Life goes one of two ways:
On, and circling the drain. Or on, and remaining active and truly alive.
The first, worse, is easy and comes naturally. It also has a lot of support from modern capitalist consumer culture and its focus on staying comfortable, having things be convenient, and remaining a consumer handing over power. Forget about the future.
The latter, better, takes more energy, will also end with death, but will put more life into its time. Not just consuming but creating, not just existing but being active, learning, aging well, making oneself at home in this world. It isn’t necessarily easy and comfortable, but it is better. In many a way, and in ways that can work in synergy.
When we want to change our lives to better, we make resolutions to change. Then, we promptly break them because we wanted to achieve too much through too little (and yet, too great a) change. We forget to make them fit right into our lives.
Similarly, we seek to help people, conserve species, even save the planet, through various solutions. Promptly, these supposed solutions cause yet more problems because they try to solve challenges in isolation, fall for the obvious and easy, forgetting about the ways they fit into the world.
The Problem-Solver’s Problems
Now, we humans are problem-solvers.
The social dynamics of who did what with and to whom and therefore deserves trust or needs to be closely observed for signs of betrayal are one big puzzle which may have contributed to the very evolution of our species (or at least, the growth of our brains). How to create better tools to be able to do more things better, how to make a livelihood in different environments and different circumstances – they are all problems the solving of which has defined us and made us such a successful species.
Unfortunately, these problems were typically short term. There is talk about the thinking to the seventh generation among some native peoples. Some traditional societies did have pretty decent management schemes for agriculture in places that had long been inhabited. Some civilizations did “choose to … succeed“…
We didn’t typically do anything much like that, though. When things turned bad, we just found new places or new resources. We are still doing that.
With the problems we’re increasingly facing, we’re in a new situation, though. It’s the anthropocene, our influence is felt on the entire Earth, and our going on as we have done is unraveling the very foundations of (our) life on Earth. But, we are so caught up in how we have been thinking and acting, we are not even willing to accept that things are different.
We are unsure sometimes, and we are being kept unsure at other times, of whether the problems are even as pressing as some fear. It’s the whole litany of how neither Malthus’ prediction nor The Limits to Growth have materialized so far, and therefore all the ecologists’ concerns are supposedly disproven.
The concerns are still strong, the problems only become more pressing the more our impact and our numbers rise, and worse still the longer we fail to change – but we seem trapped.
Even while it is argued that innovation will save us, the innovativeness we see is just more of the same. The same kind of thinking that we have been following, that let’s us hope that things will work out well because they haven’t yet gone to hell.
Habits and Synergies
In the same vein, we look at our own involvement in the world, and only see small problems and negligible impact, but no way to contribute in significant ways, let alone ways that contribute to our own well-being. So, we need to make a living and live sensibly, but mainly just look for ways to make money.
It’s these habits that even make it difficult, by now, to suggest alternatives, so used have we become to putting forth critiques and seeing the saccharine and impossible in anything that tries to be hopeful and positive. Why bother when we aren’t too sure it will be better for us – and we can’t even talk about it nearly as easily as we can talk about money and GDP.
Time to change that.
We can also, after all, learn to try and work ecologically. Not in some wishy-washy positive-thinking “eco” way, but thinking and working like the ecological systems we are, and are parts of.
We know that there’s more to life and that there’s a need for better ways, and we know enough to try and do better. Looking to ecological relations and looking for synergies and “multiply-desirable” approaches offers great opportunities.
In the area of many an economic good, it is an approach that would help. We keep looking at nothing but the costs and the profit of any and all approaches, typically in terms of nothing but money, but we need to look at more. In agriculture, for example, looking only at output and income generated from it blinds us to the inefficiencies of intensive industrial agriculture and the unsustainability of this fossil-fuel dependent monocultural system. Seeking the synergies, on the other hand, helps to understand the ways agriculture is about growing food and doing so in ways that fit with healthy diets and with ecosystems, making it possible to do it sustainably, even co-creatively working towards greater ecological diversity and functioning.
Focusing on shaping better ways of (making a) living, having and making enough and consuming what’s enough and of lasting good impact helps get out from under the deluge of too much stuff and too much stress desperately trying to get the latest must-have. It helps turn emergency into entrepreneurship and perhaps even luxury – and if it just helps manage, it still helps manage better.
How can we live synergies?
First, we need to learn about the interactions. If you don’t know how things go together, you’ll just get caught up in the simple – and wrong – ‘answers’ constantly peddled. Knowing synergies, you can use them.
Secondly, find your leverage point. The most positive of synergies won’t help if you don’t (want to) live them. So, find an issue among them which is important to you.
Start here, with one concrete issue, and go from there.
This could be more physical activity (taking stairs as cue to take the stairs, working at the computer while standing) or better nutrition (going for real food, not processed convenience junk) or active growth/learning (attaining new skills rather than falling for the promise inherent in new products).
Live it; create a cue and make a habit of living the leverage point for synergies; set aside a time when this is what you do.
Start with simple things such as self-definitions that make for change that will exert an influence. If you define yourself as paleo or a real-food eating vegetarian, for example, you will go for the produce aisle rather than the convenience one. You will still have to learn how to handle the ‘inconvenience’ inherent in cooking and changing to snack on nuts and fruit rather than chips and candy, but it will make buying choices much easier.
With real food like that, you will get to more awareness of your diet, better health, and the added bonus of reduced environmental impact. If it should get you to learn more cooking or start growing some of your own food, you may well acquire yet further skills that will have further impact on getting you to more active and aware living…