Recently there was a link on Insty about a mother who raised her son to be a fanatical environmentalist. She said she was following the Jewish precept of teaching your children to “heal the world.”
Of course, having raised the kid to think the world is “infected” and “dying” and that humans are the cause, she’s then shocked he’s absolutely impossible to live with, and that she’s relieved to have him move out.
I find the concept of “saving the world” as she interpreted it and as my teachers (mostly hard left) taught us an interesting piece of hubris.
Look, it’s sort of like all those early science fiction novels, in which some government or other took over the whole Earth and this worked out, no problems.
It is almost by definition an adolescent idea. You know just enough about the world, to not know what you don’t know, so that you think you can right all wrongs.
It also exaggerates your importance, and the importance of your group or class in it. Let’s suppose I went ultra enviro (well, you know, I could get shot and lose a large portion of my brain) and decided that I must live the absolutely most sustainable lifestyle possible. No paper, no disposables, minimal electrical, no driving, etc.
Oh, h*ll, let’s suppose a couple of million of us decided to live like that. (No, I don’t think it could be more. That type of lifestyle depends on a large and technological society to support it. It’s impossible to be that environmentally conscious while trying to survive (trust me — most of the damage done to the Earth in terms of local climates etc is done by people who really can’t afford not to do it. For instance, in Portugal our garbage collection was so unreliable, that we burned everything. Also you burn forests to create semi-arable fields. Your inability to replenish those fields means you must keep burning, etc, world without end) and it’s impossible to live even a semi-civilized life unless your exigencies and pieties are supported by the greater society. For one “organic” agriculture is a great piece of inefficiency and the only way to get enough organic produce anywhere is to fly them, you know, on those fossil-fuel powered planes.
Anyway, so let’s supposed you managed to get 2 million people to really do this, instead of, say, pretending to do it and putting pious stickers on their prius.
Would these two million people make a dent on pollution, the use of artificial products, landfills, etc? Not even. Two million amid six billion (or whatever they claim the population of the world is now. As you guys know I have my doubts that their count is anywhere near reality, but even assuming they’re wildly wrong and it’s 5 billion or even 4: what difference would the worshippers of Gaia living the life of austere monks make?)
Of course, I suspect the idea is to convert others: but that not only is psychologically impossible, it’s physically impossible. If the whole world went that crazy, billions would die, and most people aren’t going to sign up for suicide to cater to the illusions of the American left.
I read that and I thought that the mother would have done better to teach her son traditional Jewish practices, instead of the fashionable beliefs of his time. For one because environmentalism is essentially anti-human, so of course it made him very unpleasant for other humans to live with. For another because environmentalism is a de-facto impossible to practice, unsustainable religion.
BUT this led me to think about raising our kids to heal the world — or save the world — or whatever.
I’m not a scholar of Jewish law (Duh) and therefore cannot possibly say whether she even translated the idea right, but it seems to me that she interpreted it wrong, regardless of how she translated it.
I said above the whole idea of “I’m going to save the world” is a piece of hubris. It is also an immature idea. Sometime around 20 we get the feeling for how big the world really is, and also come to understand other people also have a vote.
This is when we realize that yes it is an obligation for humans (who wish to live as humans) to try to make things better for those around them and those who depend on them. But most of the time this is not big movements and certainly not “save the world” poses.
Most of the time, except for those very few who ascend to positions of great power where they can make the world immeasurably better or worse, what the rest of us do is at best the little things.
This doesn’t make us insignificant. Yeah, whether you buy a plastic bottle of water or not is insignificant. Those are showy gestures. But whether you study how to make a new type of plastic with fewer effects on water, say, is NOT. Even if you don’t accomplish it, someone might take your research and run with it. So, if you’re really worried about the environment, that small gesture, which doesn’t allow you to hound your mother for using a plastic bottle in front of your friend, is the way to go. Not as much fun (come on, being an ascetic for belief is great fun to a certain type of mind) and doesn’t give you as many chances to berate others, but in the end will have a heck of a lot more effect in the world.
Most of us who care to live ethically and who are adults, try to make our mark in those ways. Help those who need help, wipe the snot from the un-mothered children thrown into the world, keep the undisciplined toddlers (particularly those older than us) from destroying things and creating what we can that will continue our work into the future.
I don’t know if it makes us more pleasant to live with, though even my parents were NOT looking forward to my moving away, and my kids departures are proving to be a bit of wrench.
But it does, in a little measure, heal the world. Or at least make it better (if we succeed) for those who come after us. Even if just a little bit.
Saving the world? Bah, what kind of a bank would you need for that deposit? And what interest rate would it pay?
We’re not that big. And there are a lot more people who get their own say, out there.
We’re not teens posing in superhero flight-mode atop the bed.
We’re adults, and therefore we accept the burden of doing the little things. And that sometimes we’ll fail.
We also accept the most that we do — the kind word, the helping others achieve their goals, the cleaning up of a small space, the fixing of a small problem — are at best pebbles dropped in a vast ocean.
BUT you know pebbles have ripples and those small gestures, which respect others as human beings, will create other small gestures, and eventually things change. Not all of a sudden, not in a big way, not with you getting all the credit.
They do however change, and often for the better (unless you think the living conditions of the nineteenth century were better, in which case I wash my hands of you.)
Go forth and toss some pebbles into the ocean today.