Enlightened Self Interest

On facebook a couple of days ago, a friend protested against the notion of ‘doing your bit’ because it implies that small actions are enough. If you recycle your rubbish buy fair trade coffee and don’t drive everywhere, you are ‘doing your bit’, right? Small actions help when it comes to not damaging the planet, but they are not going to be enough. There are a lot of people in this world, with more anticipated. We have finite resources, pollution, climate change and who knows what to face in the future.

Sometimes it feels like the bit of domesticated recycling and remembering to turn off the lights is akin to neatly arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic whilst steadfastly refusing to acknowledge there’s an iceberg.

The trouble is, that for most of us in the western world, life is quite comfortable, and we’ve no collective desire to give any of that up. We want our cars, gadgets, central heating, foreign holidays, flat screen televisions. The world is not going to end because I’ve bought a new mobile phone, is it? And everyone else is doing it, so why should I be the one to go without? It won’t make any difference anyway. Someone else will fix it – governments, scientists, big business. If we all carry on thinking like that, we are, as a species, going to kill ourselves. Most of us know perfectly well that our current ways of living aren’t viable or sustainable, and even ‘doing your bit’ is not really doing enough.

We guard our ignorance, because it keeps us comfortable. The things we refuse to know, do not hurt us. If we can maintain that not knowing, we don’t have to feel responsible, and then feel the despair and horror that comes from how little power we have to fix all the wrongs in the world. We are bombarded continually with adverts and lifestyle messages about how we should be seeking our own pleasure, comfort and happiness above all else. ‘Because I’m worth it.’ We can only really do that by tuning out all the things that don’t fit. By not thinking about the numbers of animals on the endangered list, or the appalling working conditions in developing countries. Try not to think about how poverty kills children and all those abuses of basic human rights happening in the world right now. Don’t think about how your food got to your fridge, or who made your clothing. Don’t look at pictures of birds dying in oil, and especially don’t think about how human greed for that oil underpins the disaster happening off the American coast.

Are you still feeling comfortable?

The hardest thing here, is to give up the comfort of wilful ignorance, without then succumbing to total despair. Today, I am not asking you to change the world. I am however, asking you to sit down and take a good hard look at your lifestyle, and all those things you ‘must have’ and ‘can’t do without’, all those things you ‘need’, and ask, really, seriously ask yourself if that’s true. How much of your life is built around ease, comfort and convenience as opposed to any kind of sense of responsibility?  Sure, we all want to be comfortable, but we do not have the right to do that at a cost to every other living thing on this planet. We do not have the right to steal from the future and condemn those who follow us to survive in the mess we selfishly create.  

I’m going to have a hard look at my own life over the next few days, and see what I can come up with. I’ve been doing this for years, picking a thing I think I can improve on, working on it, looking for the next thing. It’s a manageable way of progressing. I’ll blog more about that process.

(Added later – I did indeed do that and the blog post is here – https://thepaganandthepen.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/luxuries/)

10 thoughts on “Enlightened Self Interest”

  1. I sometimes wish this was Tumblr so I could hit the Reblog button. This is yet another posting that needs a wide audience.


    1. You can Bocan. If you are a registered WordPress user, they now have that feature at the top of the page (when signed in) just click on the article you are reading to bring it up on its own page. At the top of the screen you will see a star and LIKE. Click ON IT and a drop down menu shows up—reblog. Click on Reblog and you can reblog it anywhere.


    2. Gave it a try but that only seems to work if you blog *on* WordPress. My blogs are both self-hosted wordpress. I ended up reblogging the old-fashioned way. 😀


    3. What Browser do you use Bocan? I use Firefox and they have a Blog THIS add on (Plug ins) that I can use absolutely anywhere. I think you can make it so its on your browser tools or you can do like me, right click on an article and choose Blog This. Now I use it to blog from wordpress to my blogger account, or from a news site like CNN to post on my wordpress or blogger.


  2. Thank you Brynneth. You restarted my mental and spiritual engines. As part of my personal practice of Stoicism, I need to re-examine what it means to lead a simple life, one that is ‘in accord with nature.’ Thanks for being my conscience on this day.,


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