I feel it’s safe to say that many of us understand our planets current dilemma, not just our environmental problems, but our economic and social ones too, yet when we are asked the question, ‘So what are we going to do about it?’, many more of us are left somewhat tongue tied. I’ve been attempting to answer this question for years now. I’ve more or less changed the direction of my life completely in an attempt to do so. I’ve gone from being a 9-5er school teacher to becoming a perpetual head scratching, activist. I’ve been reading, acting, writing, and getting my hands dirty in general to better hone my new found craft, but I often reach conclusions that are far too lengthy, complicated or simply impossible to implement, let alone understand in regards to the answering of this question. So I thought I’d try and write a few notes on how we as individuals can help change the world. Just a fore warning; what is recommended below can be taken lightly, and possibly dismissed by some as ‘Leftist rhetoric’, or worse still ‘Hippie ramblings’, but I implore you to read on, and make that decision for yourself.
Firstly we need to recognise that we’re all in this together. If we are to beat this situation we must be united. Too often we’re divided by religious belief, political persuasion, income brackets, nationality, image, dress, language and the stereotypes that exacerbate the differences that go along with all of these. So I think it’s safe to say that we need to focus on the things that unite us as opposed to things that drive us apart. The first step to any problem should be to comprehend the scale of it, and if we look globally, which is the scale of this particular problem, one of the more obvious ties a large majority of us share is religion, faith and belief. Essentially what all religions have, or should have, in common is that they have a basis of love, understanding and attaining a higher level of spirituality. Ask most religiously inclined people what it was their prophet preached, and often their first answer will be unification, compassion, or some similar brand of understanding. A notable Rabbi states rather eloquently what it is I’m trying to say here, he writes:
“…the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual’s crime discloses society’s corruption. In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every man, crime would be infrequent rather than common.”
So what then about the atheists, agnostics or just the plain disinterested? What do they have in common with theists, and theists with them? They have, we all have, a future, a family, a friend. If we can recognise that the overwhelming majority of us have the best intentions for those closest to us, we will most likely come to feel empathy for all of those around us. If we make a conscious effort to remind ourselves that everyone is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother and so on, we’ll be well on our way to treating everyone a little more humanely. It seems so simple that it begs the question: ‘Why do we not do this already?’ That however is another article/essay/thesis unto itself.
Secondly, we should be honest with ourselves and each other, and openly acknowledge that we’re running an unsustainable system on a finite, limited planet. (Not sure if you knew, but there’s only one of them, I understand if you thought there were more, the way in which some in our higher seats of power behave it would seem they’ve hidden a few away. As if there’s another earth up their sleeves). We say that we believe all people are equal, and we wish to live in a world that allows equal benefit for all, yet we’re living and working within a system that’s not just full of inequality, it perpetuates it. So is it then fair to say that we understand and often quite loudly proclaim the ideal, yet at large we fail to live accordingly? I’m not about to exclude myself from this lot – me here at my computer in my heated house, while millions, yes millions, starve – but one of the first hurdles we are to overcome on our way to a better world is ourselves.
So what do we do? We can’t, and certainly shouldn’t waste our time simply being angry. It gets us nowhere if it’s not used constructively, and it can and often does work against us. When Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine screams “Your anger is a gift”, I think it’s fair to say that he means it so long as you can channel that aggression into something. Something that will positively contribute the betterment of humankind. Whereas anger alone will lead to isolation, condemnation, persecution and destruction in general. If a positive future is what we want for our children we need to try and think positively and believe that we are more than capable as a species of evolving out of this situation.
Thinking and feeling a certain way about things is all well and good and you may already be well on the way to implementing the above options. I must however note some other things that are a little more based on reality as opposed to fluffy feel good notions of equality, and constructive aggression. What may come in handy, believe it or not, is the asking of questions, not just one or two but a whole range, and if you structure these questions well enough they’ll do a world of good for all involved. I know it seems almost insanely simple, but here’s an example: Would your average working class/middle class/upper class, let’s say, mother of two, continue to purchase goods from a store if they knew that what they were buying was directly contributing to the continued deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, the displacement of indigenous peoples from their land that they’ve lived on since time immemorial, or helping fund the slavery of a 13 or 14 year old in a sweat shop in South East Asia? I’d like to think they wouldn’t. In fact when most people are confronted with the reality of their choices they’re astounded and tend to vow to steer clear of such things. Yet, somehow, there still seems to be a great deal of us who practice wilful ignorance on a daily basis; Acting regardless of the consequences, knowing full well they’re playing a part but not allocating the time to connect the dots. Then again there are those who are simply unable to connect the dots due to the very convoluted nature of the current modes of production. Why not try asking someone, as politely as possible, if they know where their product comes from, not what shop exactly, but what raw materials went into create what it is they’re holding, and what the possible implications of it’s purchase are? Now this of course can become all consuming, but often you’ll find people are quite surprised and even disgusted at the newly imparted information, and will hopefully get the critical thinking ball rolling.
Another point that I find worth noting is that the general public are often referred to as being ‘consumers’. Which in itself seems fair enough, but think about it. What is it to consume? What comes to mind when you hear, read, speak this word ‘consume’? For me it’s not such a pretty picture. To me consuming feels a lot like taking, ripping away something from someone or something else and stuffing it into my mouth, or using it and discarding it as soon as possible. I understand these are my own negative feelings about the word but I can’t shake it. As consumers we quickly become expendable commodities, like a another number or another piece of data on the screen of a member of the 1%. When we let ourselves be called such things we’re giving our consent to be just that. Consumers. Nothing more, and quite possibly less. We must take time to realise our own individual power of placing votes via our mode of consumption. Wherever possible then, I feel it necessary to think about what you’re about to consume comes from. Who or what might be adversely affected by my decision to consume? If we stop buying, they’ll stop selling.
These are rather simple and direct courses of action and understandings that as individuals we can take and use on a daily basis. If we can take measures to stop dividing, and look at some of the ways we can stop supporting injustice, we’re already well on our way to our next stage in peaceful evolution. In conclusion we may wish to remind ourselves of something the great French Sociologist Gustave Le Bon wrote about in his book The Psychology of Revolution, that if we are to look at either the fall, or a moment of great change within any ancient civilisation we will soon recognise that the main causes of the changes were due to “…a profound modification in the ideas of the people.”2
So let’s modify!
1 Heschel, A. J., 1962, The Prophets, HarperCollins, New York, (p. 19)
2 Le Bon, G., 1913, The Psychology of Revolution, Batoche Books, Kitchener (p. 7)