Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Signposts to Sanity

An occasional feature where your lovin' Granny points you at other people's good stuff.

As I've been slowly recovering from four years of health problems, I've begun to notice that my apartment has become cluttered. Having barely enough energy to work and wash dishes for a number of years has resulted in things being taken out of where ever they live and left out and of new things coming into the apartment and never being put away. Books, mostly. I won't put a book on the shelf until I've added it to my catalog (gotta be able to find it, and if it's non-fiction that means what category I listed it under and now that I'm getting older I forget the exact title of new books and more often than not, the actual name of the author. Rather than search every non-fiction book in the place, which would involve climbing on the ladder and kneeling on the floor in several places, how much easier to sit at my computer and read a list that tells me where it is!). So, boxes of books cover the once spotless surface of my upstairs work table. Also, some things come in and I need to make some changes to accommodate them. Richard and Kathy gave me a George Forman grill for Christmas and in order to put it where it will be convenient to use, I need to move the microwave and all of the other things on my counters, and I haven't had the energy and then Mama and Aunt Flo sent me birthday money and I arranged to hire a young woman to come in and do all that sort of thing while I directed her and then she was served with a restraining order that doesn't allow her to come back to this building and so . . . So, what with all that and the urgent need to get some clothes that I'm not wearing any longer out of my closet and to the Goodwill while they are still fashionable enough to do someone else any good, I've been inundated with stuff. I've lived in this apartment for over 12 years now, and the stuff piles up. The herbal cures for my sinuses that didn't work. The extra parts to items I no longer own. The three styles of flosser that didn't work and have been replaced with the one that does. The pills that have long lost their potency. All that sort of thing. Normally I would re-read Thoreau and get to it. Now I have to find another young person who I can hire to be my hands and back.

All of that has made me very thinky about material stuff and how much a person needs to live a good life as opposed to how much I've just stockpiled in case I live to be 347. And wondering how much of the landfill I'll cover with the stuff that I can't in good conscience dump on the Goodwill. All that. All that values and materialism and character stuff.

Although the workweek in Juneau is only 37.5 hours, I'm also thinking that I would like to work less. I wouldn't be able to buy as much stuff, but part of my problem is too much stuff and not enough time to put it away. I will need to work for at least another ten years before I can retire, but do I want to be working 37.5 hours when I'm 75? But, at these wages, if I choose to work less, could I ever afford to retire?

All of this contemplating made me open to Why Working Less Is Better For The Globe by Dara Colwell on Alternet.org.
Americans work more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world. According to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, we work 250 hours, or five weeks, more than the Brits, and a whopping 500 hours, or 12 and a half weeks, more than the Germans. So how does ecological damage figure in to the 40-plus workweek?

Do the math: Longer hours plus labor-saving technology equals ever-increasing productivity. Without high annual growth to match productivity, there's unemployment. Maintaining growth means using more energy and resources, both in manpower and raw materials, which results in increased waste and pollution.
When people work longer hours, they rely increasingly on convenience items such as fast food, disposable diapers, or bottled water. Built-in obsolescence has become standard business practice -- just throw it away and make more -- leaving mountainous landfills in its wake.
The interesting thing about Mistakes Were Made . . . But Not By George Bush by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson on CommonDreams.org, to me is that whether you agree that Bush practices self-justification or not, you can see how the mechanism works and understand its relevance.
When the fundamental belief that we are smart, moral, and kind crashes into the accusation that we did something stupid, immoral, or hurtful, we have major cognitive dissonance to resolve. Did I just commit an unethical act? I’m a good person; therefore my action was trivial, didn’t hurt anyone, and besides everyone does it. Did I make a decision that proved disastrously wrong? I’m a smart person; therefore that decision has to be right, even if it will take a few decades to prove it. In this way, the brain sees to it that the very need to maintain the belief that we are kind, smart, and moral can keep us stuck in a course of action that is cruel, stupid, or immoral.
The greatest problems that I have ever created for myself were instances of self-justification. The inability to face the fact that I do have a dark side and not everything I do is good just because it is me who is doing it. Thoreau yet again.

And finally, I have always loved the conversation between Thoreau and Emerson, where Emerson, upon finding Thoreau in jail for refusing to pay taxes to support war, asks, "Henry, what are you doing in there?" and Thoreau responds by asking what Emerson is doing "out there." So, finding What Happened To 'Fill The Jails'? by Sean Gonsalves was like a Thoreau tri-fecta.
When even Lee Iacocca is writing: “Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind….but instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course.’ Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic” - you know it’s “fill-the-jails” time, to borrow from Gandhi’s tactical playbook.
King was talking about gumming up the gears of the system - fill the jails - to the point of gridlock. That - or the very real threat of that - is what brought progressive victories and is the reason why King was such a powerful and dangerous man in the eyes of his opponents.
The way I see it: those who fear real change have nothing to fear and far too many of those who desire real change are expecting a chicken to produce a duck egg.
How can it be that one quiet philosopher can hold answers to everything from clutter to social justice via the examined life? I don't know, but I do know that having declared him a role model early in my life has made my life both easier and harder. Easier because he so often points out the correct path. Harder because that is never the easier path.


Anvilcloud said...

I understand that some people have to keep working for financial reasons. Others keep at it because they have no idea what they would do with their time. That boggles my mind. Good luck in doing what you have to do though.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I also am very tired of the clutter. Having our house ready to sell, and much clutter out of the way...now that's a beautiful thing.

How is it that we talk on the phone, and I didn't hear about the restraining order? The things we don't talk about are amazing. ;)

Ron Southern said...

I can't stand it, you're so good! Your clutter of posts is wonderful.