I think it is human nature to separate the micro and the macro into nice, cozy separate boxes. I think the blurry lines between individual choices and the inextricably connected Big Picture are frightening on some insitinctual level - it challenges whatever it is in human brains (or maybe just ones bathed in capitalism and patriarchy and Western culture?) that individuates and helps us prioritize the survival of our genes over the survival of those *other* genes that are NOT ours. I think about this kind of paradox a great deal, which is why I feel like I spend a lot of time walking the razor-thin line between, er, "normal" (for lack of a better term) and some kind of Peak Experience. I see this dynamic in religion (a sort-of-like-a-human God v. the entirety of creation and uncreation being one seamless whole living being in all its diverse parts), in politics (individual freedom v. peaceful coexistence), in activism (my individual actions v. the faceless and overwhelming status quo), etc., etc., etc.
I think it's hard for one brain to comprehend the endless complications of even the most seemingly simple idea. A cup of coffee isn't just a cup of coffee - it's a product of an ancient process with millenia of history and context, with impact based on where and how it was grown and harvested and shipped and processed and transported and prepared and how I choose to drink it, not to mention the various social and cultural and economic and environmental factors for all the people involved in all those processes...and then there's the effect it has on my body when I drink it, the cultural implications of drinking coffee, how it affects my appearance and status and how the way I choose to drink that coffee reflects my personality and my lifestyle, the effects on my immediate environment and possibly the regional environment...but even holding an awareness of all those layers of complication, I have trouble not just focusing on the cup of coffee. I can only hold so much thought at one time, and I haven't yet progressed in my enlightenment enough to truly sip coffee with a full awareness of the vast network of inter-related factors tied to this two second moment of my life.
And therein lies, in my opinion, the central challenge humanity wrestles with as a species. Self. Universe. And the mushy middle between, where most of life fits.
I stumbled aboard this train of thought this morning while reading this piece. The writer talks about the idea of food activism and individual choices being a somehow more manageable alternative to massive environmental problems, like global warming or soil contamination or polluted water or deforestation or toxic chemicals in everything. It's an interesting way of looking at the environmental movement as it's become more and more mainstream over the past few years; I find it particularly interesting the way so much activism (especially the kind I hear about in the media) has shifted from nuclear protests and people chaining themselves to redwoods and laying in front of bulldozers....to more capitalist measures - conscious consumerism, as it were. That's a really noteworthy (and sort of disturbing) shift, and it brings up the idea of individual choice in a context of severely harmful systems of being.
((My inner conspiracy theorist says: How much of a shift from groups challenging systems, to individuals changing how they consume...how much of that shift is a total red herring?))
This theme popped up again for me, in reading the comments on this piece from The Guardian. As always with any story about fat people, there was a lot of "just eat less, and move more" (with various levels of courtesy or coherency) and also plenty of "get rid of your cars and bike everywhere" (not to mention "people just need to learn how to eat healthy" - which makes me wonder, what the fuck rock do people think these alleged ignorant people are living under that they don't know how to "eat healthy"? Seriously, I can't crack a newspaper, flip on a TV, listen to a radio, or surf the internet - or have a conversation with most of my friends and family - without having seventeen opinions about what "healthy eating" means shoved right down my throat! If anyone doesn't know how to eat healthy, it's because the only person they ever talk to is painted on a volleyball...) (/end rant). The premise of the article, though, was that there are systemic issues at work, not just individual choices...that food "choices" are less free than people want to think, that economic realities and various other cultural factors have an effect on fatness. Interestingly enough, the bugaboo of fatness leading to a decrease in life expectancy didn't come up in this article (via Common Dreams), which talked about how life expectancy has gone down, but mostly for poor people with little access to proper healthcare...which again begs the question: is it the individual, or is it the bigger picture? Magic Eight Ball says: Answer Not Clear.
I have said before (in answer to many, many questions) that "It's Not That Simple," and I always mean it. It's been my experience that very little in life is ever simple - and if it appears so, there's likely more to it than what's visible. The personal is political, the part affects the whole, as above - so below, all different ways of saying the same thing: what is done in this moment matters, and cannot be disconnected from what was done in the preceding moment or what will be done in the moment following. When we're talking about fighting presidential secrecy, that won't just be done by my writing to the White House and telling the President I think he's an asshole for legislating from the Oval Office and pissing on the Constitution - it will probably also take massive systemic change coming from Congress and broader, collective efforts to reestablish the checks and balances that separate a representative democracy from a fascist oligarchy. When we're talking about ending racism and sexism and sizism and ableism and looksism and other kinds of outdated (and yet, sadly, still present and active and pervasive) discrimination, it can't just be done by calling out some jerk for shitty comments at a press conference...it will probably also take a complete and total reframing of our cultural understanding of gender and race and ethnicity and all the other visible (and not visible) characteristics that mark the tremendous diversity of the human race. Saving the planet won't just happen because I buy local, organic food...it will take global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, massive shifts in food and transportation systems, and an overhaul of what "lifestyle" means in a world on the brink of breakdown.
I recognize that I have some pretty radical ideas, in general. I sometimes want to give away everything I own and go walkabout in a veggie-powered RV, fer chrissakes (holy cows, I'm not the only one!). A lot of that has to do with wanting to distance myself from People. You know, Them. They are stupid and ignorant and different and intolerant and judgmental and whatever other adjectives apply. They are faceless and there are way more of Them than there ever are of Us. Part of my desire to go a-wand'ring is tied to my chronic boho hiraeth, but it's also part of how I manifest my own personal need to draw a line around myself and clarify that I Am Not Them. I separate myself from the Whole, because it makes it easier for me to simplify the messy chaos of life - it makes it harder for me to get hamstrung by the heartbreak that would inevitably haunt me if I really could see the impact of every moment I am alive.
But the harder I work to become more aware of my impacts on the world around me, the more I recognize that that line between me and the world around me is a creation in my head and doesn't really exist. And there has to be a way to apply this concept to all the systemic injustice and degradation in the world. I'm still working on that.
Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.