Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Universe Does Not Owe You Pudding



You don't have a right to pudding, and it's not because you haven't eaten your meat. You just don't. The universe does not owe you pudding. Nor does it owe you happiness, a rich sex life, or a fulfilling career in fiber optics. The universe doesn't owe you anything, in fact. It's the universe, after all, and you're just you. Any rights you might have are a social construct.

That's not to say it's not a good thing to construct a society in such a way that potential pudding-consumption is optimized. Flan should probably be illegal, but pudding...? yeah, I can go with that. It's just the whole "rights" thing I have an issue with, because I think that when you start from a place of entitlement, it becomes much easier to disregard any exterior or long-term consequences of your individual desires.

A better (and harder) starting point might be something like kindness, or gratitude. Ask: What are the things I'm grateful for in my life, and what would be the way to encourage the expansion of those things into the lives of others? Ask: What would happen if those good things were to be available to everybody? Would I still be grateful for them? If you can set aside your feelings of entitlement long enough to ask these questions, you'll be better situated to make wiser, better choices.

That's a bit odd, though -- jumping from pudding to Kantian Universalisability -- so let's bring it back down into the practical realm of yogurt.

I got precious little yogurt as a child (on account of being raised in the Amazon Basin), so yogurt holds a very special place in my heart and duodenum. There are few pleasures in life so exquisite as a cold bowl of Stonyfield Organic French Vanilla Yogurt mixed with chopped-up, frozen strawberries, bananas, blueberries, and blanketed all over with a thin layer of granola. O.M.Genghis Kahn! I love that stuff.Yogurt is all-good, baby, and I'm so grateful to live in a world where it's just a grocery-run away.

However...

There's the small matter of the plastic tub which that yogurt comes in. Plastic fashioned out of petrochemicals. Plastic that can only be fifteen percent recycled, at best, and is more likely to end up in a landfill or the ocean, at worst. Plastic made from oil that most likely comes from the Middle East and directly contributes to not only rampant pollution, but also war, war, and more war.

In a massively indirect way, the plastic tub my yogurt comes in makes me complicit in the drone-fired-rocket-death of some little kid somewhere and yes, I know, I'm being ridiculous, and how the h-e-double-hockeystick is someone supposed to live if they gotta micro-manage their every action so as not to be complicit in the gruesome, burning deaths of any innocent children?!?

The computer I'm writing this on is plastic, after all, and if you wanna talk petrochemicals, how about the bleedin' asphalt I gotta drive on to get to anywhere and do anything?

Then there's the matter of all the wonderful things that have been done with these nasty, chemically-derived plastics -- like, say, medical wonderments, and cetera. The web of complicity weaves its way in and out of all human action and intention: the good, bad, and the ugly. I mean, it's not like humans weren't savagely, brutally killing innocent children before plastics and War-for-Oil, is it?

Nonetheless...

Only a nihilist looks at the sometimes horrors of this life and concludes that the difficulty of doing anything rightly implies that no one should in any way make the attempt. I am not a nihilist, and I believe that awareness is a gift that demands responsibility in action.

Having committed myself to both living in this world and not really being of it, I conclude that inasmuch as I am able, the wisest thing for me to do would be to de-plasticate my life. Ergo, no more store-bought yogurt.

Which is crazy, of course.

What kind of idiot avoids something he enjoys and could easily have, just for the sake of a principle? What kind of idiot, when he gets to the store and realizes he's forgotten his grocery bags, has the checkout dude just pile everything back into the cart, sans bags?

This kind, I guess. The kind who doesn't believe he has the right to gag a seagull for the sake of convenience. The kind who doesn't think he has a "right" to much of anything -- just a whole lot of amazing gifts and opportunities that he should work hard to preserve for others.

I'm still as complicit and tainted as anyone. But if awareness is the beginning of wisdom, then at least I'm getting a glimmer. At least there's hope I won't be quite this idiotic forever. Baby steps, y'know?

Am I being a downer, here? 

I try not to be. I try to be a harbinger of hope.

To that end, let me suggest one tiny little step you might consider taking towards de-plasticated wisdom:

You've got a cell phone, right? Well, are you aware of how that cell phone is made? Have you thought about what happens when it's time to dispose of the toxic materials in it? Have you thought about the human cost associated with its production -- the stinted lives of the people forced to work in unsafe and unsuitable conditions so you can have that sleek little piece of Jobsian design? Well, how about you do think about it, and after you deposit your old phone at an appropriate recycling facility, or donate it, why don't you consider replacing it with a Fair Phone? I just found out about Fair Phone via the interweaves, and it seems to me like the sort of thing worth doing. Like the sort of thing that's possible.

You don't have to, of course -- that's your right ;)


Fairphone: Buy a phone, start a movement from Fairphone on Vimeo.

4 comments:

  1. No doubt you make some good points here Josh, and I hate to be a cynic, but quitting yogurt is not much more than a symbolic gesture. Not that there's something wrong with symbolic gestures (and maybe that's the most we can hope for), but when you consider that you and I both still use computers, and walk on carpets, and purchase oil and gas (even if it's a smaller amount than before), we're still consumers and, for that matter, predators that live at the expense of other creatures. I get that you're saying "baby-steps" and I agree that we should do something rather than nothing - trying is better than not trying, but reality's a bitch - other things die because I'm alive ... even if I live as a vegan. So, I'm not advocating nihilism or hedonism but suggesting we all need to come to grips with the terms of our existence - do what we can and recognize that it's never going to be anything like enough.

    As far as the topic of rights - I'm also not sure I agree entirely. I agree on not always insisting on my own rights and expectations, but I'm think the idea of basic human rights is inherent in the universe. The universe doesn't owe it to us - it's us who owe it to each other, but they are deserved. I think the term "rights" is misunderstood and misused - we don't have a right to 2 cars and 3 TVs or a right to smoke wherever we choose, but I think we owe it to each other to insist that humans have rights like those outlined by the UN -

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

    Article 1.
    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

    Article 2.
    Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

    Article 3.
    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

    Article 4.
    No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

    Article 5.
    No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    Article 6.
    Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

    These are the sorts of rights that we all share and I think they are inherently given.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right on both counts, Darren. It IS symbolic (although perhaps not more or less than anything else I might do to move toward a better way of thinking/living).

      All choices I make are insignificant. And all are moral. I don't know how to stay alive and contribute without making a great many choices that I consider to be in some way immoral. But when I have the option, I think I ought to try. I DO have to drive the roads. But I DON'T need yogurt. And not eating it reminds me to be a less willing participant in the bitchiness, as you put it. I know I'm being somewhat silly, but I still think it's worth it.

      And yes, the question of the validity of "rights" is semantic. I'm not questioning the goodness of the things outlined as basic human rights by the U.N... but in the public, American sphere, I doubt the vast majority are even REMOTELY thinking of those things when they use the term.

      Those things have been taken for granted for far too long to matter. They are, rather, acting like the spoiled little rich kids that we've all become.

      You know what'll teach 'em?? My little passive-aggressive blog posts, that's what. Changin' the world here, one rant at a time :)

      Delete
  2. Don't blame your bad language on me, man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha-ha. How dare you call me on my hypocrisy in front of the whole internets!

      Delete

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