Thursday, September 15, 2011

The right, the wrong, and the other

It is not difficult to see how environmentalism can be infused with righteousness. This righteousness is just like sexual harassment; it doesn't matter what your intention is, it is what is perceived that is what matters. In our advocacy, how do we deal with coming off to others as elitist and righteous?

This is something very difficult to deal with, especially because environmentalism stems from a judgement - the judgement (based on experience, on seeing, breathing, living, and, well, science) that what we are doing to the planet is destroying its ability to sustain the ecosystems that have characterised it. Unfortunately, however, this is the way we've structured almost all of our social interactions - we are judgemental. Some people are ostracised because of the way they look, some people aren't taken seriously because of stereotypes. This judgementalism we see throughout the most important of social processes - politics. The Republicans seem bad to the Democrats, and the Republicans think that the Democrats are bad. We think that what we are doing is the right thing to do, what the rest do is the wrong thing to do.

But things weren't this way in the past. Of course, they couldn't have been. Because before politics, the politics that stem from a society like ours, there was the notion of the other. There was nothing right or wrong about actions, because all human life tread lightly on this Earth. Groups of people tread in different ways, but all in ways that are unique to place and time, and all in ways that at the very least leave minimal damage to ecosystems.

It can be difficult to tell people that what they are doing, in all sincerity, is detrimental. But if we don't do it, then the behaviour continues. Treading the line then between righteousness and passivity is a delicate balance. It is important that the ethics that guide our actions do our utmost not to alienate by branding some thoughts as right or wrong, but rather as those that have the most potential to reduce the tradeoffs we make on a day-to-day basis with the environment and people's lives, those that have the ability to allow us to accept, respect, and see the other side. There is an honesty and humility with which those that care about the environment must operate. While we do partake in this culture, out of an unfortunate coercion at times, we mustn't identify with it. Yet, we must pass our judgements with humility, in knowing that this isn't a competition or a race, but rather a meaningful attempt to tread lightly on this planet, to keep it a safe and enriching place for this generation and the next, of everything, not just humans.

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