Mark Twain has a brilliant quote about conformity. He said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." Majority is one of those concepts that has become so loaded by popular culture that we need to jettison what we think about it. Statements like, "I am not part of the majority," or "I know what the majority is," or "The majority is not necessarily a bad thing," or "I can be a part of the majority but still make unique, individual changes," are striking popular, though bias and taint any discussion or investigation into the matter, relinquishing the possibility of neutral and objective realizations or outcomes.
Jettisoning our ideals of majority is key, but we need to ask the right questions. These types of questions are plentiful and can explore the concept without any assumptions. Hence, they will be How questions, rather than Why questions, because How pertains to the mechanisms that bring the concept to life, and Why pertains to the subjective intent placed upon the concept. This may sound like a frivolous and overly formal distinction, however, the concept of majority (as well as other concepts) become loaded because a subjective Why-qualifier is applied rather than an objective How-qualifier.
Objectivity is complex, because it involves asking a How question even if the very word How is not in the question. Thus, a simple but significant demarcator between subjectivity and objectivity is that objectivity gives no particular treatment or entitlement to human thoughts, feelings, or perspectives. So instead of searching for that one word in our search for objectivity (How), adjusting our perspective to acknowledge things on their own terms, without human use or affect, is a good start. This perspective will give us a clearer perspective of the concept of majority because it separates our opinions and teachings about the concept from what the concept truly entails and means.
Ironically, this initial clearing of the conceptual water (objectifying) partially answers how the concept of majority was originally granted such amnesty, or in other words, not socially perceived as potentially toxic: Modern civilization has only permitted us to think and talk about this concept if we have some kind of social safety net, or subjective affirmer. So it is perfectly socially acceptable to talk about not wanting to be in the majority, or that everyone is in some sense a part of the majority, but it is not acceptable, tolerated, or thought as beneficial or possible to argue that we may have the ability to discover and maintain objective means of judging ourselves and others, since objectivity does not grant any subject amnesty or social safety net. Thus, whether or not we agree with the current majority, if we demand there exist a subjective requirement (in any capacity) in each and every one of our affairs, then we are applying a Why-type qualifier, or the subjective mentality, which fundamentally prioritizes and affirms people, their experiences, and their affairs over objective and abstract reality. Hence, we are marketing majority-think even if we say we do not like its product.
We have become so de-sensitized to the harms of subjectivity that it is now socially acceptable to make the conflicting assertions that "No-one can be self-made," and "I am an individual / I know who I am." Listen around, you will hear it. Believe it or not, these two assertions are made in tandem very often in this culture, which will bother anyone asking How-type questions because not only are these statements in conflict, but the realities they bear are wildly different. It is not like saying you like milk both with and without ice, because neither one of those inhibits or implicitly denies the existence of the other. Making the two previous quoted statements literally represent and entail different fundamental perspectives. If it were more popular in our culture to apply objective qualifiers, these statements would immediately be found wanting.
This is not some academic, esoteric exercise available only to those with expensive educations or naturally high intelligence. Each person with a mind can produce objective thoughts, they just need to put the effort in. That is not to say every person will wind up the same, yet quite the opposite, that people can create their individual selves based on objectively judging who they want and need to be. In other words, an objective perspective will stave off the ubiquitous subjectivity and the relativism it has produced.
It is not popular yet to speak about relativism because relativism is on of our culture's primary methods of making subjectivity seem morally and socially marketable. It has resulted in these types of thinkings:
If you want to have an important conversation with someone, wait until you are in the right mood.
Not very good at fixing things? Hire someone. Why learn when you can easily pay someone else to do it?
Things do not seem to "go your way?" Just your luck, right?
Did you catch the subjectivity? It is hard to miss when you are looking for it. Yet, this culture's majority defers to subjectivity--and its progeny, relativism--over objectivity. Why?
Because it is so cheap and easy. Anyone can do it at any time because it is not entailed like an objective How process. Objective processes are highly entailed because they require us to discover and identify causal linkage, produce multiple forms of evidence, and ask open-ended questions to produce more arguments and even better questions. Objective processes are about exposing a larger reality, but subjectivity, on the other hand, is all about making our reality smaller, more palatable, and user-friendly to us. Hence, we adapt it to suit us, rather than the other way around.
Relativism has become natural and ambient due to how it suits and promotes a subjective perspective. Objectivity is nowadays marginalized to mathematics and other hard sciences, but even then our culture attempts to subjectively infiltrate it with Ultimate assertions. Point being, understanding Twain's quote is not as easy as just agreeing with it as if we knew it all along, yet understanding how a majority perspective may be unknowingly infiltrating our morals and relationships. The only harm in raw, objective honesty is that other people around you may not agree with you or support your objectivity. Which is essentially embodies the modern majority.
Dave Ramsey said something the other day regarding people's contradictory responses to making positive changes in different areas of their lives. He said that if someone makes a public statement about wanting to lose weight, others will openly and honestly support them. On the other hand, if someone makes a public statement about wanting to get out of debt, then others will openly and honestly discourage them, or respond with bewilderment.
In this culture, we certainly prefer easy, short-term fixes over long-term harvests, but both losing weight and getting out of debt are long-term projects. Both affect your mind and your body in some way; losing weight changes your energy level, resulting almost all the time in a happier, more satisfied disposition, and getting out of debt reduces stress levels which again, almost all the time, results in a happier, more content disposition. We could get into the biology of the matter, citing dopamine, serotonin, etc., but that is not necessary because this chemical cascade is an effect rather than a primary causes we deliberately initiated. Why the varying social responses?
Well, it does not take much to discover that these life-changing mechanisms sit on opposite ends of the social-reward/scorn tether. At this point in our society, we are very concrete in our evaluating of success, our rewarding of that success, and our communication. Again, we are encouraged to select immediate gratification and physical artifacts over long-term harvests and abstract artifacts. (Abstract artifacts are things like loyalty, trust, clear communication, and reciprocity; concepts that cannot be physically materialized, but guide and enlighten our interpersonal affairs). I need to be clear that this particular culture did not create these concrete leanings, yet it adopted them through generations and generations of historical and economical developments. Point being, our preference of concrete cues and artifacts over abstract cues and artifacts has set us up for wanting to participate in debt both as a process and product, because debt allows us to hold and experience that concrete object today, rather than saving up for it and having it some time in the future. Ever watched Star Trek and saw their matter replicators? Well, consumer debt is a concrete culture's matter replicator. We are waging sacrifice and sufferance genocide. And since a high FICO score has been marketed as being as healthy as your daily vitamins, then socially, there is very little downside to debt! It is healthy debt! Take your debt vitamin as often as you can because it allows you to be financially viable and healthy!
This concrete confluence of mechanisms makes me weary. Just the other day my mentor was talking with me about how it took him five years to reap the horticultural and landscaping effects of the effort he sowed. Five years. Who does that anymore? Well, people who are willing to put in the effort and suffer a little. And have patience. If you try and tell me that this concrete culture values patience and sufferance, then I will not believe you, nor much of anything you say. Thus, if Dave Ramsey's quote highlighted anything, it was that this culture is allergic to hard work that produces no immediate, concrete effects.
How can I say that? He highlighted that losing weight would be socially supported! Well, it is popular to lose weight right now because that fits this culture's image of beauty. Gyms are social cornucopias. Cross-fit is to today what aerobics was to the late 80's and early 90's. Getting rid of debt is not popular right now because debt has been marketed so well as both a process and a product that people actually forget how consumer debt was not created to exist on this level. Sixty years ago people only bought what they had cash for. No cash = patience. The whole point is that we are encouraged to think and act according to society's image of things, even though it may not reflect our own personal short- or long-term goal. I am not denouncing getting in shape, but I am posing the question as to why you are getting in shape, if you are. You say you do not want to be fat and out of breath all the time? Okay, I understand. But then I am going to continue that premise and ask what non-physical things you are doing to increase your well-being. Plant a garden? Meditate in nature? Talk with a friend or lover with cell-phones off? Become more intelligent so you can think more clearly?
Both losing weight and getting out of debt will make you healthier, but it is scary how we support one of vehemently, and respond so lukewarm or negatively to another. The fact that this hypocrisy exists means that we are not yet as a culture thinking for ourselves, using a compass that is not ours. Hence, you can lose all the weight you want and talk about health and long-term affects, but I am not going to believe you if you are addicted to, sympathetic to, or plan on encouraging the production and normalization of debt.
If it is one thing adulthood has taught me, it is that the pathway to taking myself more seriously as a writer and intellect is nothing how I originally believed. I used to operate on the belief that maturity--whether it be emotional, intellectual, or artistic--involved being stoic, humorless, and sacrificing the little delights that flavor life. True, maturity does filter out some delights, but that is exactly what helps us transition from adolescents into adults. Thus, taking ourselves seriously is in part the product of knowing what is most advantageous for us to think and experience, and in what proportion. So how do we learn how to take ourselves seriously?
First off, let me specify the meaning of the clause "Take yourself seriously," because operating otherwise would be like building a house on an unsturdy foundation. In our busy, over-complicated, and highly technologized modern lives, it is very easy to bypass or misconstrue the raw meaning of Self (or yourself). One of my first advantageous steps to take myself more seriously was rephrasing the clause to read: "Take my Self seriously." See how differently it reads? It shines the spotlight on the Self, instead of just seriously. Sure, seriously is a significant part of this clause, however it is not the apex.
When we think of statements like "take yourself seriously," it is easy to assume we know the meaning of self because our complex modern lives package our identities and ways of viewing/defining ourselves in socially-affirmative ways. Unfortunately, I--like most people in this culture--fell for the socially-packaged paradigms in my intellectual youth in thinking that taking myself seriously meant believing maturity was being humorless, stoic, and the typical type of professional person! This limited my ability to see and be the real me.
What I really need to make clear is that I am pro-judgement, or in other words, anti-relativist. We can and ought to observe, debate, and reason with one another, because that is the way to understand, communicate and categorize our lives. (Thus, "Just because" is intellectually and emotionally detrimental to adult interactions.) That being said, we can each build a unique Self based on our experiences, natural gifts, and associations (relationships). We just need to separate our natural/raw Self from the self we are indoctrinated to be through social platitudes, obligations, and traditions. No, this is not a new issue I am raising, but when I look around to see how it has been answered, it is always--if not always, then most of the time--packaged in a way as to not offend greater society. This brings things like cliches and hot-button topics come to mind. What is a hot-button issue? Well, how about religion or politics! You "cannot" talk about these, right? But are these not pertinent moral and ethical issues? I say talk about them boldly! What can be lost? And in terms of cliches, if we eliminate their use, we make ourselves communicate meaning in our own, unique way, which helps us not simply parrot social platitudes. These are simply two mechanisms to buck the socially-affirmative paradigms of Self; there are many to be uncovered along the path to true Self.
Am I anti-society? Am I an anarchist? No. Instead, I am a proponent of individuality and independence, which lends itself to having multiple informed choices. When I was in my intellectual youth I did not think I had a choice as to who I was or wanted to be, which made me buy into certain false premises about maturity, professional life, communication, and relationships. Now that I have developed a more independent mind, I can choose as I please. This does not mean I never make a mistake, just that I recognize there are multiple alternatives to choose from. Just because one does not pander to society's paradigms and obligations does not make them an anarchist! Extremist thinking like that does not help anyone.
Bucking the socially-affirmative paradigms can and will help any person take themselves more seriously, because it clears the moral muddy water. In other words, it puts you in the actual position to take your Self seriously, because you take your raw self in mind, rather than the socially affected/fabricated you. Yes, this means being b-r-u-t-a-l-l-y honest with yourself. You cannot take yourself seriously as an individual if you do not look at the uncomfortable and ugly parts, as well as the comfortable and shiny parts.
This is one of the big delineators between a socially-affirmed paradigm of Self and a raw/authentic paradigm of Self: The former--since modern culture has an allergy to interpersonal judgment (relativistic)--requires us to highlight and stick to comfortable, feel-good traits, premises, and predictions. I am sorry, but that is just not a realistic modus. I understand the significance in staying positive, however, positivity does not demand blindness to negativity. It means positive despite negativity. BIG difference. So a mental way of starting a productive chain reaction of finding ourselves is through embracing the discomfort and judging the people we are today, and not making excuses or blaming others. Society does not endorse voluntary moral sufferance because, to quote Kristhoffer, "It does not believe that moral conflict can be objectively resolved." A raw paradigm of self thus embraces both ugly traits and pretty traits, because they both comprise who we are. And if we strive to bring as much of ourselves to the table as possible, we have a better chance at constructing the true self we all claim to want. We need to judge ourselves, though.
Thus, socially-affirmative paradigms of determining self are built upon loaded and ulterior premises because they include the condition of social lubrication and affirmation. I am actively endorsing separating these social conditions and giving yourself a fair, honest shot at looking at your ugly and beautiful facets so that no matter who you are, you can construct the Self you desire. I am not talking about actively destroying society, or to vehemently argue with others till you are blue in the face, but to aim your observations (and will) onto yourself, so that you can discover and clear up who you are. Society says you need others to help you change, should you want to change. I (and many others) say that it merely takes a few requirements: The will to be brutally honest, a positive outlook, and an orientation toward untainted alternatives. You are going to choose what you wish, and you ought to because you are an individual, however that does not mean neither you nor others cannot judge your thoughts and actions. Judgement is not a four-letter word, and one of the first--and continual--steps toward determining and maintaining an authentic Self is a willingness to judge and be judged. Otherwise we remain comfortable, unchecked, and socially lubricated.
In my intellectual youth, I was exposed to many painful (read: realistic) lessons, but the one that comes to mind right now is Take a Breath. I hated this advice though because I wanted to improve right now! To change for the better! To attack all weaknesses right now!! On top of needing patience when dealing with ourselves though, we need to maintain somewhat of an even keel so that we can operate well. It is similar to what you see in a professional tennis match when a player loses multiple consecutive points because they are "tightening up." They still have the ability to play well, but stifle themselves to a point where they cannot perform optimally, let alone effectively, due to anxiety and tension. As someone prone to tightening up in tense situations, I can tell you that in the beginning of the process of finding your true Self, viewing and judging yourself will be much easier if you approach it calmly and collectedly. Not apathetic or without passion or conviction, but relaxed and open to what you perceive. Because if you start blaming yourself or becoming disproportionately critical, or making excuses, you will mentally and emotionally tighten up and the exercise will bear no fruit.
Relaxing so that we can obtain the ability to take our true selves seriously may sound paradoxical, but the road to authentic moral progress is not linear. Nor should it be. We are complex creatures, so the paths to our goals and futures will most definitely not be linear. And if they are, well, you are being socially affirmative, because another one of modern society's basal premises is that life ought to be like electricity: Follow the path of least resistance.
Once you discover and construct the raw Self of your own choosing, then taking that Self seriously will become as second nature as breathing, because you will have pride in what you built, as well as an intimate and authentic understanding of that Self's present and future.
The statement Every Creature Must Kill to Survive is a cold, hard truth regarding the subsistence of all living entities. It is simply the basis of natural processes and organic substances because in order for something to be metabolized and digested for another's sustenance, it needs to first exist on some plane of the biological spectrum. Creatures cannot survive on rocks. Or dirt. Or dust. Or air. And despite what science fiction leads us to believe, any one-hundred percent artificial diet is not feasible because nature is an intimately connected cycle of birth, consumption, reproduction, and death. It is a network, rather than a ladder or hierarchy, which is why there is no top or bottom of the food chain. It exists ubiquitously, serving as the world's greatest equalizer.
If you had eggs for breakfast this morning, and those eggs were fertilized, then you partook in killing a chicken. Steak? You killed a cow. Fish? Dead because of you. Further, I am aware that many vegetarians and vegans believe their diet is inherently more ethical than a carnivore's, but I would point out that the grain, berries, fruits, vegetables, and nuts they consume are indeed living before they become sustenance. Drink coffee? Those beans grew because they were living things. So it is really relevant that they did not have eyes to look at us with as we killed them, with the intent of eating them?
A large part of modern consumer commercialism attempts to avoid this statement, or simply rhetorically justifies it's way around it. Well, eggs in the grocery store are not fertilized, right? However, that unfertilized egg is chock full of bacteria that you are wiping out when you cook and eat it. You may draw a sympathy line at bacteria, saying "They have no consciousness or pain receptors," and although you may be correct, that response is a red herring. In other words, it is answering a different question than the one raised. Something still had to die for you to gain sustenance.
Well you're just nitpicking, you may say.
Am I? Well then I never received the memo regarding the threshold between life forms and organic matter we should and should not give the time of day to. I am not saying I do not eat living things, or that you should not eat living things, or that any of us should feel bad about eating things that were once living. My point is that we ought to face the reality that in order to survive, we need to kill in some way, shape or form, either physically with our hands or economically with our wallets. (Subsidizing someone else killing our food for us so we do not have to see it.) No matter if we go to a super-healthy farmer's market, a commercial grocery store, or eat genetically modified "food", death still needs to happen to extend our life. We feed on death. We can only digest stuff that qualifies as food. That is what makes us whatever -vore we choose to be!
It think part of the unpopularity of this quote is due to the lack of distance between cause and effect: (Cause) Creatures must kill, (Effect) To survive. Due to the quote's simplicity and directness, it is very hard for a rational being to misinterpret the meaning, so people avoid it because it is such an uncomfortable premise. Since the cause and effect are so tightly linked, and because the topic is not socially palatable or polished, it is not going to be normal barber shop talk, or sittin'-on-the-porch talk, or coffee date talk, unless you are someone who lacks certain social sensitivities. (A minority I always applaud.) Many would call this statement grim or morbid, thus bypass it in "civilized conversation" for more lubricated, concrete content.
Call me crazy, but I do not call the quote grim or morbid at all, and not because I am a contrarian or social rebel. (I do not enjoy confrontation or heated debates anymore than others, so no, I am not just picking a fight to watch people squirm). It is just that I have come to terms with the quote because I read it even keel. In other words, due to the quote's socially-sensitive subject matter, I think people read and say it like this:
Every creature must KILL TO SURVIVE.
But I read it like this:
Ever creature must kill to survive.
Note the tonal difference? I do not focus on the killing aspect because due to the lack of distance between cause and effect, I read it as it is meant to be read: All as one clause. I do not focus on Creature, or Kill, or Survive, because in themselves their meaning is incomplete and not an accurate representation of the holistic clause. All the words together create an ideal which has validity, but due to the quote's ruthless candor, people will generally not allow themselves to take it as a complete ideal.
Thus, if the quote sounds Fascist or power-driven in any way, that is because you are breaking up the direct line of cause and effect. Get out of the way! Let the insight speak; it has much to say. It wants to teach us about nature and ourselves and our pasts and futures.
Hence, the quote is not about legitimizing senseless war. Pacifists argue that they do not want to kill or maim another because violence and destruction simply escalate problems, rather than create solutions. That is a sound political premise but leads to misguided evolutionary/biological premises when transferred over. Humans are not at the top of the food chain, and even though I tend to think vegans, vegetarians, and pacifists understand that, their health and overall subsistence is dependent upon ending another thing's life cycle to prolong ours. The truth is, and always will be, ugly. Some ways of prolonging our subsistence are certainly more balanced and long-sighted than others, but I am not here to argue which qualities and programs are inherently better. I am here to point out the stark truth that every creature must kill to survive, and to hopefully get the common person to integrate a guttural understanding into their daily lives.
What is the worst that can happen if we intimately embrace this statement? We take longer to determine if we want that extra glass of milk? We eat our apples more carefully, wasting less of the core? We eat the crust of our bread rather than discard it? If we use one tissue to blow our noses rather than two? I am not sure there is a legitimate detractor from integrating this quote into our daily lives. The only detractor I can think of is the social detractor experienced within those who are so emotionally unstable they cannot boldly face the reality which is already present in their daily lives. And, to cite the philosopher Kristhoffer, "If social-comfort is the only detractor, then that is not a good reason to continue that mindset and behavior."
Once again, we are a child of nature. It is our parent. The rest of nature are our siblings. Due to this, we can learn about ourselves through observing our siblings. Do you see any other species going on a hunger strike or abstaining from certain foods? No. They operate on survival, which is harsh, unforgiving, and dirty. While I am not suggesting that we outright stop shopping at grocery stores or washing ourselves or our food, I am suggesting that we lighten up our civilized sphincters to admit to ourselves that just like our natural siblings, 1) We need to kill things to survive, 2) Have been doing so for millenia, and 3) Will continue to do so. Whether or not we do it with our hands or with our wallets.
Finally, admitting this raw truth to ourselves will inform us that we are not bad people for doing so, either. That it is in our nature, as is being a creature with the capacity to understand our natural compulsions and bring them into proportion, rather than be ignorant to them and allow them to go unchecked.
Modern life is incredibly entailed, regardless of the level of adventure we seek. Our world is so complex and busy that it is easy to bypass all the little choices we make and steps we take to fulfill our responsibilities. Due to this complexity, it is much easier to bypass understanding the entailments of our choices and simply act according to the conclusions offered by habit, tradition, or group-think. These three criteria are commonly referred to as obligations because they are exercised via compulsion.
So what is an entailment? Quite simply, an entailment is something that needs to be fulfilled for other things to be fulfilled. Drive a car? Well, you need not just fill it with gas and change the oil, but you need to get a driver's license and insurance, and follow the rules of traffic. Yet, driving is so simple in itself...just turn the key and go. Thus, the process of driving is heavily entailed.
Entailments are not limited to the concrete world though. Our thoughts, beliefs, and relationships are even more entailed than our concrete affairs due to the plethora of alternatives and contingencies implicit within their abstract nature. Evidence of this lies in how you know exactly what driving a car entails. In the abstract world of relationships, passions, and goals, do you ever exactly know what it will entail? No, because you cannot predict the future, nor can you predict exactly how things will naturally mutate and develop. In terms of our relationships, since others have their own convictions, drives, and responsibilities which they have thoughts and feelings about, you cannot claim exactitude over another's life, perspective, or the entailments borne of them.
This is why it is easier nowadays to be a relativist. To be clear, relativism is the relinquishment of judgment based on the assumption that no objective standard can be determined or communicated. The complexity of our modern world facilitates relativism because unless one hone's their mind and emotion through objectivity, things become messy very quickly: We miscategorize things, we misinterpret words and ideals, we mix short-term and long-term goals, we confuse healthy selfishness for unhealthy selfishness, the list goes on. I can observe and feel the social pressure to relativize my own comings-and-goings because the vast majority of our modern world is still subjective, hence only embraces portions of reality they find immediately comfortable and familiar. Yes, understanding the network of entailments of our thoughts, actions and habits can be nebulous and frustrating and discouraging at times, but only because we are at that point unpracticed. Becoming more objective helps clear the water and provides a better look at our entailments.
Understanding, taking control of, and mastering our entailments entails (no pun intended) looking at them from the inside out. I like to think of it as the organic approach because it involves the steps of the process, or the organs of the activity. So in the driving example, instead of defining driving as navigating the road in a vehicle, the organic approach defines it by all the steps involved to allow the act of driving to occur. Does this seem like unnecessary mental gymnastics, or some impractical mantra? If so, that is too bad, because due to the nature of entailment, each of these steps must be fulfilled to legally navigate the vehicle on the road. So prudence suggests we master the organs of the activity so that we may continue the activity adaptively and confidently rather than accidentally and uncertainly.
Changing our mental orientation toward understanding the entailments of our concrete, daily affairs is one of the most significant--if not the most significant--method of improving our ability to function, adapt, and improve the more complex processes of our modern lives. Are those not the activities that we overlook, anyway? If we approach everything as some grand conclusion that needs to be memorized or as an activity that needs to operate predominantly with muscle memory, then there is no way we can stop ourselves and adapt our methods mid-activity. And that is a big deal: Since our modern worlds are so heavily entailed, why would we not want the ability (aka: competence) to stop ourselves mid-activity to adapt the process to a better one? Do you want to be just a helpless tire rolling down a hill? All it takes is practice, practice, practice.
Doing this in our relationships involves a similar process, except instead of simply intellectualizing the steps involved in an external activity, we empathize the dynamic characteristics and perspectives exhibited by another person. To us, people are outside reality as well, except they are more complex than objects because they are thinking/feeling beings, hence moving targets! If we do not pay close enough attention to others, we may find ourselves holding them hostage to their past selves, rather than their present selves. Even if someone is highly principled and therefore fundamentally unchanging, their experience of their mental and emotional world will develop as they grow their experiences, so if we are not attuned to their process and experiences on their terms--rather than the terms we prescribe--we will not be able to forge a strong relationship with their current, dynamic self.
And yes, this is all from the concept of entailment, and our orientation toward it. Civilization and our modern world will not get any less complex, and will certainly become more concrete the more we focus merely on the act part of action rather than the organic steps that produce action. I want to be clear that actions and conclusions will always exist: Every book has a beginning, middle and an end. However, when we organically navigate the networks of our actions and relationships we will be much clearer on how and why things function, what the consequences and repercussions will be, and what is in and out of our power to change. Which is why the worst case scenario is acting out of obligation and not acknowledging our entailments at all.
I was felling trees recently when I was unexpectedly smacked upside the head. No, not by a tree limb, but by a certain quote I have carried with me for a long time: Every creature must kill to survive. I could be mistaken, but I think Richard Dawkins said it in The Selfish Gene.
I was so affected by the quote due to a new-found admiration and respect for nature. I have not always paid attention to my environment, let alone to the natural world. (It is so easy to allow human-created things to occupy our attention, is it not?) Point is, I am like most people and need to actively train and practice to see, feel, and respect nature for what it is, rather than how it can serve me. So when I was felling trees and brought the quote to mind, I started to understand the intimacy of killing on a more guttural level.
Chainsawing responsibly is largely about 1) Keeping your focus on how you make your cuts, 2) The function of what you are cutting, and 3) What you are not cutting. If you are like me, you may not immediately acknowledge how responsible chainsawing is representative of enlightened and objective human engagements, so let us proceed one by one.
Keeping your focus on how you are making the cut, or what techniques you are using, keeps you in the moment and attuned to the unique characteristics of immediate reality. This seems so intuitive because I am talking about a mechanical activity that that could maim or kill you, but staying in the moment is as exclusive to chainsawing as walking is to using a treadmill. Staying in the moment while you are cutting not only makes you safer because you will have a better chance at predicting where the tree will fall, but it allows you to observe and judge yourself in that very moment. It is so easy to just blame the saw for a tree that did not fall where you wanted it to. Plus, many times in life we complain that we cannot see or understand our flaws until after we commit them, so practicing staying in the moment strengthens our ability to view and judge ourselves objectively, enabling us to be more competent and adaptive to unforeseen, undesirable variables. (If it is any argument that can convince the most amount of people to become more objective, it is that objectivity allows one to reasonably predict and prevent unforeseen, undesirable variables.)
Second, we have the function of what we are cutting. Are the limbs and branches just going to get thrown away to rot? If so, why can we not find some kind of use for them? This is a sibling argument of: We are bored because we are boring. If we deconstruct something without at least some kind of working idea for what to do with the deconstructed parts, then it is a strong possibility that we are not searching and thinking hard enough. I am not saying that every little thing we do in life will create recyclable and highly functional byproducts; there is a valid reason the word waste is in our vernacular. But sometimes our byproducts can have wildly effective functions, and all we need to do is open our minds to the myriad possibilities. The whole point is that we do not need to physically engage or get the short-term or long-term benefit of the byproducts we create for them to exist. Thinking such would make us terribly human-centric. Knowing the specific function of what we cut, and the reasoned-out premise why we are doing it will allow us to make cuts in proportion, and not be standing in front of a deforested field at the end of the day asking ourselves, "How did I wind up doing all that?"
Third, if we look at what we are not cutting we can better understand what we are cutting. This is all about categories and judgment: Why this instead of that? How is this different than that? How are these alike? If they are alike, then why did I bypass those trees over there? Intellectually understanding what we are not cutting helps us better understand our overall purview because it makes us think and feel with more breadth, and hold ourselves accountable. Nowadays, it is common to hear Do the Right Thing and Be Respectful as well as many other canned ethical mantras, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, an adaptable, informed morality (and ethics) involves actively comparing and contrasting what you choose to and not to engage, then judging your methods and motivations. Again, it is about understanding the breadth of how, why, and what comprises our attention. Yes, attention is superficial, though what we choose to keep ourselves attended toward are what we find of value. And if we find that the only things that keep our attention are 1) Those that are immediately in front of us, and 2) Those specifically of benefit to us, we are by default users, and will most likely find ourselves standing in front of that deforested field at some point in our lives.
How can I draw general arguments about life from the physical activity of chainsawing? Well, because chainsawing is an excellent microcosm for how we will act if we can immediately produce effects. In other words, in a few minutes we can fell a fifty-year old tree. In a matter of hours we can raze a field. So if we do not keep a clear perspective--both short-term and long-term--then we can affect or even destroy a whole lot, quickly. The question becomes: What is your personal chainsaw-perspective? If you had a tool that could so quickly and efficiently change the physical landscape according to your whim, what would you do? Yes, this question transcends the physical act of chainsawing and applies to our power-orientation with other people and natural objects. If you could change others right now, would you? If so, what would you change? Be honest, then judge yourself, because you cannot change your thoughts, beliefs and methods without candid self-judgment.
This is why the statement Every creature must kill to survive resonated so deeply within me. I knew exactly why we were cutting each tree we were cutting, why we were leaving the ones we were not, and why we were so diligently stacking the wood. We made informed, balanced choices. Plus, our cuts would allow the undergrowth to proliferate, as it had done so quickly after cutting sessions years-past. This undergrowth is never far from our purview, and actually quite often becomes the center of landscaping conversations due to it's impressive proliferation. The same goes with life: The easily bypassed things in our worlds will spring to life if we deliberately and prudently sculpt the things that occupy a more convenient and direct eye-line. We just need to operate with more breadth, or more objectively. (Once again, objective is nowhere close to sharing a meaning with robotic, regardless of how many people think so.)
No matter what course of action we take, if we are to survive, something must die to sustain us. It is up to us to understand and bring into proportion what dies and how extensively the wake of death we leave is, so that we may survive well, as may the nature that brought us into this world.
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