Sunday, April 29, 2012

Environmental Vow 21: Practical Philosophy

A Positive Alternative:

I’ve rejected a variety of alternatives that some people have put forward in order fill the void left by the decline in old-school religious faith and patriotism.  But I have yet to make any sort of suggestion of a viable alternative.  This is the point where I unveil what keeps me, personally going.  I am fully aware that there are elements of my personal belief system that are more than a little “dodgy”.  Where these problems come up, I will attempt to spell out the conceptual issues.  Using the ideals that motivate my existence as an example,  I will then develop some generic parameters that will help others come up with their own personal solutions to the problems I am attempting to deal with in this essay.

Secular Daoism:

Years ago through an extraordinary series of unusual happenstances, I was initiated into a Daoist lineage.  This involved a martial arts club, a man who was very young and impressionable (myself), a couple Chinese immigrants with zero English language, and, a few other immigrants who’s ability as translators were abysmal.   Over several decades of trying to wrestle with the issues that I have raised in the preceding parts of this essay, I found myself increasingly identifying myself with the Chinese religious tradition known as “Daoism”.   As I expanded and deepened my understanding of this faith I found that I was not pursuing it as anything like what an “orthodox” Chinese religious Daoist would understand the term as meaning, but instead what a Westerner who had benefited from both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment would understand it as meaning.  In addition, I found out that there are a fair number of other Westerners would similarly call themselves “Daoists”, but without understanding how different their worldview is from its Chinese counterpart.

It is quite difficult to exactly define what is or isn’t Daoism, which has led to a great deal of wrangling both between individual scholars, and, between scholars and practitioners.  Traditionally, the term has been associated with a small number of core texts:  the Dao De Jing, the Zhuangzi, and, the Liezi.  There are a great many other texts in the Daoist canon, but these (along with the Nei-yeh, which I will discuss further on), are a sort of “absolute basic” library that the religion is based upon.

The first complexity that people have to understand is that all three of these texts seem to have been created before there was a religion called “Daoism”.  Indeed, the scholarly consensus seems to be that if the authors of any of these books met folks who called them a “Daoist” they wouldn’t know what people were talking about.

Orthodox religious Daoists have tended to associate these three books with three different historicial personages:  Laozi, Zhuangzi and Liezi.  In contrast, modern scholars tend to believe that these texts are the result of an oral “wisdom tradition” that existed for a long time and which resulted in some editor writing down poems, pithy sayings and gnomic stories that he had heard from others.  In turn, the books were then changed by editors over many years as different people came out with improved “editions” until finally an “approved” version was codified by a single specific person.  At that point, the process of mutation stopped and we end up with the versions we have now.

Again, what these books are about is another complex question.  Probably the best way to characterize them is to say that they are about finding the practical “rules of thumb” of life that allow someone to live with a minimum amount of friction both with other people and the world in general.  Some of these rules can be summarized as follows:#

  • Our understanding is limited, so limited that we often don’t even understand how limited.  As a result, it is important to be humble in our assumptions about how the world operates.
  • It is generally a good idea to avoid unnecessary effort----more harm is done by doing too much than by doing not enough.
  • The world operates by various laws or general principles.  Someone who understands these laws and principles can accomplish a great deal by working in harmony with them. 
  • Conversely, people who try to do things by fighting against these laws, tend to fail.
  • A great deal of the ability that comes from working with these principles and laws comes spontaneously from within the individual who often cannot explain why he does what he or she does, or why it works.
  • Having said that, the way to develop these spontaneous abilities usually seems to come from sustained, dedicated practice.
  • While sometimes violence is necessary, it is inherently a bad thing.
  • Emptiness and passivity are of at least equal value---if not more---than substance and action.
  • What passes for conventional wisdom is of very little value when it comes to making important life choices. 

These general principles can be applied to just about every element of human existence, from warfare to gardening.  As a result, people from all strata of society from different times believe that they have learned important life lessons from studying these books.   In effect, they are representatives of a type of literature that was very important in the ancient Western world, but which has since died out:  practical philosophy.

People often find it hard to believe, but at one time philosophy was considered a very practical field of endeavour.  It was practical because it dealt with the very important issue of how people were supposed to live their lives.   To give someone a flavour of this sort of practical wisdom, consider the following quotations from the School of Stoicism:

  • "Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life."    Marcus Aurelius
  • "Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise."  Marcus Aurelius
  • "Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always to take full note of fortune's habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock."  Seneca
  • A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation…you have to catch yourself doing it before you can correct it.  Seneca 
  • "Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men's desires, but by the removal of desire."  Epictetus
  • "Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them."  Epictetus
  • "That which Fortune has not given, she cannot take away."  Seneca the Younger
  • "Virtue is nothing else than right reason." Seneca the Younger

The reason why most people haven’t heard about this sort of philosophy is because it was persecuted and pretty much stamped out by the early Christian Church.   After the first Roman Emperor, Constantine, converted to Christianity, there was a period of transition that pretty much ended in the reign of Emperor Theodosius, who issued an edict closing all philosophical schools and pagan Temples across the Empire.  There seems to be some scholarly debate# about whether or not the Library of Alexandria was destroyed at the same time, but the general consensus seems to be that the transition to Christian orthodoxy seems to have been a time when there was a great deal of persecution (either formal or informal) against both the schools of philosophy and paganism.

It isn’t hard to understand why.  These ancient schools tended to elevate reason above authority, which would have been seen as a tremendous affront to the authority of both the Church hierarchy and the revealed doctrine of Christianity itself.   Beyond that, there were schools that went to the point of actually arguing quite cogently against the existence of any God at all:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
- Epicurus [341–270 B.C.

Obviously, an overtly atheistic philosophy would be anathema to Christianity.  But just as unnerving for early Christians was evidence that the Gospels had been directly influenced by the philosophical school known as Cynicism.

Consider, if you will, the following parallels between Cynic philosophers and quotations from the Gospels.#

  • It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. (Luke 13:19)

  • However small a seed is, once it's sown in suitable ground, its potential unfolds, and from something tiny it spreads out to its maximum size... I'd say brief precepts and seeds have much in common. Great results come from small beginnings. (Seneca)

  • And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27/Matthew 10:38)

  • If you want to be crucified, just wait. The cross will come. If it seems reasonable to comply, and the circumstances are right, then it's to be carried through, and your integrity maintained. (Epictetus)

  • But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. (Luke 6:24/Matthew 6:2)

  • The King, said Diogenes, was the most wretched person there was, surrounded by all that gold, yet afraid of poverty. (Dio 6.34)

  • Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20/Matthew 5:3)

  • Only the person who has despised wealth is worthy of God. (Seneca EM XVIII 13)

  • And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. (Matthew 10:28/Luke 12:5)

  • What tyrant or thief or court can frighten anyone who does not care about his body or its possessions? (Epictetus)

  • Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other as well... Love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. (Luke 6:27-29/Matthew 5:39-44)

  • A rather nice part of being a Cynic comes when you have to be beaten like an ass, and throughout the beating you have to love those who are beating you as though you were father or brother to them. (Epictetus III xxii 54)

  • How shall I defend myself against my enemy? By being good and kind towards him, replied Diogenes. (Gnomologium Vaticanum 187)

  • Someone gets angry with you. Challenge him with kindness in return. Enmity immediately tumbles away when one side lets it fall. (Seneca, de ira II xxxiv 5)

  • It's a pitiably small-minded person who gives bite for bite. (Seneca, de ira 11 xxxiv 1)

  • Socrates said, Follow these instructions, if you are willing to listen to me at all, so that you may live happily, letting yourself look a fool to others. Let anyone who wants to, offer you insult and injury... If you want to live happily, a good man in all sincerity, let all and sundry despise you. (Seneca EM LXXI 7)

The danger that Cynicism poses to Christianity comes from the fact that it is obvious to anyone who is exposed to it that the Jesus of the Gospels seems to have come out of a tradition that was extant before his birth.  If so, then it becomes very hard to believe that Christ is in some sense a divine messenger with a startlingly unique message.  Remove the claim that Jesus is in some non-metaphorical but actually literal sense a “son of God”, and he becomes one person amongst many who have taught in the town squares of the Roman Empire.  And if Christ ceases to be divine, then the divine authority of the Christian clergy disappears too----and with it all of their temporal power.   It is obvious that the cynics---above all other schools of practical philosophy---had to be erased from the popular knowledge of Christendom.

Since practical philosophy inevitably leads to at least questioning of orthodoxy and at “worst” atheism, it has suffered De facto persecution insofar as atheism itself has been persecuted.  And it is only very recently indeed that many people have been able to openly proclaim their atheistic beliefs.#   Indeed, it is currently the case that seven US state constitutions ban atheists from holding public office#.  More tellingly, it is considered “political suicide” for any politician to openly proclaim his or her atheism.  This is supported by a 2006 poll that suggests that as many as 50% of American voters would not vote for an atheist---no matter how eminently qualified---for the position of President.   In fact because of this pressure, only one member of the US Congress, Pete Stark, has ever openly proclaimed himself an atheist.  Add to this the pressure one can receive from family, friends, colleagues, etc, and it becomes obvious that there is a significant price to pay for openly expressing anything like an atheist point of view.

In the face of this still very real, but receding, climate it makes sense that practical philosophy as a genre of literature is only recently coming back into people’s consciousness.   The Christian is a jealous God.  And his followers are all too willing to punish anyone who tries to usurp His role in dictating what is and is not a moral way of life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Symbolic Life

I've been having a long conversation with my fiancee about an idea that has been stuck in my head for years.  She suggested that I do a blog post about it in order to put it down on paper and see what other folks think about it.

I first thought about the way people's lives can become symbols that result in societal change as a result of doing some pretty intensive research about Mohandas Gandhi for a course I was teaching called "The Activist Toolbox".   One of the things that really struck me about the guy was the way every aspect of his life seemed to be geared towards projecting a specific image.

Most people have seen pictures of Gandhi spinning yarn.  What they don't know is that this was an act of political theatre designed to mobilize the people of India to support home rule.

When the English first took over India, it had a thriving textiles industry based on handicraft production.  Ordinary people spun yarn during their spare time.  In turn, Cloth was woven from it by agricultural labour during the rainy season when no work could be done on the fields.  Under the exploitative system created by the English, both yarn and cloth was being created by English factories which out-competed with the work done by these men.  As a result, they were being driven into utter destitution.  (Gandhi refers to the poor of India as "the skeletons".)  Gandhi believed that the answer to this rural poverty was for people to go back to spinning their own yarn and sell it to the rural poor, and then buy the cloth for their clothing.  The cloth is known as "kadhi".  Gandhi was dead serious about this idea----to the point where when he was president of the Congress Party of India he once devoted an entire forty minute talk to silently spinning cloth.

Spinning cloth to help the poor was one part of this project, but I suspect that it wasn't the most important. The British Empire was a tremendous "wealth pump" that sucked money out of India and into the home country.  One of the ways it did this was through enforcing an empire-wide "free trade" zone that meant that existing (English) businesses always had a competitive advantage against emerging (colonial) ones.  This meant that money was constantly bleeding out of India to buy cheap cloth from England.  And this constant flow of capital out of the country meant that there was no money to invest in Indian factories for not only cloth making, but anything else.  This kept India undeveloped and poor.  (At the same time, America had strong import duties against England that allowed an indigenous industrial base to be built.  This decision to create a trade wall was one of the reasons for the American Civil War---the South wanted to have free trade with England so it could sell its cotton there and buy cheap goods;  the North wanted trade barriers that ensured that Southern cotton went to New England mills and the South bought its goods from there too.)  The independence movement in India decided that one of the best ways to wean India off the Empire was to convince large numbers of people no longer buy English cloth.  To that end, the Congress Party organized demonstrations where people burned their English clothing and pledged to only wear Indian-made cloth.

For an entire generation in 20th century India, khadi was the only mode of clothing 
This happy convergence of poor and upper class concerns over cloth allowed the Congress Party to create an important symbol for independence.  People who supported independence could identify each other through their clothing of choice.   When people complained that this cloth was too expensive (because it was hand made), Gandhi decided to wear only a Dhoti  to show that even the poor could take a visible part in the independence movement.  The importance of cloth to the independence of India is shown by the law that says that the only cloth that an Indian flag may be made from is khadi.

A side of Gandhi people rarely see!
Wearing a dhoti made of khadi wasn't the first time that Gandhi tried to make a point through his clothing.  Earlier in his life he was a supporter of the British Empire.  He felt that if Indians made a sincere effort to adopt the British worldview that they would eventually become "citizens of the empire" and have the same rights as Englishmen.  To that end, he traveled to London and studied to become a lawyer.  In the process, he studied how to dress and act like a proper English gentleman.  Part of this involved adopting English clothes.

Not only did Gandhi attempt to make himself into a model Englishman, he also demanded that his wife and children did too.  In My Experiments with Truth he writes, if memory serves me right, that they complained bitterly about this.  For example, the socks and shoes made their feet sweat and smell bad, but he was convinced that it was necessary.  This was part of an entire agenda that also included things like working to recruit Indians to serve in the British Army during various wars.  Eventually, it was his experience in South Africa that convinced him that Indians could never be equal partners in the Imperial system so the only option was home rule.  At that point he decided to give up his Westernized clothing and adopt Indian dress.
No dhoti, but a turban!

I've made a big deal about Gandhi and khadi because it is a clear example of how the symbolic can work in social transformation.  It isn't as if symbols don't regularly exist in our society, but they are so deeply embedded in it that people usually have a hard time seeing them.  It's like a fish not being aware of water or us not thinking about the air.  They surround us, yet they are invisible.

USA (Basic black!)
When you start thinking about people living as symbolic representations of specific social values, they seem to be everywhere.  Consider, for example, a judge presiding over a trial.  Let's look at some of the robes used by judges around the world.

Canadian Supreme Court Judge
French Supreme Court

Why exactly do judges wear robes?  The more formal robes of the Canadian and French judges hearken back to the court robes worn by the aristocracy.  These were worn not just because the gentry were rich and wanted to show off.  They were designed to show the status of the individual and thereby assert dominance in a very stratified and class dominated society. The founding fathers of the USA wanted to break from the aristocratic idea.  But they didn't discard the use of robes altogether, because they still wanted judges to project a sense of "gravitas" and authority, so American judges tend to wear simple, black gowns.  

Another example of "life as symbol" comes from the way people exhibit sexual dimorphism.  In animals this sort of differentiation between the sexes comes from "locked in" genetic characteristics.  In human beings the same process is at work, but it is mediated culturally.  In contrast to mallard ducks, female humans tend towards showy display and men tend to be drab.  

This dimorphism is certainly on display weekend nights in my home town where it is not uncommon to see hordes of very drunk young women wearing flimsy dresses that barely extend beyond the crotch and  tottering on stiletto heels.  The reproductive drive is genetic, but the form that the sexual display takes is culturally mediated.  And as a culturally-mediated phenomenon, it has led to the use of clothing as a symbolic tool in social transformation.  

A scene from a "slut walk"
A couple years ago a police officer in Ontario made a stupid comment to the effect that fewer women would get raped if they didn't tend to dress like "sluts" when they go out at night.  This so outraged the community that women pretty much spontaneously started to organized "slut walks" all over the world in an attempt to pound it into the heads of authorities that women have the right to dress as they please and to mock the idea that rape is caused by how women dress.

I've offered all of these examples as a means of explaining why it is that I think that it would be a tremendously useful tool for environmentalists if people were willing to take on the task of becoming "living symbols" in the same way that supporters of Indian independence, judges and "sluts" do.  There are already a fair number of people who are willing to undertake a significant personal commitment in order to help build a sustainable society.   For example, there is a group called "the compact" who have decided to refuse to purchase any new capital goods for a set period of time.  Here's a blog by a woman who has made it her goal to try and live her life totally without the use of plastic.  Here's a website that allows people to make public declarations about how they are going to help "green the planet".  

My suggestion is that the environmental movement should do something like the Indians did and develop some sort of symbolic representation of their beliefs in order to identify to all and sundry exactly how they feel about Mother Nature.  It could be a piece of clothing, a symbolic piece of jewelry, a tattoo, or maybe just a symbol that everyone could adapt as they see fit.  But to wear it would be to express to everyone that sees them that the bearer is serious about sustainability and they are living their life in specific ways in order to promote it.  

I'm not about to make any suggestions about what this sort of symbol would look like, simply because if it is to mean anything and have any sort of legitimacy, the process of creating it will have to be one that involves a great many people.   

I would suggest, however, that if the symbol was going to accomplish anything, it will have to be understood that anyone who takes it on has taken a pledge that identifies a "bare minimum" necessary to honestly wear it.  If the token just because "aspirational" instead of identifying a serious commitment, it won't be anything more than the various ribbons people are supposed to wear in order to show support for things like curing breast cancer or supporting the troops.   I think that the symbol should be like the uniform of a Marine----something that is not worn lightly and really means something.  

Again, I won't suggest what the pledge should entail, as anything that people will adhere to must be the result of a collective process.  If people are involved in creating something, they "own it" in a way that they do not if it is just an option to accept or reject lightly.  In my conversation with my fiancee, for example, I suggested that pledging to have no children should be one element.  She responded by suggesting that the pledge be to only have one child, which would bring the population down and allow these people to continue to exert direct influence on future generations through their children.  I countered by suggesting that people who choose to remain childless will not only help with over-population, but they will also free up time in their life that they can use for activist work.  (I don't have an answer to this particular issue, but I think that our short talk illustrates the sort of informed discussion that would need to go into creating a pledge list that people would be willing to commit themselves to following.)  

I'm tossing out the idea on the Internet now.  What do readers think?  Do you see some value in environmentalists consciously living their lives as symbols?  If so, what form could the symbol take?  And what sort of pledge do you think people should have to take in order to be able to wear it?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Environmental Vow Part 20: The Role of Narratives

Unfortunately, the “flip flopping, broken promises, and perceived hypocrisy that are an inevitable bi-product of this endless round of patronage, coalition building and fundraising results in a deep cynicism amongst the over-whelming majority of voters.  And cynicism is absolutely caustic towards any attempt at self-motivation.  If the political system cannot even get people to go out and vote, how can we hope that it will ever convince people to make significant personal sacrifice in order to deal with environmental issues?

The Role of Narratives

It is important, however, to not become totally fixated on the role of money or patronage in politics.   There are primary and secondary causes to many events.  In the case of politics, a politician may gain the support of a patron or a donor and use that to gain more power in the community of voters, but he also has to find some way to gain the support of that donor or patron in the first place.  The way this is usually achieved is through the development of some sort of narrative that cements a relationship between the two.

A “narrative” is a story about the world that neatly encapsulates a broad range of very complex and poorly understood issues together and provides handy and immediate answers to almost all questions.   These can be small “conceptual rules of thumb” such as “all people on welfare are lazy bums”, or, “small businesses create most of the jobs in an economy”, “everything gives you cancer if you give enough of it to rats”, or,  “the world’s problems could all be solved if the rich paid their fair share”.

Politicians also create narratives to explain who they are to the voters.  In Canada three Prime Ministers were very successful at composing narratives that they used to encourage voters to develop loyalty to their “brand”.  Pierre Trudeau invented himself as a “devil-may-care” intellectual, in part through media stunts such as his famous May 7th, 1977 pirouette that he did in front of photographers but behind the Queen at a G7 conference in London England.  Another example is Jean Chretien who, although being a very successful corporate lawyer constantly styled himself as the “little guy from Shawinigan.  Brian Mulroney, another successful corporate lawyer, “rebranded” himself after losing his first bid for the Conservative party nomination by buying a used car, a cheap suit and describing himself as being “the son of an electrician from Baie-Comeau”.   In the USA, Barack Obama did much the same thing through his successful campaign that implied that just as it seemed to many Americans impossible to elect a black man president, yet it still could happen,  so too it is possible for the country to solve the huge problems facing it (i.e. “the audacity of hope”.)

If the narratives diverge enough from one another, they become ideologies, and politics becomes radical.   The communist ideology is a narrative that talks about professional revolutionaries, inexorable laws of history and class warfare.  Nazi ideology talked about the clash of races, the mystical identity of a “folk”, the need for an absolute leader or “Fuhrer”, and the need of “living space” for a Master race.    The difference between a narrative and an ideology, IMHO, is that an ideology doesn’t believe in the ability of different narratives to co-exist in a given society.  It might be that ideologically-driven parties might co-exist for a while as political parties in a democracy# but this is only a temporary truce brought about by relative weakness.  Once any of these groups gains enough power, the “gloves come off” and politics starts to “come from the barrel of a gun”, as Mao once remarked.

In a functioning liberal democracy, however, the narratives are not so extreme that there can be no room for compromise between the two.  Indeed, in some societies there seems to be very little to separate the different narratives from one to another.  That is why in some political systems successful politicians are able to “cross the floor” and go from one party to another without destroying their careers.  In other systems, the divide between parties becomes so poisonous that every single decision of government becomes a opportunity to “score points” and inflict as much damage as possible on the other side.  Ideally, a democratic systems exists between these two opposites.  Enough divergence so that voters have more to choose from than just “tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum”,  but not so much that there is never any room for compromise on any issue.

The Importance of “Walking the Talk”

Politicians have to be careful about narratives, however.  They can also turn against them if the public believes that they are not living up to what is expected.  Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien were able to preserve their “brand” until the day they retired, but Brian Mulroney ended up being crucified because of the dissonance that the public believed it saw between his portrayal of himself as a humble “boy from Baie-Comeau” and what they perceived as “ly’n Brian”’s lavish lifestyle while Prime Minister.   Trudeau was able to date celebrities and live an extravagant life as a playboy, but that didn’t clash with the narrative he’d constructed about himself, so it was acceptable.  Mulroney didn’t have that luxury because he’d put so much energy into explaining his humble origins to voters.  Time will only tell if Obama’s “audacity of hope” will survive all the compromises with the establishment that he has made since gaining office.

If narratives are so important to electing politicians, perhaps it would be possible for a mainstream politician to be able to craft some sort of narrative around environmental issues that would allow them to “ride a green wave” into office.  Unfortunately, I fear that there is a significant problem with environmental issues that make it a special case, one that makes it almost impossible for a politician to mobilize a campaign around.

To understand this issue, consider the case of Al Gore.  His documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006 and talked about climate change as a moral imperative, which was a new thing in mainstream circles.  Unfortunately, in 2007 it was revealed that Al Gore’s home was a monstrous energy pig that consumed a little under $29,000 worth of energy per year.   In Gore’s defense it has been argued that the building is large, houses two home-based businesses, and that the cost of electricity and natural gas is inflated because it uses more-expensive “green” sources.  But the fact is that a great many “ordinary folks” have home businesses and use environmentally-friendly energy sources without blasting through anything like this amount of money.  It is pretty clear that Mr. Gore doesn’t really “walk the talk”.  If he does see global warming as an ethical issue, then he should view himself as an immoral, evil man.  Otherwise, he is not much more than yet another hypocritical politician spinning a narrative in order to build popular support.  The revelations about his lavish lifestyle pretty much undid most of the good of his documentary.

There is a very important point here.   When someone tries to cast their politics in terms of morality, it is absolutely imperative to make sure that she at least tries to live according to the ethical values that she is suggesting everyone else should live up to.  If she does not, she not only undercuts public support for her individual leadership, she also undercuts the ethical ideal being espoused and the very idea that ethical considerations should be considered at all.   Hypocrisy leads to cynicism, and cynicism leads to disengagement from whatever process that is view as being dominated by hypocrisy.  Since politics is dominated by hypocrisy, is there any wonder that larger and larger fractions of the body politic refuse to vote?

The problem for Mr. Gore, however, is that even if he did live a more modest, eco-friendly lifestyle, he’d probably have to live a life with a much larger carbon foot-print than most people simply in order to be able to “play the game” on the scale necessary to be able to do things like promote his documentary.  Film makers, distributors, donors, government panels, etc, all expect people to jet all over the planet and have a large home to entertain important guests.  People who live in modest, energy efficient homes, refuse to drive a car, take the train, and refuse to fly simply cannot get the “ear” of important people.  Yet at the same time, it is impossible for ordinary folks to take seriously any enviro-prophet who doesn’t seem to even try to live in harmony with nature.   In effect, even if Gore were not a hypocrite, he would still be on the horns of a dilemma.    On the one hand, he could never have gained the power and authority in society to be able to organize and promote something like “An Inconvenient Truth” without “living large”, but on the other, what he has to do to build his “brand” up to the point where he would have the power and fame to promote his documentary dramatically undermines the message.

This leaves the environmental politician with a really big dilemma.  What sort of narrative can he or she create that will defend him or her from the charge of hypocrisy while at the same time retaining the visibility necessary to exert real influence on society?