Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Meat Week: My Battle with Compulsive Social Responsibility
I blame it all on Kant and moral universality. From a very young age, whenever I think of doing something I instinctually ask myself - what would happen if everyone in the world did the same thing? Is that a world I'd want to live in? When my parents said "Eat your peas - there are starving kids in Africa!" I really took it to heart.
And the answer is NO! I do NOT want to live in an inequal society where the rich run profligate, a world denuded of wildlife and choked with pollution. Armed with the latest lifecycle analysis, I've treated my life as an experiment in social engineering, systematically shearing away all sources of social and environmental harm.
The thing is, I like doing all this. I believe in enjoying the things that are good for the world, instead of bending the world to suit what I enjoy. I don't feel that I'm making sacrifices or compromising my happiness by refusing to travel or eschewing restaurants. If I learned today that rutabagas could reverse climate change, I would eat them every day and enjoy every bite. But until now, I haven't acknowledged the idea that individual action might have its limits.
Mighty systems are at work - economic, social, and political - designed to undercut individual mindfulness. And that's where I get stuck. I go into paroxysms when Patrick suggests driving a mile to Trader Joe's when it's raining outside, even though we walk there most of the time (What about those Africans again? They're not whining about some puny rain, so why should I?). The recent breakdown of my wireless router made me feel despondent and powerless in the face of the technological cycle of planned obsolescence and cheap crap designed to break and impossible to fix.
The sad thing is that while modern capitalism prides itself on unlimited choice, innovation also destroys choice. The choice of being happy with what we have, instead of buying something new. The choice of buying a small, energy-efficient house in St Louis. I don't have the choice of being a part of this society and connecting with the people around me without harming something or someone. Yet, the ostensible infinity of choice makes social responsibility seem so alluringly, ruthlessly possible.
So, as an antidote to CSR, I'm trying an experiment. To confront the idea that I cannot solve the world's problems in the microcosm of my life. To grapple with the idea that trying to do good in the world - or even, just to live in the world - requires steeling myself against the daily moral compromises that right now eat away too much of my dignity. I'm going to do the anathema to my gradually veganizing brain. I'm eating meat, for a week.
I don't think eating meat will lead to some kind of life-changing epiphany. I'm not trying to convince myself that eating meat is ethical or good for the world. I just want to feel ok with compromise, with giving in - a little - to hypocrisy. I'm blazing a new personal frontier: going with the default option.
And lastly, a public service announcement:
Have you or a loved one experienced the following symptoms in the past 12 months? Obsessive recycling, anti-pesticidal tendencies, loss of appetite for non-local produce, blurred vision under incandescent bulbs, gardening under the age of 50? Do you bike to work, and/or feel smug about biking to work? Do you use the word "sustainability" in social conversation?
If so, you may be suffering from CSR. Contact your doctor today, and see whether fuck it is right for you.