Writing as catharsis

Questioning the value of symbolic action and ‘awareness’ campaigns

Posted in Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on February 10, 2012

Apparently Facebook’s excessive hoarding of personal data and past posts has its uses. I came across a debate I had in 2010 with someone on the value of Earth Hour, and whether such symbolic actions aimed at “raising awareness” have any real value or affect:

The positivity of a stunt like Earth Hour rests on the belief that such a purely symbolic exercise will somehow lead to meaningful action or a change in behaviour. I do not believe it will.

If you do believe that ‘raising awareness’ will actually lead to some meaningful impact, this belief rests on the idea that firstly, people are currently unaware of the damage being done to the environment and, secondly, that they would then act rationally to adjust their behaviour and habits accordingly for the good of the Earth after becoming ‘aware’.

I would argue that we are all plenty aware that we are destroying the Earth, and that ‘awareness’ has not demonstrably changed any of our habits for the better (and no, buying “E10 Unleaded” at Shell does not count). There are far more powerful forces behind the aggregate actions of developed societies – namely want of convenience and our indulgent selfishness.

If you’d like to speak in terms of evolution, well I would state that it is simply a function of our biological intuitions that the widespread destruction of the environment appears disproportionately unimportant when it is enacted and experienced impersonally. We have not evolved our behaviours or our biology to consider vast periods of time – nor are we able to rationally contemplate a problem as complex as the mass destruction of ecosystem and the environment.

Our concern for personal comfort and security weighs far heavier in terms of our evolution – and being a cynic, I do not see any promising signs that we are moving to an evolved mindset of “mass self-preservation” – especially when symbolism and rhetoric is often substituted for actual substance. The idea that some vague public relations campaign purporting a message of ‘positive change’ should be free from scrutiny and basically assumed to be a positive force for good in itself is quite absurd. I can quite easily see the message and it is one of empty symbolism.

I think the only way that our behaviour will change in a meaningful fashion will be when we are confronted with obvious and unmistakable signs of our planet deteriorating – or alternatively, it’ll be action forced upon us by real market prices (for example, extreme costs of oil forcing people to find and invest in alternate fuel sources). Currently all of our balance sheets are insanely skewed because business, governments and people do not factor in natural capital. Once we do, we will be forced to pay the ‘real’ cost of resources. Perhaps then things will change.

And my stance is certainly not that ‘the future is looking pretty bleak anyway so what’s the point and why go on?’. There is plenty of middle-ground between blind optimism and empty nihilism. I just do not believe that symbolic action leads to real action. I believe that symbolic action is counterproductive to real measures as it erronously placates individuals.

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Musings on my possible trajectory

Posted in Philosophy, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on February 5, 2012

I’ll begin by outlining some of the ideals and concepts I want to try and foster a stronger commitment to in the future. From there I will move to discuss strategies and ideas on how I might start working towards those ideals.

I do not want to be an individual who sacrifices the vast majority of his freedom and flexibility in life to an enormous mortgage. I do not want to be forced to work 50+ hours a week in a corporate office for the rest of my days. It seems to me that such arrangements – if not very carefully thought out – can result in suffering, and moreover, a permanent stasis of the mind. To be forced into a life sentence of work in order to merely maintain your residence seems absolutely absurd. I can’t help but think that this is likely a symptom of the vast distortion of value on the behalf of our society. Think for a moment; what other culture demands you commit to constant work for several decades merely so that you might have a place to live and call your own (aside, of course, from first world capitalist societies with their gross distortion of true value based on market mechanisms)? To me this idea is absolute madness.

So, from here I have to consider other ways or modes of living. This process is driven and underscored by my own meditations of value. For me, freedom, self-sufficiency, proximity to nature and, above all, time, are of immense importance. I find that these values are certainly not compatible with the regular rhythm of urban life; a full time job, a stressful commute, the middle age disillusionment, the feeling of helplessness which permeates and nullifies your very soul and all drive to live. I do not want to find myself a lifeless husk as 50 years old; passionless and with all lust for life, wonderment and adventure long borne out of me. That is perhaps the worst possible outcome; worse than death and perhaps worse than starvation and abject poverty.

But what is poverty? Poverty is a state in which you are unable to cover the necessities in life. I would argue that the ideals which I value do not require immense amounts of wealth, and likely do not require the status symbol commodities that others seem to intent on pursuing. Henry David Thoreou is an interesting individual in that he conducted an experiment at Walden specifically designed to strip back superfluous elements of ‘civilised man’ to leave bare the raw elements of existence which he found worthwhile. I would agree with his sentiment that civilised man has certainly lost all sight of the importance of bare essentials. He certainly does not know what is of real worth. Most live lives wherein contemplation, relaxation and reflection are long lost to analytical problem solving – an existence that is purely productivity-driven, where reflection represents time lost in which one could be amassing yet more wealth to consume yet more commodities. Such is a death of the soul and must be avoided at all costs.

There are many paths I could entertain in order to avoid such an outcome. I know that my first experiment in this vein will come towards the end of 2013. I plan to undertake a long, wandering trip through Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and India. My trip will have no set end date; rather I want this to be an experience that can go for as long as it needs to. I want to live out the idea of separating myself from the conception of time that my native society is so tied from. I want to wander, almost aimlessly. I will be in no rush. I will have no schedule. I will have no itinerary. The wandering must come and flow naturally. I will feel time naturally; without rushed schedules and stress-inducing paranoia that I have no consumed or produced enough. Simply I want to separate myself from the typical life of an urban city-dweller. I will meditate on time. I will immerse myself in a foreign culture and a foreign land. I will work if I need to in order to get by. I will not rely on wealth. This will be a free journey for the soul; a time where I can lay myself open to any deeper knowledge that might come as a result of my divorce from civilisation as I know it.

That trip marks a very important experiment. It is after that trip that I will have a better conception of how I want to life my life. Will I want to return to the city? To Australia? Will I want to work once more? Could I bare it? Will I ever have a mortgage? Will I travel forever?

Now, it is foolishness for me to attempt to see too clearly beyond that trip, but it is perhaps worth entertaining for entertainments sake. Currently, this is how I conceive of my future: I will purchase a semi-rural property outside of Sydney. The space between myself and other residents is crucial, as is the ability for me to be able to grow my own food. I wish to run an experiment in permaculture and in self-sustainability. However, the distance should not be so great from the city. I anticipate that it would be near impossible to pay off such a property without some well-paying work in Sydney city. Therefore I would plan to make the long trip into the city to work perhaps 3 times a week. I can surely secure a job that would see me earning at least $60,000 a year ($1,000 a week after tax) for those 3 days.

Since that will take care of the majority of my financial commitments, I then have a full 4 days a week to indulge in other meaningful activities. This would include tending my garden and produce, and, perhaps most importantly, indulging in art – drawing, painting, writing and music. Perhaps I would be able to construct something of a home recording studio – a rehearsal space wherein my bands could come up and stay of a weekend for a few days of intense jamming, complete with beautiful surrounds and free accommodation. I know previously I’ve entertained the idea of hosting an ‘artists retreat’ – a sort of bed and breakfast specifically targeted to artists, painters, poets, authors and musicians.

Here are some of the ideals I would hope to embrace:

  • Self-sufficiency and sustainability through growing my own food and utilising solar power.
  • Reduced reliance on money, primarily through.
  • A significantly reduced craving for superfluous material possessions and the trappings of modern consumerism.
  • Increased freedom and autonomy.
  • A stronger connection to nature and a greater dedication to art.