Social Commentary

Divest AND Engage

March 2, 2018

The discussions surrounding the PolyMet Draft Permit to Mine have gotten me thinking about our personal roles as responsible Minnesota, American, and even Planetary Citizens. One of the most common arguments made by the pro-sulfide mining crowd suggests that opponents of sulfide mining are hypocrites, and should try to live their lives without everyday products that require copper – cell phones, electricity, televisions, automobiles, whatever, the list is endless. Of course, such arguments are themselves hypocritical, in that no one who supports sulfide mining in the St. Louis River watershed could live their own lives for any significant time without water.

My point here is not to try to win an argument that no one can win. Given that the very nature of modern life seems to me to be filled with everyday hypocrisies, I will cast no stones.  I will, however, point out that as members of a competitive, free market society we have been raised to want to succeed in that society.  This means that we tend to value the things that demonstrate our success – the new car, nice home, latest smart phone, big screen TV, outdoor toys & tools, etc., etc. — an equally endless list to that above.

Having been raised to value these symbols of success (we’ve even given them a lofty name, “The American Dream”) often means that we spent a good part of our youth enjoying and taking such amenities for granted, and much of our adult lives working to acquire them for ourselves.  Yes, we are deeply invested in this “modern living” thing from birth, and that makes it far more difficult to recognize our own hypocrisy and privilege, and to move to divest ourselves of our modern entrapments. We have been trained from birth to consume, and that is what we do.

Now, I’m not really an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and I don’t find the idea of the hermit lifestyle — or Paleolithic living — to my liking.  I just don’t have the tools to survive for long that way.  Nor do I find the idea of “take what I can for myself and let everyone else be damned” to be for me.  So, in this world, as someone who purports to care about a sustainable future for humanity, I will always be a hypocrite.

To recognize this about ourselves is to begin to own who we really are.  We don’t have to like it, we can desire very much to change it, but we can still “own” the truth about our personal hypocrisy, and our complicity in “how things are.”  If you’ve never gone there trust me, there’s plenty of cognitive dissonance to keep you awake at night, and I can’t tell you how to resolve that kind of internal war.

The hermit’s solution to this may be to divest himself of worldly goods and disengage from a self-destructive society.  A wealthy man may choose to engage himself in the accumulation of even greater wealth, convincing himself that his enterprise will employ and empower others to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, just as he believes himself to have done. For the common citizen, neither of these extremes is a realistic option.

Given my need to “own” my personal circumstances, I realize that I must continue to find ways to both DIVEST myself of a consumer culture that is destroying our nation and planet environmentally, politically, and spiritually, and at the same time ENGAGE myself in the welfare and greater good of those around me.  No, my life does not represent a better world, but I refuse to let that stop me from trying to build one.

So, whether you see me driving my built-in-Indiana Subaru to work so I can pay for my stuff, or to the polling place to cast my vote, please know that I am just like you, filled with a bunch of contradictions that still need to be resolved, and that my only plan to do this is to DIVEST AND ENGAGE.

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