be a part of it and use electricity, or I can somehow choose to opt out. (This I explored in a previous post a few days ago.) Another example is that of the large economy - if the "economy is down," society is down, people lose their jobs, and that means we as individuals are down. Many people feel that there is little that we can do individually to change the situation, apart from debate with people, and hope that the imaginary forces of the market do their thing. They feel that we have to wait and hope so that the "economy is up," and so that we can resume the normalcy of their daily lives. Indeed, it seems to them that we are in control of our lives when the collective we are in, our communities, neighbourhoods, and societies, are "stable" as defined through neoliberal economics.

What we've done then is given up the power of decision-making to people that work in government buildings and boardrooms. We have given them proxies to provide us with the only choices from which we must choose. We have become reliant on others. For example, if you are fortunate enough to have enough money to go grocery shopping, you have a large variety of things to choose from. Yet what is provided to you is defined by the proxies we (the collective) have given to others to make decisions for us. You are thus provided with foods sprayed with toxic chemicals, uber-processed, and full of empty calories. This outcome not only negatively impacts our bodies, but also negatively impacts the environment. Unfortunately, the choices we are being presented are those which will continue to degrade our land, our air, our water. (This is obvious with continued expansion of something like oil exploration.) What is left then is a very small space within we can operate and exercise control. We are left with only unpalatable choices. Now, while I cannot expect everyone to be an activist (that would be awesome, though), I can encourage people to make responsible choices for themselves and the environment in the small space in which they can exercise control. Most all of us, especially those who are able to access this blog, are completely and totally empowered to exercise more responsibility toward the environment in our daily lives, and serve as role models moving forward.

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