Friday, October 31, 2008

green. relativism. muddle . . .

The other day, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about “eco-bullying” – i.e. people at work who make other people feel bad for photocopying single-sided or throwing recyclables in the garbage. And, of course, I did what I do against my better judgement whenever I read something in the Globe online that I don’t agree with – I read the comments. And, of course, the comments reaffirmed that I am actually a freak who is way off the mainstream. Because I THINK IT’S OK to make people feel bad for being environmentally irresponsible – and was shocked by the self-righteous attitude of the people who feel it is their right to be wasteful.

As I was processing this, my first thought was that I would write a blog basically explaining why we SHOULD be going out of our way to carry our pop cans down the hall to the recycle bin. But as I am thinking about it, a more interesting issue comes to mind – why are some people (particularly those from a similar cultural and socio-economic background to myself) not concerned about waste, while it strikes me as fundamentally wrong?

And, I guess, since I do believe that it’s important not to waste, the next issue that comes to mind is – how do you bring someone with a different value system alongside your point of view? Judging from the invective in the article in the Globe, nagging doesn’t work – it just makes people resentful. So what does work? I guess leading by example is the least obnoxious method – but is it really effective? And then to give some credit to the ranters in the Globe – should I even be trying to change people’s behaviour? I think I should, because I believe my perspective is right. But I would be annoyed if someone, for example, tried to make me wear skirts all the time, because it’s their idea of what is right for women . . . . and is this any different? Relativism always seems a bit too convenient, but absolute right and wrong is hard too.

More questions than answers today, folks . . . .


Ryan said...

Yes, this is what I struggle with a lot. If I truly believe in my convictions, why do I back off as to not appear judgmental?

The church is a particularly irksome one for me. It's much more acceptable in secular life to "live and let live" in a way because people don't necessarily share your value system. But it's the worst when people who DO share your value system don't seem to care. I got a lot of flack for an anti-Afghan war statement I made at a committee meeting. I should have just said "in Christian teaching, illegal, aggressive and destructive behavior is prohibited." End of discussion. These--I wouldn't call them absolutes, but maybe 'core convictions'--are in the tradition and it seems more dangerous to me to allow relativism free reign than making a stand. Even if it ends up being the wrong one in the end.

el Maggie said...

I totally know what you mean. When you are coming from the same point of reference/moral framework, but end up with different conclusions, it's particularly hard to know how to respond to someone.

Simone said...

I have this theory that we react the most strongly to those critisisms that hit closest to home. i.e. in areas where we KNOW we are not quite in the right but that we have justified somehow in our minds as having some higher ground. For example. If you catch me throwing fine paper into the garbage rather than recycling and you call me on it. I feel guilty so I lash back at you. In that case I know that you are right and deep inside I'm guilty. I find that those that try to justify the loudest why they don't change are those who have the flimisiest reasons. Maybe we just have to keep working to make it so easy to do these things that the lowest common denominator will do it. paper recycling in every office. can and bottle recycling in every lunch room (or whatever you have equivalent).

I recognize your struggle with relativism though. You can KNOW that you're right about this but there's something else that someone else knows is "right" as well that you'll never disagee with. I admit that I can't think of any good reasons not to recycle in an office environment and that people who don't are just lazy, and that people should care about waste... and keep leading by example. it's painful, but maybe it would get somewhere someday.

Also, I wonder if something like "why aren't you recycling that can?" would work better than "You BAD MAN! RECYCLE THAT CAN LAZY LAZY LAZY!!" I'm not sure but I'd be curious to know what answer people would give.

OK this is a bit of a ramble so I'll stop now.

Colin Toffelmire said...

Maybe it's better to talk about pluralism than relativism. At the end of the day there are very few real relativists out there. As you suggest, in order to really believe that all statements are relative you have to be able to accept that you can never condemn anyone for anything without being hypocritical (though as hypocrisy would also be relative perhaps this isn't a problem ;) ).

If you're thinking in terms of pluralism, however, I think the nature of the conversation changes somewhat. In a pluralist society I can express my opinion, and you can disagree with me, and then we talk (or fight) about it. What differenciates this from the evils of all brands of totalitarianism is that you can't kill me or send me to jail because I disagree with you. Obviously there are nuances here, but that's the jist.

So if you're going to be an environmentalist in a pluralist culture I think that it is your responsibility to try to get your co-workers to be more responsible. Then it's just a matter of finding the most effective way to accomplish this. Nagging is out, of course. Do you find that naggers often change your mind? Me neither. Probably a different tack is needed with each person. You need to be flexible, to duck and weave.

The idea that not offending is the goal is simply ridiculous. That's just tyranny all over again, but of a social sort.