Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Challenge of Conviction

"It's hard to have conviction in a relativistic culture."

That phrase has been rattling around in my head for the past several weeks.  It started at the end of May when I read this very frank, very jarring opinion column about gun violence and gun control, "There is no catastrophe so ghastly that America will reform its gun law," by Tim Kreider. At one point he wrote:
If gun laws are ever going to change in this country, it'll have to be because people like me, people who care except not quite enough, quit their bitter impotent griping and actually do something about it. We care in the way that carnivores care about the screaming in slaughterhouses or that pro-war voters care about families accidentally blown apart in Iraq. Which is to say, sorta — just not enough to change our minds or habits or do anything hard or inconvenient.  (Italics mine)
 "We care in the way that carnivores care about the screaming in slaughterhouses ... which is to say, sorta -- just not enough to change our minds or habits or do anything hard or inconvenient."

I've seen Food, Inc., King Corn, Hungry for Change, Dirt!, and a host of other films that quite convincingly show the dangers and the devastation of the standard American diet (which is "SAD" indeed).  There is no doubt that the way the dominant culture encourages us to eat, and the way so many of us have become addicted to eating, is not only unhealthy for our own body systems but also for the planetary system we are a part of.  The link between the choices individuals make around eating and issues of social justice and ecological degradation is undeniable.  Whether you've decided to adopt a diet that's vegetarian, vegan, nutritarian, flexitarian, paleo, or something else, it seems clear to me that we can all agree that the way the majority of us have been taught to eat, and are encouraged to eat, is fundamentally and essentially unhealthy for everyone and everything concerned -- except the bottom line of the food industry.  It's one of the reasons that the Unitarian Universalist Association has an initiative concerning Ethical Eating.

So ... I know all of this.  And I care.  I do care about the environmental and economic devastation that is directly linked to the way -- and I'll get personal here -- the way I eat.  I care about animals, and I care about our waterways, and I care about the way antibiotics are such a part of our diet now that the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria is exacerbated, and I care about the nutritional gap that mirrors the income and education gap, and I care about the epidemic of obesity and the lowering of life expectancies, and I care about the possible unimagined consequences of genetically modified crops ...   I care about all of this, but if I'm honest I care about it ... sorta -- just not enough to change my mind or my habits or do anything hard or inconvenient.

So I've been thinking about all of this for a while now, and I keep coming back to that phrase:  "It's hard to have conviction in a relativistic culture."

It's easy for folks who see the world in "black & white" to do the hard and inconvenient thing.  Something is right or it is wrong, and if it's wrong it's wrong.  But when you see the world in shades of grey -- or, even more, in technicolor -- then it's not so easy. There's a line in that great Buffalo Springfield song, "For What It's Worth" -- "nobody's right if everybody's wrong."  The reverse is true, of course, too -- if nobody's wrong, then everybody's right.  And when everybody's right -- or, at least, potentially right or right "in a certain sense" -- then it's awfully hard to get motivated to do the hard and inconvenient thing.

Now I'm not saying that "black & white" thinkers can easily do those hard and inconvenient things.  (Okay.  I did say that, but I really meant that it's relatively easier ...)  And I'm not saying that it's impossible for us technicolor dreamers to do the right thing.  I'm just saying that it's a challenge.

And maybe this is just me trying to justify laziness.  That's certainly a possibility.  Yet I do think that there's something in the liberal penchant for trying to see the value in every position that makes it hard for us to take a stand against any of them.  I mean, really take a stand ... to do the hard and inconvenient thing.

This month, while I'm taking both vacation and study leave, I am going to try to change my eating habits to bring them more in line with my values.  See what I did there?  The way I defaulted to the safety of qualifiers?  "I'm going to try to change my eating habits to bring them more in line with my values"  Why not just say it with a strong declarative --  "I'm gong to change my eating habits to bring them in line with my values."  Of course, if I say it so declaratively, I might let myself down ... or let someone else down.

Because this is going to be hard.  I am physically, psychologically, and emotionally addicted to SAD.  I am culturally conditioned to default to convenience rather than conviction.  Virtually everything around me is arrayed to get me to fail and give up.  So it's possible that I will.  Yet I definitely will if I don't try.  Perhaps you might consider joining me?

Pax tecum,


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Lynn said...

Yes, it's hard to change one's eating habits. I don't think it has much to do with seeing all sides of an issue. I think it has to do with 30 or 40 or 60 years of eating that's been heavily influenced by culture, taste buds, and corporate strategy. What's the "other side" to chocolate tastes better than broccoli? I'm feeding a baby these days, and her "veggies" are in combos like pear/zucchini/mango. Start 'em young! It's also hard to be the only one on a path. How ethically can you eat if you go out to eat with a friend? The path you've been on is the easiest (almost by definition!) to continue with. It didn't kill you yesterday, and it's not likely to tomorrow, so why worry about what could happen (what will almost surely happen) "eventually"? Again, there's no challenge to conviction here, it's lack of incentives for doing the unequivocally right thing in the moment. Doesn't make it any easier, but one less thing to hide behind, maybe?

Amy said...

It helps to have a partner in the journey, someone with whom you can mutually practice accountability to your shared set of values. And so much of it is preparation, as anyone who ever has tried to lose weight knows (the old "failing to prepare is preparing to fail" - and when we say "preparation," we're talking about FOOD preparation - cooked grains and beans and washed salad greens in the fridge, carrots peeled and cut into sticks, no crap-food in the house to fall back on, etc., etc., etc. - not that words like fail are particularly helpful). But then you're also talking to the person who said to herself today, "Don't eat that pie this afternoon - you have an endowment meeting tonight and when you come home you will want to drown your feelings in pie, so save it for later." Nope, no food-as-crutch issues here!

Amy said...

By the way, not suggesting your post is about weight in particular, but avoiding the SAD is the exactly the same kind of intense food-prep.