Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Bad Are Things? Why Do You Care?

One of the  challenges of being young: it's impossible to have a sense of perspective.
Things seem very bad in our country and around the world today. Millions are starving in Somalia.  We are entering the 6th mass extinction event of species on earth. The most recent recession has put millions of people around the world out of work or in jobs that are below their education and skill level. Natural Disasters continue to wreak havoc on ill prepared states.
Closer to home, we are dependent on fossil fuels for our everyday life and yet know that they will eventually run out. Cities around our country sit mostly empty or neglected, vestiges of a manufacturing economy and a manufactured real estate boom that is long gone and will probably never come back. In culture, our most lofty aspirations are limited to becoming rich or being famous, preferably both. Being beautiful is another important goal. Children and adults are being pumped with psychiatric drugs at astounding rates as the incidents of mental illness continue to rise. The bewilderment and loss felt in the face of unemployment, debt and foreclosure plays out in vitriolic terms in our political sphere, where the public has completely lost all faith in its 'representation'.
But at 24, my worldly consciousness is just a baby. Are things worse now than they were ten years ago? Twenty? Are we headed towards imminent doom or have we always been, and I've just started paying attention?
I've asked these questions with more than a few of my friends over the past months. It's hard to answer. You can look to history for help, but it can only go so far. You can know the facts of what life was like then, but can you really know the feelings? Did people feel the same amount, same quality of uncertainty we do today, or was it of a totally different nature?
I'm not going to try and answer it. Mostly, I'm interested in why people ask. If we could definitively answer yes, things are much worse now than they have ever been, what would that change? What would you do differently?
I suppose everyone has different answers. I did believe for a while that the world was sinking, currently and rapidly, and because of this I must forgo any 'normal' course of life and seek the revolution where ever it is formed. I felt like things were going to happen, and I had to be a part of them. It was a motivating urgency--but it was also alienating. After all, if an individual didn't happen to share my conviction that the world was going to end, and soon, then why would they join me?
Now, I don't think that whether things are particularly worse or better at a given moment in the outside world should effect what you do with your own self. I've come to think that people ask this because there's something in them that they feel is wrong, not outside. The events of the outside world have to have a certain independence from what you believe is right for your individual life. This is the only way we can shield ourselves from being the Nazi sympathizers in Germany, slave owners in North Carolina, segregationists in Alabama.
My boyfriend and I have recently decided that we'd like to live off the land in the most sustainable way possible (a term that will only acquire its definition through experience). Of course this type of homesteading is most certainly a trend. It seems to be in direct response to the ambient, enveloping consumerism of the dominant culture and acute disconnection from nature and the tasks that comprise staying alive.
But it is also timeless. A way that people have lived for hundreds of years. While I believe that the world would be better off if everyone lived more sustainably, I can't deny that perhaps one day they'll invent a way of collecting solar energy that is as cheap and efficient as oil. I have to live the way I want to live for myself, not as a statement, not as a demand, not in service to an image.
So if you find yourself asking, are things worse now than they used to be?, maybe you can ask instead, if they are, what would difference would it make to me?