Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Right Being

So, the whole John Woolman question, how to live a "righteous" life, without becoming "self-righteous"

I feel like my head often spins, and I wonder if his would (I think so) with all the considerations going into living rightly. I don't think I could even list the things to be boycotted these days. Maybe he had such considerations, but from so many years later it seems like "sugar and indigo? piece of cake!!!"

Walk into any large grocery store (where most people shop) and I would guess that pretty much NOTHING in there would pass a woolman-esque test of moral acceptability. Pesticides, fossil fuel transportation, chemical ingredients, exploited labor, rainforest devastation. It would be interesting to attempt to find 5 items at my local "Rainbow" that wouldn't incite at least one of these concerns.

I bike rather than driving, and on a used bike (which bypasses the "made in Taiwan" problem - which even US-made bikes have, because their parts are made elsewhere) but I use grease and plastic to keep it going. I have pretty much no clue about the implications, but I know it's not compltely "pure"

I buy almost all of my food at a co-op, keeping a special eye out for processed foods with brand names that have continued to elude Phillip Morris and the other two or three companies that own almost all food production. In the summer I join a CSA, and try to grow a few (very few!) things myself. But living in Minnesota, local produce is at best a half-year proposition. (or should I try to set up a root cellar and keep apples and potatoes and carrots enough to last til spring? I could, but the thought is not appealing) I could stop eating processed and packaged food altogether (I'm sure it's possible, but I can't imagine it)

My sweetie has a car, and I am ashamed to say I often encourage driving (when I'm very lazy or want to go somewhere far away) We try to buy gas at Citgo, which is Venezuelan oil, but it's still gas, and we still run the risk of killing squirrels or cats (or even humans) every time we drive.

I've taken the plane more lately. I went a good 5 years without doing so, I think. I love the train, but it often costs more than flying, even if you don't include the extra days off work. And what damage do trains do? Much less than planes, but still......

I love chocolate, and try to eat mostly fair trade, but reese's peanut butter eggs can suck me in pretty easily.

And, what's more, what is the point????

I can tend to want to be "pure" - I've been a vegetarian for years, and started wearing leather again a few years ago partially to "de-purify" myself and partially for the practical reason that a pair of leather shoes that will last a good long time might do less damage overall (even though their production is generally pretty darn eco-unfriendly) than the 4 pairs of synthetic shoes I might buy in the same time period. (I bought a pair of new leather hiking boots in 2000, and a pair of used leather high-top shoes the next year, I don't forsee having to buy more shoes any time soon. ) I still won't buy leather sandals, because there doesnt' seem to be any reason (they don't wear better than my chacos) and have settled, in future, on only buying leather (and wool) used, which for me is the perfect solution - as it keeps me from getting into my almost ocd animal-free-ness, while not actually financially supporting an industry I can't morally support (It does, however, depend on my fellow american's lack of concern on this issue and general overconsumption, another imperfection in my plan)

And, I think of all the quaker discussion about simplicity being about God's will, and not some random asceticism. At the same time, for me, doing the most ethical thing that you can manage in any given situation is inseperable from doing god's will. It's not just related, it's inextricable.

"I care nothing for a man's religion, whose dog is not the better for it" - was that Mark Twain??? A great quaker spiritual leader, I know, but it's true, as far as I can see.

Carl mentioned on his blog the idea of Community as Green Technology, and a spiritual community committed to right action. The image excites something in me. I wonder if there are enough quakers called to something radically different from mainstream society, and similar enough to each other's visions, to carve something like that out? or a few somethings?



QuakerK said...

On Community: I have also thought that we can't live an ethical life outside of an ethical community. The IWW, the radical union, had a motto something like this: creating a living society inside the dying one. (Camus says something similar in his excellent work Neither Victims nor Executioners.) You seem to suggest that as a goal for Quakers as well. I heartily sympathize.

On doing the right thing: I have also been troubled by this, the problem of living in a society where it is impossible to do the right thing. Catholic Worker found Peter Maurin talked about "Creating a society where it is easier to be good." Again, I think that should be a goal.

On knowing the right thing: I think sometimes Quakers (myself included) have a tendency to view testimonies as a program to live up to. Traditionally, however, it was a witness to one's experience of the Light Within. That is, it wasn't a set of rules to live up to, but the experience of the Divine lived out of. Perhaps that makes it easier to accept the inevitable compromises. God doesn't expect us to do what we can't.

And if you don't like the word "God," use your own equivalent,


Martin Kelley said...

Hi Pam,
Lots of good stuff, but the part that stands out for me was the shoe conundrum. After many years of throw-away non-leather shoes that broke down in two months, I've started wearing leather footwear on the hope that it's better to consume less.

Like anything, I find simplicity can be its own trap when taken too far (too seriously?) and I have to allow myself compromise. After 38 years of carlessness I'm now living in a two-car household and while the second one isn't technically mine and while I still bike to the train most days it's stretching the truth to say that two cars for two adults means I'm carless. And my veganism has been known to go by the wayside when I've been confronted with a Dunkin Donuts stand (even then I usually opt for the rather drab "old fashioned" as a sort of penance).

It's hard but we do what we can. Reducing's the most important piece for me, at least then whatever compromise being made has a smaller effect. There's something powerful in doing it with others and witnessing that these are concerns so important to us that we're willing to re-orient our lifestyles.

It's nice to see that vegetarian foods that were once so esoteric that you could only get them in the handfull of health food stores are now sold openly in mainstream supermarkets even in decidedly unhip locales. There are some ways in which it's becoming easier to live a life of justice, though I fear the net effect is still weighing us down to costlier consumption.

I like the Mark Twain line, I'll have to remember it!
Your Friend, Martin

earthfreak said...

David and Martin!

Thanks for the wonderful responses!

D- I really like the image of "creating a living socity inside a dying one." - brings to mind the small shoots of green that are beginning to appear among all of last year's brown withered brush all around me. That's exactly what I'm drawn to work on!

And YES! again, about the testimonies as a witness to the life within, rather than a program to be followed. I just started reading Parker Palmer's "Let your Life Speak" last night, and it touches something similar - listening to hear what you are called to be, rather than deciding what you "should" be. That's it exactly!


How long have you been back with leather shoes? It's not what I necessarily wanted, but I havent' bought shoes in a few years now, and it's so novel! I feel like I was pretty much always buying shoes before. Still, for me, it is a hard thing, I am wearing someONE's skin on my feet, not something to be taken lightly!

But it feels "led" (as much as footwear choices can feel "led"!) and I tend to believe that the pollution averted in less production and less landfill waste might actually save other lives as well. It's something (animal exploitation, and pollution) that is within my concern but pretty much out of my control, so I have to trust a lot.

As for cars, I have always thought I will have to have one if I have kids. This is not really true, but at the same time I probably would.

I used to have a friend who always thought I was patting myself on the back and feeling superior because she had a car and I didn't. When really I was absolutely in awe of her ability to have a car but abstain, choosing to bike in the rain, or the cold, or further than I would, even though she could take the car. I have great admiration for that kind of moment-to-moment mindfullness, which I certainly find more challenging than broad dramatic decisions and proclamations...

*a silly aside, I used to live in the 'burbs, and biked to work - hard not to have a car in the burbs, but barely do-able - and I always biked by a house with two cars in a two car garage, one of which had a bumper sticker proclaiming "my other car is a bicycle!" which always made me laugh, or roll my eyes, or growl, or something, depending on how friendly I was feeling that day, I guess. But then, for most of the time I lived out there, I was dating someone with a car, but didn't myself have a license, so that I could feel all righteous, while often actually incurring more driving, as she would drive me somewhere and then drive back alone.)

I'm really not sure the line is Mark Twain. I've heard it attributed to Abraham Lincoln too. I googled it once and the citations came up about half and half.

It is really nice to see vegetarian food everywhere, and to be able to find something to eat most places, but it's also a concern to me that the big corporations (which I think are inherently evil) are hopping on board. Just like organic is all over now, but it also means a lot less than it meant 20 years ago, when it was a small alternative movement.

My veganism never really got off the ground, but I'm pretty careful to eat only free range eggs and I eat vegan often.

I think we all touched on an idea that I've been working on for a while, that it's not about mapping out how to be perfect and then trying to live up to it, but about living consciously, and conscienciously, in every moment, and forgiving yourself if you fall short of your ideals.