So among my friends and family, I think I’ve sort of become The Person That Knows A Lot About Environmentalism and Climate Change and Peak Oil. Which isn’t to say I haven’t earned it – I do spend an inordinate amount of time staying on top of the science, the politics and history of political movements, technology, sociology, history, and the world of “green” whatever. My zero-waste antics are interpreted as endearing by many (though my vegetarianism, on the other hand, is a burden), and I’ve even gotten a new nickname among some of the cousins: Greenpeace.
I can live with this. (And c’mon, Greenpeace is a hilarious nickname.)
But something I’ve started to notice in the past year is that people come to me not just as a source of information, but as a kind of guru anymore. It’s hard to describe. It’s more than just that people see me as a kind of authority to impress, but rather that I’m like… some kind of manifestation of their own guilt and that I need to be appeased.
Case in point: Earlier today I had a very good friend of mine link me to a website called Be An Un-Fucker. It rehashes the most basic – and I mean basic – eco-friendly tips known to the Western world. Take shorter showers! Use your own grocery bags! Sort your recyclables! Bring your own lunch to work! Buy second-hand!
Oh no, I thought to myself. It’s going to be one of those conversations, isn’t it?
I have a problem with that kind of mentality, if you didn’t realize this already. Consumer-based solutions for a consumption problem? Yeah, good luck with that. It’s like trying to avoid lung cancer by switching the brand of cigarettes you smoke.
And so, I get bombarded with recommendations for links and organizations and websites every so often from well-meaning folk who want me to validate their idea of Right Action (to borrow a concept that gets used a lot in polytheist theology) without putting in the work of understanding the larger picture themselves. And they often go the way that my interaction did today. Someone I know will come to me with a pet theory, a bit of techno-optimistism grounded in little more than the wet dreams of corporate fat cats looking for the next financial bubble to inflate, a bit of scientific speculation of ill-repute, or a new miracle-product (or brand, or…), and invariably want my opinion on it. Oftentimes the question will be implied, or couched in sneakier rhetoric, but the desired outcome is almost always the same:
This thing I’m telling you about will do the trick, won’t it?
And my answer – at least the one in my head – is almost guaranteed to be no, no it won’t.
In a post from earlier this month at The Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer summarizes some of my feelings pretty accurately:
The point that nearly everyone in the debate is trying to evade is that the collection of extravagant energy-wasting habits that pass for a normal middle class lifestyle these days is, in James Howard Kunstler’s useful phrase, an arrangement without a future. Those habits only became possible in the first place because our species broke into the planet’s supply of stored carbon and burnt through half a billion years of fossil sunlight in a wild three-century-long joyride. Now the needle on the gas gauge is moving inexorably toward that threatening letter E, and the joyride is over. It really is as simple as that.
But I can’t actually say no, as it turns out.
When I start stating facts and figures, using big words, and referencing history, one of two things tends to happen: I get called a nihilist (which I am to a great extent), or I am completely ignored. Not even figuratively ignored; literally ignored. My words go in one ear and out the other. Other times, if I’m lucky, I’ll wind up in a philosophical argument about what “help” even means in the context of “but at least it’ll help, right?”, like the time that a creative friend of mine told me that he believed that better depictions of a collapsing biosphere in mass media would “help”, the idea of which I emphatically rejected. (Talking trash about consumer culture and industrial society is diametrically opposed to what mass media is all about.)
And then these discussions will always end one of two ways too: the person in question (the petitioner) will either walk away having ignored half of what I said, or personal incredulity would create in them a sense of having been wronged by me and then I become a bad guy. Accepting what I’ve said at something resembling face value happens so rarely that it honestly catches me by surprise every time it happens.
I’m having to learn to shut these conversations down more and more, because I’m discovering that nobody wants to understand what I’m saying – they don’t want to understand the science, the history, or what’s required of them in order for us to have a future – they simply want to win. Win me over, win a debate with me, what have you, they want validation from me and I’m not going to give it.
And that makes them mad.
I don’t really know what to do about these awkward interactions. I predict they’re only going to happen with greater frequency as the years go by, as things get worse, and as people get more and more desperate to cling to the status quo of middle-class American life despite the writing on the wall. Folks are already interpreting me as some kind of moralistic whatever – despite the fact that I have no answers – and viewing my understanding as little more than subjective opinion will continue to make me easy to dismiss.
I think I need to do a couple of things: 1. start avoiding these conversations altogether. Dodge, change the subject, feign ignorance or apathy, whatever it takes. If someone wants to seriously engage the subject, they’ll do it on their own. And 2. learn to de-escalate when I’ve mistakenly assumed someone wants to learn but actually just wants to show off. Especially if this is a person I otherwise like.
Any of you guys have this issue? How have you dealt with it?