* this is my favourite line from a pretend-old-lady. EVER.
I’ve got in a right load of argy-bargy this week over stuff and a lot of it boils down to the same one thing: what we do has an effect on everything on the planet. The second thing is you can present people with as much evidence as you like to support your argument and if they won’t believe it, they won’t believe it.
I think, in essence, I’ve become an individualist. What we do as an individual has repercussions and consequences, good or bad. The choices we make on a minute-by-minute basis affect other lives. However, I’m also of the belief that we are all part of one big organism: the world – and that organism is part of other, further organisms.
Imagine it this way. Some of us are just cells in a body doing our own thing. We are part of a liver or a kidney and we just fit in and do our jobs. Sometimes the organism we’re part of does shit things to us, like a man who drinks a bottle of vodka every day. I guess the Libyans feel a bit like that right now. Sometimes, the organism is super-healthy and super-effective, like Finland or any of the other Nordic countries that top the world leagues on everything. Conservative Socialism at its best. You pay a lot of taxes and the state looks after you.
Sometimes, you can be a tiny cell in a healthy body and you can cause all kinds of damage and mayhem. Anders Brievik is such a cell. He destroyed the other cells around him and spread a little illness among them. Luckily, Norway is healthy enough to cut out that cancer and deal with it and continue to grow and be healthy, hoping Brievik’s ideas don’t spread like a disease.
Some of these cells fight against each other, like a huge immune system reaction. Only time will tell whether the good cells or the bad cells will win.
We are both significant and insignificant as cells. We can be cancerous or we can be extremely beneficial. We can just play our part in the universe. We are minuscule. Our bodies themselves are made up of 10 trillion cells. But it only takes one to go bad and infect another and before you know it, if you don’t have enough good guys fighting back, you’re dead. It’s an example to me of how the tiny can bring down the mighty.
Sometimes, no matter what our head knows is good or bad, our cells rebel. Whatever it is that causes cravings and addictions or habits – whatever those little neural pathways are that drive us to do things we know aren’t good – they happen at a micro-level as well as a universal level. No matter what our logical neo-cortex might tell us, our lovely little amygdala stops that information getting through to our primitive little reptilian brain and boom, we’re smoking a cigarette or driving when we meant to walk, or bitching about someone, or any of the other nasty habits we have as people. We have a whole festival about this – how many people on New Year’s Day make resolutions? Some thoughts trying to overcome some actions. People are like that too.
But most of us just can’t do good all the time, not even if we try hard. Most of us are governed by habits and behaviours and blinkered thinking – including me. I guess only people like Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama truly have more days when they did more good than bad in the world.
And we don’t always think about the consequences of what we do. For instance, if I drive instead of cycling, I use a little bit more oil, force the world further down the line of dependency on oil and also exhaustion of oil. And sometimes, we mean to do good but we accidentally do bad. For example, bio fuels seem like such a good idea. No dependence on oil. No dependence on Gulf states. The end to oil wars and tyrants in the Middle East. But then someone in Brazil decides to change their crop to bio fuel and all hell breaks loose. They’re not contributing to the food pot, and although I’m buying less oil, I’m perhaps starving someone. Tomatoes and carbon footprints are another one. If I buy Spanish tomatoes, sure they’ll have come further and have a colossal carbon footprint but then if I buy English ones, they’ll have needed greenhouses and light and energy and actually have a larger carbon footprint. Peat is the same. People are saying we should get rid of peat-based composts and there’s all kinds of mis-information coming out about how it’ll increase the carbon emissions and wreck biodiversity. But it’s a huge dilemma. Peat bogs add to methane emissions, which damage the environment. By allowing some poverty-stricken, peat-rich countries to use it as a resource, we empower them. But if we boycott it, we have higher methane levels and keep some countries poor. Sometimes, you can’t do right for doing wrong.
The worst is, the more you read, the more you muddy your own head and thinking. The more you try to do good, the worse you get at it. The more you try to convince others, the more entrenched they get in their own thinking. Everything is so complicated!
Take dogs, for instance. Dogs are a huge drain on resources across the world. They shit everywhere and their shit is not good shit. You can’t compost dog poo. They don’t work any more, by and large, they just sit around. Sometimes they look pretty and that’s a bonus. Really, if we want to do good by starving people, free up resources and land, we should get rid of domestic pets. You know it makes sense. If I didn’t own two dogs and a cat I could donate £10 a month to a worthwhile cause. That’s £120.00 a year, and over a thousand pounds by their lifetime. It cost £200 to vaccinate Basil to get him over here and then he died 6 months later. That was £200 that could have gone to feed people in Darfur or help a neighbour out of trouble. Tilly, God bless her, doesn’t even do anything useful apart from bark at stuff. She’s a bit like an early warning system. The only trouble is, she warns you of everything. She’s not a useful dog. All she’s doing is consuming resources. The food she eats means that wheat and meat products have to be grown specifically for animals rather than people. If all the pets in the world were outlawed, we would have no problem feeding everyone. It’s cruel, too. A human home to a dog is no more than a big bird cage is for a bird. It’s a prison. Let’s not even talk about keeping gerbils and rats and snakes and mice and hamsters in little glass prisons for our own entertainment and because we can’t love each other enough as people that we need to bring an animal into the home to teach ourselves how to love unconditionally. Dogs are pack animals. They are social. Yet they are usually kept as single animals and left for most of the day. If you count the hours you’re asleep or at work, keeping a dog is cruelty. You’re putting it into solitary confinement. Sometimes, pet breeding is cruel. Tilly is an example. She’s pretty but she’s of a breed that is so greedy it’s untrue. She has inherent ear problems and problems with her eyes. She might get all kinds of spaniel ailments. All dogs, really, should be mongrel dogs. Selective breeding is something we don’t allow people to do – Hitler and his Aryan policies weren’t exactly popular. But that’s fine for domestic animals. We breed some for violence and then condemn them for being aggressive. We breed some for racing and then forbid them from racing. We breed some for hunting and then never allow them to do it, shouting at them if they run off, following their instincts. Instincts we gave them.
However, if we do that, every single one of us will have to look a dog or cat in the eye and know it has to be exterminated. We made them dependent on us 12,000 years ago. We’ve got a kind of symbiotic thing going on. They teach us how to love and respect animals (in most cases) and nobody can put a quantity on how much joy a domestic animal brings. Humans are more of a drain on resources and maybe we should exterminate any of those who are a drain on the world’s resources. Hmmm. Are we really saying it’s usefulness about pets that makes them a drain? If so, loads of people aren’t useful. Let’s cull them instead. I love the dogs and cats more than I love most people. Nothing gives me a smile like seeing how happy Tilly is to wake up each morning. That is better than all my medication or pills. When Foxy gets the mads and races about, he makes me laugh. When Molly jumps out of her skin, she makes me smile. I love all these animals. They love me because I feed them (sometimes – though that’s Steve’s job!) and take them places or brush them or take them to the vet… I’m under no illusions that their love is ‘cupboard love’. But their presence is a reason I get up in the morning. They bring out the good in me.
You see. Complicated.
My solution to these dilemmas is just to accept them as they are and make it a little better. I know I can’t change the world, no matter how I try. However, I can influence the people nearest to me and spread my circle of influence a little wider as time goes by. Read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and you’ll know what I mean. That guy is WISE. Influence what you can, where you can, if you can.
I think, if I had to choose a motto we should all live by, it’s actually the Hippocratic Oath. Do No Harm. If we could all live by that, the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, we’re not all very good at being our own moral compass. As the Dalai Lama said:
“As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery.
We have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace.
The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as
anger and attachment, fear and suspicion,
while love and compassion, a sense of universal responsibility
are the sources of peace and happiness.”
I’m tired of anger directed at me by people who think they are right because they have some sort of moral upper hand. If your life is filled with anger, it is filled with hate. I run the risk of ending up like Yoda and saying ‘and that way lies the Dark Side’. But it does.