Monday, July 29, 2013

On Liberty and Death

Does it have to be both?

One of the reasons I advocate for restrictions on personal freedom as a means to save our species from extinction is that I need my own behaviours to be externally regulated!  Intellectually, I can assess what I need from what I want - I think better than most even.  I'm usually at the tail-end of buying anything new - like a computer, which I got after many years of teaching and typing assignments on a typewriter.  I finally succumbed to the pressure to get a cellphone just three months ago.  The final blow was realizing that monthly costs for a cellphone are cheaper than for a landline.  Similarly with my car-avoidance - they're such a money-pit!  It's quite possible I'm more financially motivated than environmentally.   Even my solar panels are making me money.

And then there's this:



 
I'm building a "studio" for myself in my backyard - a place I can write and paint and leave stuff everywhere without anyone touching any of it.  I don't need this space at all.  Currently I sit out here to work or putter:



It's lovely, so why would I need anything else?  It's partly because my neighbour sits on his front porch, ten feet away, and smokes.  I swear he waits for me to come out and set myself up before he comes out and stinks up the place.  It's an inconvenience.  So I've built at the furthest corner from that neighbour's house.

And it's partly because I need more space for my books.  I could easily go to a library or read things on-line, but I like to fill the margins of my books with rebuttals or examples.  And then I can tell if I've read the book before when I think I'm about to read it for the first time - which happens often enough to be unnerving!  And I like the actually paper books in my hands.  My kids are annoyed with my piles of books in every corner.  I'm doing it for the children!

And partly I want to build it because I want to build it.  I like the challenge of construction - getting everything perfectly level and square - all by myself.  Well, my kids helped me lift the walls in place.  And it's not perfect, but it's pretty close.  I'm paying someone to install the windows (a giant 10' one at the front) because I don't want to be the one dealing with my slightly-off calculations.  Really it's just the one window that's off by a quarter inch from top to bottom because I didn't have the strength to shift it into a more level position.  Now just listen to me getting all caught up in it!

While I was at it, I also built my daughter an aviary for her collection of budgies.  It looks like the one end is open, but that's just a weird camera angle illusion.  Really weird.  WTF?



So that's a lot more trees than a few Tim Horton's cups would take, eh?  And stainless steel to boot!  

What happens if our hobbies - the things that bring us immediate pleasure - conflict with our livelihood?  It's not like gambling or drinking that gets in the way of paying for food or rent.  The punishment is much further away - so easier to neglect.  And the rewards aren't obsessive and destructive.  I can stop any time, and I'm creating stuff!   But even I get into a denial loop when environmental needs stand in the way of my desires:  Those trees were already cut down anyway.  My personal actions are just a drop in the bucket, so they don't matter anyway.  Think of the children!! 

I live in a neighbourhood of near-identical homes, and I shake my head whenever someone else puts up a giant addition.  Three in a row next to me block the afternoon sun.  I have three kids, and we fit just fine in our little house.  People need more space only because they have too much stuff.  Get rid of your stuff, and you can save a bundle on the reno and have a larger backyard!  Silly neighbours.

It seems there's precious little I can do about the hypocrisy inherent to human nature - to my nature.  Plato would say my passions are winning over my reason; my charioteer is no longer in charge of the horses - if it ever was.  I can see it happening, and I know what's right and wrong in this scenario, but I'm forging ahead regardless.  And this is the problem that we all face.  We're all forging ahead even though we know, on some level, that many of our desires are unnecessary and harmful - some permanently so.  Whatever.

Years ago, after a shopping spree, I had this tattooed on my Visa-paying arm:


It's Matisse's dancers circling a pangea-shifting Earth to help remind me of the world whenever I'm about to buy something else I don't really need.  I mean, I'm trying really hard here to avoid adding to the problems in the world, but it's more than my willpower can manage.  I want someone to restrict how much lumber I can buy yearly - or ever.  Really, if there were any roadblocks to my construction projects at all, I wouldn't have bothered, and a few more trees would be spared the axe.  But as it is, I'm impatiently waiting for the clouds to disperse so I can build the roof!   I'm doing a rafter-style roof instead of using trusses - it's less weight for me to lift at once, but tricky calculations await me.  I'm so excited to see if it will all work!!

But about those trees....

I don't expect many people will protest to restrict their own freedoms, even when it's perfectly clear that our freedom to exploit every inch of this planet is creating a crisis that we can't survive.  If we continue with this much liberty, we will die off.  The solution has to be top-down, but that's absolutely terrifying if the wrong leader gets elected.  Our only hope, I think, is to elect a leader or a few leaders who have exceptional foresight and personal integrity and willpower to make the right decisions on regulating corporations, altering the economic system, shifting to renewable energy, and restricting personal freedom, and that will do all this with total transparency and honesty.  It's a longshot, but at least there's still some hope.  

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