Saving the Planet: a Rational and Emotional Goal

We were going to watch another episode of The Life of Mammals featuring Steve’s hero, David Attenborough.  Somehow, despite a huge allergy attack and the resultant stuffed up head, Steve’s critical mind was able to detect something nagging at him.  The media, entertainment, and complacency: is this a distraction from what we really want to pursue?  Sure, it’s about animals and nature, but is it likely to help us get closer to saving our desperate planet?  Are we sinking into a kind of complacency and pacifying our outrage by convincing ourselves that we’re doing the best we can just by appreciating nature through the media?  What is the best we can do?  How about coming up with solutions to systemic problems?  Why would that be impossible?  It’s no more impossible than writing a dissertation or an 800 page book on the life of Henry VIII.  It takes energy and research and time and focus.  That’s all.

Okay, at 9:30pm, I am not up to solving systemic problems, or even thinking about them.  I had a headache and a backache, and I started crying.  So I took a couple of ibuprofen and suggested we talk about it in the morning.

So, this morning I wake up with this phrase in my head, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.”  Well, of course I’m part of the problem.  I drive a gasoline-operated vehicle.  I contribute to an economic system that is full of gross inequalities.  There is plenty on that side of the list.  I would like to be part of the solution.  I would like to know what the solution is first, though.  That seems rational to me.  Steve counters that in order to be motivated to find a solution, we need the energy of emotion.  My British heritage and upbringing say, “No way.  You can’t motivate me by appealing to emotion.  I want to be rational.  I want to do the right thing for a rational reason.”  Is there a rational reason to do the right thing?  Why do you want to do something beneficial?  Because it’s good to do good.  Ah, but that is a tautological argument.  Good = Good doesn’t prove anything.  It’s like saying, “Because I said so.”   Okay, fine.  I do want to be part of the solution for an emotional reason.  And the minute I say that, I want to back away from it.  “Emotion never got anything done; it’s so uncivilized.”  Wow, does that sound British or what?  Ah, but the energy that comes with emotion can be very useful.  Are we ever going to make drastic changes in our destructive trajectory if we don’t get angry or scared or fed up or sad in some way about how things are?

It's not easy being green

Okay, so how about striking a balance and coming up with a both/and approach?  Rationally, polluting the planet and alienating ourselves from all life around us through exploitation and indifference is not wise.  It may lead to our ultimate destruction.  Emotionally, the defacing of the original cathedral of our adoration, all of life, makes me sad, angry and scared.  I want to put energy, research, time and focus into finding ways to live differently.  Recognizing that “all life” is interconnected, this will involve looking critically at economic systems, ecological systems, biological systems, psychological systems, political systems, sociological systems, philosophical systems, religious systems, etc.  A complete overhaul.  Why not? What else have I got to do with my life?  I could just sit back and be complacent or sneer and be cynical or throw up my hands and despair, but I think I’d rather just get to work.  I don’t expect the first attempts will be perfect or even adequate, but we may as well point the canoe and start paddling.

Is this nuts?  Is this manic?  Is this taking responsibility?  What do you think?



7 thoughts on “Saving the Planet: a Rational and Emotional Goal

  1. First of all, *hugs*. And *tea*. It’s a verb–I said so. :p

    I think about this topic all the time. Would you be willing to talk about it over email? I don’t have much to say, other than “aah industrial civilization ruined everything and it’s my fault too,” but maybe we can come up with some next steps together.

    • I would love to! I am very much a linear and practical gal at heart, and I get very frustrated when I don’t see my next stepping stone. And, of course, I get discouraged when I sense that no one else “gets it” because I figure that I’m not going to get very far all on my lonesome. Let’s get together!

  2. i also sometimes think i am nuts so it is good to see their are other ‘nutters’ out there 😉 i believe sharing our passion is a good and essential start. keep it up!

  3. Look for this book at your local library:

    Lots of voices & approaches to this problem. You are not alone. You are part of the problem and part of the solution. Keep paddling! You may only be able to keep up a bluewater stroke in a whitewater situation, but that’s when your rationality can keep the freak out in check.

    As for the tautology of good=good, according to the wise Guru in my family, the final distillation of every argument is some form of “because I like it.” You like the natural world, so you want to protect it. That’s all the reason you need, and the emotional power of your liking it gives you the motivation too. If you save the world and liberate all sentient beings, then good on ya. Just remember that the track record of messiahs is less than stellar too.

  4. Rationality exists. No matter what you “like,” you can either approach that goal with rationality or not. So it is a “thing.” Its presence or absence has consequences. And to that end, Steve is probably right. It certainly is possible to sit down and bang out an 800 page book about Henry VIII OR a rational solution for maintaining a developing industrial society with an expanding population and preserving the natural environment. Heck, it’s not just possible, I’m sure it’s been done lots of times.

    What’s actually IMPOSSIBLE is getting anybody to care or go along with it. People are a buncha savages, swear to God. I don’t mean they ought to sit up wringing their hands about everything on nights when they have a headache and want to cry, far from it. There are always simple tasks, recycling and composting and whatnot, that are worth something, yet you’ll always get those who resent anything they’re asked to do just because of being told.

    So like, Plato kept talking about this thing he called the “Noble Lie.” It means the thing you tell people to get them to go along with a rational plan when you reckon they wouldn’t be able to grasp or care about it normally. It’s a cornerstone of his rationality-driven concept of social architecture. The downside, of course, it’s a lie.

    Who’s worth screwing to save the Earth? I don’t know. I think maybe you just do what you chose for yourself because you believe in it. You try to influence other people to that end too, perhaps. But you can’t put the weight of other people’s choices on yourself. Failing to save the planet may be an unacceptable outcome, but a while back there was this thing called “responsibility to oneself,” that may or may not have existed, I forget the verdict… but anyway, I don’t believe that killing yourself is going to solve anything. Whatever your plan is, it’s just going to be that. And more power to you.

    (For an explanation of why the rational construction of a moral philosophy toward the concept of a “greater good,” beyond the desires of the individual, is not simply represented by the tautology of “doing good = good,” come see me later in my office. Or actually, go see Socrates, John Stuart Mill, or any of those guys on the tenure track. I don’t get paid enough for this.)

    (PS, Bertrand Russel told me to tell you, don’t give up on the British.)

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