if you've been vegetarian, talked passionately about alternative power sources, recycling, carbon print, animal rights or organic food, you're bound to have had the following type of conversation.
you: i think it's important to try to live more ecologically/cruelty free...
someone: well you know you really don't have much of an impact.
you: the little i have...
someone: and didn't you just go shopping last week... who are you to talk about more ecological living, huh? *snicker*
sound familiar? you betcha.
trying to live ethically, enjoy life and remain sane at the same time is quite demanding. cutting consumption in a society that more and more depends on consumerism is a double-edged sword if there ever was one. sure, we could manage without new clothing, imported food, plane trips and so on. sure, we could.
some actually do. there are activists who insist on radical change, and i wholeheartedly believe self-sacrifice for a good cause is admirable. i also think people often need a push or a shove towards making better choices. radicalism offers a wake-up call for those of us who are too lazy to find out for ourselves. nevertheless, i am not convinced even the most extreme activists want everyone to change entirely for their utopia -- and if they wanted, they prolly know it ain't happening.
the curious thing is that the above-mentioned exchanges never seem to take place between an aspiring ethical consumer and the activist, but between the aspiring ethical consumer and a person who chooses to ignore ethical demands. pointing out the poor logic seems to act as a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who choose not to care.
the desire to live more sustainably seems to aggravate the hypocritics. as a (pseudo-)vegetarian i am used to answering questions about leather shoes or why am i not vegan. although i do not preach my choice, merely taking it up in a relevant context brings out defensive and often ridiculing confrontations. it seems that sometimes ethical choice-making is such a difficult issue that the only feasible attack comes in the form of logical impossibility: "if you're thinking about saving the world, you better act all the way or it's worth nothing. you know you cannot, and therefore your attempts are worthless."
the reason i'm writing this is that i, unfortunately, happened to read a short text in turun sanomat weekend edition about "trend hippies". it was a prime example of the type of hypocritical and counterproductive journalism i am talking about. the article was written to point out how illogical urban, greenhouse effect conscious young adults are because they both discuss global warming and fly to lapland to ski. well, whooptidoo and uh-huh, duh?
the text did not piss me off because it hit close to home. i cannot deny that it pointed out that the life i, for example, lead is not perfectly ethical or that there are discrepancies in the choices i make. well, tell me something i didn't know.
what provoked me was the peculiar analogical "knowledge leads to action" demand that is posited so eagerly at people who explicitly try to make a difference. it is the attitude that even the smallest acts towards improving one's life do not count if you're not all-out perfect. talking about carbon print and driving to the summer cottage are something the writer thought contradicted each other, but the fallacy lies in believing ideological discussion and pragmatic action are commensurable to a relevant extent. as far as i know, believing that a type of action was the best possible one does not imply that following it is obligatory or even feasible.
the problem is that exploring ethical consumption and lifestyle choices reveals what was apparent from the beginning: all consumption is excessive when we talk about material goods that do not merely sustain life. we live in a world of excess. but we still live our lives and hopefully try to make the most of them. we're capable of both idealism and pragmatism, and as much as it seems to bother some people, pragmatic individuals may have idealistic thoughts.
it is incredibly easy to chuckle at people who both try to live better for the sake of the environment or humankind and want to enjoy the myriad of opportunities life and the world have to offer. somehow it also appears to be more acceptable if the objects of ridicule are rather well-off: the trustfund kid is such an easy target...
it is nothing but counterproductive to mock people who recycle, eat organic and buy at least some of their clothes second-hand even if they do take a trip abroad from time to time. active pondering on global issues is better than no thoughts at all, right. at least they're doing something and are trying to be aware. whether or not it is a passing trend or a fad it is definitely more welcome than the über-consumerism of the early 2k. whether the motivation to "go green" is peer pressure or the desire to appear cool, so what?
and so what if people are not perfect. it may not be as clever sounding a topic to express worry over all the people who must be aware of eco-issues (because who can claim to be ignorant these days) and do absolutely nothing, but it strikes me as intellectually lazy to point fingers at people who work at being aware and do something.
if there was a human condition, it surely is the unavoidability of contradiction. chuckle all you can, but the joke really is on you.