Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Does Knowing More REALLY Make You a Better Person?

I've recently developed a number of crises in my life. This is due to several things. First off I guess we could review the crises themselves. The two most important and pressing seem to be recycling and food. The third one that comes to mind is world problems. Now before you get all scared/defensive/eye-rolling on me and think, "Oh boy, here's another Earth-loving hippie who wants us all to eat tofu and lettuce so we can save the planet," just hold on. I'm really not going to preach. The problem here isn't necessarily the fact that meat is bad for the environment as well as our bodies or that only ~20% of America's waste is recycled while well over half of that waste is recyclable (ok, yes, that is the problem, but it's not MY problem, right here, right now, in this post). The current problem is more that I have no idea what to do about it.

If you've talked to me at any length you might know that I've self-diagnosed myself with what I call a "guilt complex." This complex allows me to feel terrible about all the bad things in the world and walk around with (again, what I call) "the weight of humanity on my shoulders." It's fun.


This guilt complex is a complicated one. It's not that I want to make everyone change every aspect of how they live just to pretend I can make the world a better place within my lifetime (I can't). It's more that I've decided that I want to do the most I can every day to minimize my negative impact on the world around me. Cue guilt. Everything we do, I've learned, has negative repercussions on this planet. Recycling is just as bad, at the end of the day, as not recycling. Most of what we eat is not only bad for our bodies (processed sugars, meat that takes 72 hours to process, dairy that your body reacts negatively to [because humans are naturally lactose intolerant]), but also bad for the environment, the animals, and the forests, crops, and fields. Driving increases our dependency on foreign oil and emits nasty ass shit into our atmosphere. The list goes on and on.

So how does this matter to me? Well, somehow I got blessed with the ability of really really wanting to solve all the problems that I can in this world. When I can't do that I'm left feeling lost, helpless, and -- that's right -- guilty. Painfully, crushingly, cringe-worthily guilty. It's gotten to the point where simply picking up a newspaper everyday on my way to class is a huge internal struggle, simply because I don't know what to do with it when I'm done reading. I'll go without eating for an entire day (or, like today, eat only vegan Potato Flyers and Pull'n'Peel Twizzlers over the span of 8 hours) because I can't decide what food choice would be best for both the environment and my health.* I really don't think people should live this way.

Following what was, for me, just another day of indecision, this evening I flipped on a show aired on CSNBC (or some such nonsense) titled Trash Inc: The Secret Life of Garbage. It followed the journey of garbage from the time it got put out at the curb until it landed in its final resting place; anywhere from the sides of streets to landfills to the ocean. What I learned from this show was basically that garbage is a huge problem. It's expensive, space-consuming, and damaging to wildlife. And not only here. They went to China and showed how much of a problem it's becoming over there as well. The end of the show was the worst, I think. The host walked around the shores of some of the bigger Hawaiian islands -- and by walked I mean trudged through acres of garbage that had washed up onto the beach. He talked about trash patches that are cropping up in the middle of the fucking ocean, just under the water where it can't be seen from helicopters or airplanes; basically big underwater islands of waste just out of our sight that fish mistake for habitats and food.

Again, the point isn't necessarily (at this point in time, in this particular post) to do anything about it. I'm more concerned with how it makes us live our lives inside our heads. The more I learn, the bigger struggle my day-to-day life is. Sometimes I think I would give anything to be able to walk around without a care in the world, buying and eating and throwing away whatever the hell I please without a 10-minute struggle on where it's going to go and what it's going to impact after I'm done with it. But the more I try to research and learn about what to do, the more I find out about how every action I make in my life just causes a giant shit show (how do people live with themselves??).

Which begs the question: does knowing more actually help you to be a better person? Is being "smarter" really for the best? Is "intelligent" really the way to be? If you know so much, how can you calmly and happily go about your daily business? And wouldn't it be better if you could just...not know anything at all and live a guilt-free existence?

What do you think, imaginary readers? Is ignorance bliss?

* It should be noted that because I live in the dorms on a college campus for the time being as a Resident Assistant my dietary options are extremely limited and difficult to make.

1 comment:

Adam said...

This is why we need to move to the forest. I know it's going to still have negative impacts on the environment, no matter where we live. At least living in the woods would force us to appreciate every single little thing about life, and we would realize yet again just how dependent on nature we are. I think the modern world desensitizes most people to that. Where does food come from? The grocery store, of course. Yes, we know it's really dead plants and animals prepared for our consumption, but we don't really have to see that. Out of sight, out of mind. Same thing with the garbage.

But what we really need? About five billion less people on the planet. Too bad there's nothing we can do about that eh?