2012-09-14

Drawing the Line

One hundred-thousand years, humans have been around as the species homo sapiens -- which makes us, as a species, very young. Still practically brand new. Our neighbors here in Florida, the alligators, have been around at least 100 times that long. This is a point made in a "Rustle the Leaf" comic strip.

Rustle the leaf and his acorn side-kick are talking as they look over a trash-despoiled wetland.

Acorn: “Stupid humans. “It’s like they have an obsession for trashing every corner of the planet.”

Rustle the Leaf: “Don’t be too hard on the human species. In geologic time, they’re just babies.”

Acorn ponders this, looks at the trash, and says: “How much longer ‘til they’re potty-trained?”

It would be nice to "grow up" -- or at least reach the stage of being potty-trained. But what exactly does that entail? How far do you and I need to go to be mature, responsible stewards of our planet home? The difficulty of the question was illustrated in another comic strip. A couple years ago my mother had a point to make about my environmental concerns and the actions I take out of that concern. She clipped out and mailed to me a Sunday comic strip of “Zits.”

Jeremy asks his friend, Pierce, “Why aren’t you wearing your boots today, Pierce?”

Pierce: “Can’t. I’m boycotting leather in support of animal rights.”

Jeremy: “Then couldn’t you just wear your sneakers?”

Pierce: “Nope. The rubber soles are made with petroleum-based plasticizers, and I’m against arctic drilling.”

Jeremy: “What about your wooden sandals?”

Pierce: “And support deforestation? Not likely. I’m an activist, Jeremy. I have to set an example to show others that there is a better way to live.”

In the last panel, we finally see Pierce’s footwear, as Jeremy says: “Hence, the tofu shoes.”

Pierce: “Teriyaki flavor. Want some?”

Sometimes the quest to do the right thing with our purchasing decisions can just seem silly.

I wrote back to Mom:
"It’s worse than that. Tofu is made from soybeans, and if the soybeans aren’t organic, there’s the harm of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and there’s pesticides. Even if it’s all organic, there may have been monoculture growing, without proper crop rotation and variation. Finally, even if you fix all that, there’s almost certainly some oppressed labor somewhere along the way. So, Mom, where do you draw the line? Do you so thoroughly trust your government as to figure that anything they haven’t outlawed has got to be morally and environmentally OK to participate in?”
She never answered. When I saw her some months later at Christmas, I asked her about it. "I assumed the question was rhetorical," she said.

I can imagine my children writing to me with that question: “Well, OK, Dad, where do you draw the line?” I don’t know if I’d answer either.

I am a vegetarian. Also, for the last dozen years all my clothes – all outerwear except socks – has come from second-hand thrift stores, and the occasional gift. I bicycle to work -- sometimes. So I draw the line somewhere north of supporting the environmental degradation of the meat industry and the labor oppression of the textile trade, at least directly. But I draw it somewhere south of driving a car, at least sometimes; flying in airplanes; using heating in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and electric lights all year around; eating eggs and dairy (though I've cut way down); buying foods that are processed, packaged, and imported; and wearing shoes that aren’t even tofu.

I try to draw the line where it seems joyous to do so, where the gladness of simplicity calls. I urge you to use the same method for discerning where to draw the line -- though I expect your results from employing that method will differ from mine. Though the method of following where the spirit’s joy calls yields different results for different people, it is not an altogether easy method. "Follow your bliss" (as Joseph Campbell put it) is a rigorous path and a lot harder than, "Just do any old thing you happen to feel like."

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This is part 1 of 6 of "Soteriology: Biophilia"
Next: Part 2: "Sacrifice"